Let Me Explain

Of course, the big news this weekend has been the smashing success of Despicable Me 2, and the huge box office failure of The Lone Ranger, which we’ll get to in a minute.

But practically overlooked was some even more surprisingly impressive news; I’m talking about Kevin Hart’s concert film Let Me Explain.

The film opened last Wednesday in only 876 theaters, and has grossed, since then, an astounding $17.4 million. The film was the lowest budgeted film to debut last week, and opened in the least amount of theaters, yet it had the third biggest per screen average after Despicable Me and The Way, Way Back for Fox Searchlight.

That beats out Hart’s previous concert film, Laugh At My Pain, which grossed just under $8 million total, in less than 300 theaters. In other words, Kevin Hart is money in the bank.

And no one was really surprised that Despicable Me 2 opened to such huge numbers. That was expected. 

But what happened to The Lone Ranger, which grossed only $48.9 million in its first five days.

A few things to consider:

1. Where did the money go? - Seriously  With a budget reportedly of $225 million (though some have it as high as $250 million) just where in the hell did the money go? They couldn’t have made the film cheaper than that? Especially when you compare it to other recent westerns. The Coen brothers’ True Grit cost $42 million to make, and Open Range cost an even more modest $23 million.  Django Unchained, a bigger and more elaborate film, cost around $80 million, which is a lot of money, but still it’s reasonable considering what Ranger cost. And all those films were huge box office successes, both domestically and internationally, especially Django, which made some $261 million overseas alone.

And, in fact, Disney originally shut down The Lone Ranger for six months during pre-production because the film was ballooning past its original $175 million budget (still too high). They eventually agreed to bump up the budget to $215 million (still way too high), though at the end it’s still north of $225  million which means Disney, which needs the film to make around $500 million to break even, is not going to do that with the B.O. overseas figures the film makes.

2. Bad idea - On paper The Lone Ranger might have looked like a good idea. Especially when you consider that those Pirates of the Caribbean movies with Johnny Depp and directed by Gore Verbinski (the last one, Stranger Tides, was directed by Rob Marshall) have made billions for Disney.

Stranger Tides alone grossed over a billion dollars worldwide, with just over $800 million of that from foreign markets. Putting Depp in a funny costume doing one of his “weird” bits with Verbinski directing is about as a sure-thing as you can get.

The Lone Ranger was one of the most popular radio shows ever. That is back during the 1930’s and 40’s. And it was one of the most popular TV shows in the history of the medium… which ended its original run in 1957. What possessed Disney into making such a massive and expensive film based on the characters that people under the age of 45 weren’t familiar with? If they wanted to go through with the project, then clearly the film should have been made at a much lower and reasonable budget.

3. Faulty strategy - Disney, a couple of years ago, decided to change their whole strategy regarding movies. Almost gone were the low or mid-range budgeted films that they made during the 80’s to the early 00’s, and they decided instead to concentrate, for the most part, exclusively on spending huge amounts of money on a few tentpole movies which they could, in turn, spin off into sequels, amusement rides, merchandising, etc.

The problem is that that strategy hasn’t been working all that well. And when they have serious misfires in the form of huge bombs such as John Carter and now The Lone Ranger, threatens to put the company into a painful financial situation, spending all that money for very little in return, though those Pixar and Marvel Comics films help ease the pain.

This is the kind of risky strategy that gets executives fired. It happened at Disney after the John Carter fiasco, and it may happen again (if it hasn’t happened already). A few more like these and, as Steven Spielberg recently said, the whole house of cards is going to come crashing down.

Though I suspect that more modest mid-range budgeted movies may be making a major comeback at Disney soon. And, in fact, plans were underway for a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean film, though I wonder if Disney is now having second thoughts about that. considering how much it would cost.

4. Don’t monkey around with westerns - I LOVE westerns. They are, without question, my favorite movie genre. But one thing western movie lovers hate, is when you monkey around with the genre. When you play it straight like True Grit, Open Range, 3:10 To Yuma or even Django, which, despite everything in it and the odd flourishes, was basically a traditional western, they do well.

But when you fool around with it, mainly in hopes of attracting a younger audience (like with Cowboys and Aliens, which was an underwhelming box office performer, and The Lone Ranger, which, though entertaining has a smug “we’re too hip for this” attitude, instead of a more serious traditional western) people tend to stay away.

1) Despicable Me 2 Uni. $82,518,000  Total: $142,076,000 
2) The Lone Ranger BV $29,432,000 Total: $48,936,000 
3) The Heat Fox $25,000,000 Total: $86,398,000
4) Monsters University BV $19,590,000 Total: $216,127,000 
5) World War Z Par. $18,200,000 Total: $158,758,000 
6) White House Down Sony $13,500,000 Total: $50,478,000 
7) Man of Steel WB $11,415,000 Total: $271,206,000 
8) Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain LG/S $10,100,000  Total: $17,460,000 
9) This is the End Sony $5,800,000  Total: $85,554,000 
10) Now You See Me LG/S $2,770,000 -Total: $110,415,000 
11) Star Trek Into Darkness Par. $1,310,000 Total: $223,065,000 
12) Fast & Furious 6 Uni. $1,024,000 Total: $235,439,000