Reporting from D23, Deadline noted a curious omission in comments by Disney exec Rich (not Rick) Ross regarding the currently-stalled "The Lone Ranger." “I’m hoping to do it," he says, "I’m certainly hoping. I think it’s a compelling story and no one wants to work with Jerry [Bruckheimer] and Johnny [Depp] more than me so we’ll see how it works.” Curious is the unmentioned Gore Verbinski, who has been in the director's chair for this project coming on a couple of years now.
Budgetary squabbles have sidelined the picture, and it's possible Disney may want to move forward with a cheaper, more cooperative director. Of the three major creative forces onboard this picture, Bruckheimer is the established mercenary producer with a golden touch, and Depp is the star with a couple of billion dollar films under his belt, which leaves Verbinski with very little leverage. Though Verbinski and Bruckheimer have already taken pay cuts in order to try and scale back the cost of the film, Verbinski's reputation of running over budget -- his bloated $300 million budget for "Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End" previously found him battling the studio -- may be a concern.
Disney insists on this project still being a priority, though they remain dedicated to chopping down Justin Haythe's script and lowering the budget. The studio has since been open to a budget in the neighborhood of $215 million, but remain far from that target. If Verbinski is the sacrifice, Disney may be playing a game of chicken, as he's worked with Depp on four movies already, and Depp's involvement in this film seems tied to Verbinski's. Or is it possible he'll just call up old friend Tim Burton again? There is also a question of whether or not the sizzle can be retained in the film on a lower budget with the current script containing three major setpieces, including one which has been described as the biggest train sequence of all time. If the flash is toned down, will audiences be receptive to a big ticket film that offers no thrills?
Of course, it's all dollars and sense, isn't it? A studio spending $215 million on a movie (plus another likely $100 million on promotion) means that they're expecting "Harry Potter" numbers, somewhere in the vicinity of $900 million global. This would make "The Lone Ranger" the highest grossing western of all time by several hundred million -- the current title holder is "Dances With Wolves" at $424 million, a number that would make "The Lone Ranger" a disappointment. While "True Grit" was a surprise success for Paramount recently (at a much much much lower budget), a more apt comparison is "Cowboys And Aliens," a massive tentpole blockbuster western that has yet to top $100 million despite a similarly flashy pedigree.
The bottom line in this situation has nothing to do with "The Lone Ranger," or Armie Hammer's prospective stardom, or anything in the script, but rather, Disney's inability to understand the value of a dollar. It hasn't yet been disclosed, but Depp's salary might very well be close to a quarter of the mammoth budget (once you include back-end pay), given that he reportedly took home more than $50 million from the fourth "Pirates Of The Caribbean" installment. While not in that ballpark, Bruckheimer and Verbinski's paychecks also likely benefit from considerable rewards if the film does well.. With these profit participants signed the studio would also have to cope with a crowded release date, opening against "World War Z" and "Life Of Pi," with another, more exciting (though less family friendly) western, "Django Unchained," opening four days later. Then again, Deadline points out that the last time Disney forced a budget drop on a western was with "The Alamo," which lost its key participants and ended up bombing at the box office. Though that only proves that Option C is the best way to go: Don't make this movie.