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

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 9, 2013 at 4:29PM

With the box office implosion of $250 million "The Lone Ranger" wrangling less than $50 million for the July 4th long weekend, it looks likely that Disney is facing a "John Carter" style write-off again, to the tune of some $150 million. The mistakes that Disney made were made for a reason. They all know how this particular Perfect Storm came to pass.
"The Lone Ranger."
"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.

This article is related to: News, Disney , The Lone Ranger, News

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.