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Why Disney Failed with 'The Lone Ranger,' and Universal is Succeeding with a Smart Strategy

by Anne Thompson
July 9, 2013 4:29 PM
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"The Lone Ranger."

1. Big budgets will be reserved for entertainment familiar to audiences under age 30: Think J.J. Abrams' upcoming "Star Wars" sequel, a new "Pirates of the Caribbean" entry, ditto for "The Muppets," and "The Avengers" sequel, all of which are under the Disney umbrella. One notable exception is next summer's "Malificent," starring Angelina Jolie. It remains to be seen whether "The Sleeping Beauty" spin-off will be safely familiar enough, box-office wise.

2. Keep original film budgets reasonable -- under $75 million: This is nothing new. Tom Hanks starrer "Saving Mr. Banks" and Jon Hamm starrer "The Million Dollar Arm" would be examples of Disney films hitting theaters in the next 18 months with in-check budgets. 

3. Jerry Bruckheimer's relationship with Disney could be permanently strained: "The Pirates of the Caribbean" treasure chest might not be enough to keep the veteran producer in good standing with the studio, now with "The Lone Ranger" and other recent non-performers "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," "G-Force" and "Confessions of a Shopaholic."

4. Disney will continue to strengthen ties with producer Joe Roth: He's got "Alice in Wonderland" and "Oz the Great and Powerful" in his blockbuster resume; "Malificent" and "Million Dollar Arm" are in the pipeline.

5. Gore Verbinski is in a precarious career position: "The Lone Ranger" was the talented director's first live-action film since 2007's third "Pirates" installment. (2011's "Rango," however, won the Best Animated Oscar.)

6. Same goes for Johnny Depp: The once box-office infallible actor has had a serious wane in popularity over the past year, with both Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows" and now his turn as Tonto failing to attract moviegoers. The proof will be in the upcoming pudding: Wally Pfister's directorial debut "Transcendence," in which Depp most likely won't get to rely on his signature heavy costuming and makeup, and the fifth "Pirates" film.

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More: News, Disney , The Lone Ranger, News


  • Anne Thompson | July 10, 2013 7:27 PMReply

    Not worrying about Verbinski's ability to get work, but he may not be able to call the shots at such a high budget level again.

  • vp19 | July 10, 2013 3:51 PMReply

    Does this doom any plans for a big-screen version of "Gunsmoke"? In the right hands, and with a reasonable budget, it could be profitable, even if its international audience is minimal -- for the magic of the show (in both its radio and TV versions) did not result from violence or explosions (in other words, no CGI necessary). Rather, it derived from thoughtful writing, excellent acting and the creation of a real, vivid sense of community in 1870s Dodge City. But do studios have the courage to make non-blockbusters anymore?

  • Film Strategy | July 10, 2013 1:35 PMReply

    It should already be gospel that a film budget for an original, non-blockbuster type film be somewhere in the $20-75 million range, that Westerns have a small budget and that major films should be released all year-round, not just in the winter holiday season and the summer.

    Good job reminding them again, Anne, let's see if they listen this time.

  • Bill | July 10, 2013 11:36 AMReply

    Good read! You have been mentioning costs for quite a while now, they need to come down.

  • Anne Thompson | July 10, 2013 11:03 AMReply

    Thanks, we rely on eagle-eyed copy editors like you. Fixed.

  • Oliver Gogarty | July 9, 2013 9:05 PMReply

    Anne, you've seen titles in which certain short words were not capitalized, and thought, "Oh, so you don't capitalize small words in titles. Okay." That, I'm assuming, why "is" is not capitalized in "This is [sic] 40" above. However, being that you're a professional writer, you should know that articles and prepositions are not capitalized in titles, unless they're the first word in the title. "Is" is a verb, and should therefore be capitalized, no matter how short a verb it happens to be.

    We sacrifice privacy when the only editor is your audience, but this is how we learn now.

  • J. Sperling Reich | July 9, 2013 7:11 PMReply

    Some very well thought out and informative analysis here. I would agree that every year when I see Adam Fogelson take the stage at CinemaCon I'm amazed at how strong the lineup (save for "Battleship") is from Universal Pictures.

    I would also agree with the six points raised about the failure of "The Lone Ranger". If I were representing Johnny Depp I would advise him to find a role in a film like "Donnie Brasco" or "What's Eating Gilbert Grape". Even so, Depp's stature has been hurt, though he'll survive.

  • cadavra | July 9, 2013 7:03 PMReply

    How is Verbinski in a precarious position? Prior to RANGER, he's had seven hits (four of them blockbusters) and one flop (the modestly-budgeted WEATHER MAN). Everybody stubs their toe once in a while, even Spielberg. He'll be fine.

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