Following a terrible reception for recent cowboy blockbuster The Lone Ranger, we look at the reaction from Disney, as well as the implications for future productions.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the rising number of big budget summer blockbusters that have failed to make as big a splash at the box office as expected. Movies seem to be losing money left, right and centre as more and more releases fight for position in an increasingly cramped schedule.
Recent history has seen a poor early reception for such titles as Jack the Giant Slayer, R.I.P.D, Turbo and even Pacific Rim, all of which failed to make anywhere near their expected targets on opening weekend. Audiences seem to be being far more selective with what they decide is worth spending their hard earned cash on, with many opting to see as few as just one of a week’s many new releases.
Now this would appear to be a big enough problem for the film industry, but the issue with people going to see less and less movies is exacerbated by the fact that all of these so called ‘flops’ are costing the studios more and more to make in the first place. Studios are throwing hundreds of millions at projects to ensure they have the most recognizable cast, the most respected directors and the best special effects. Add to that the cost of massive amounts of promotion and advertising to make their particular movie stand out from the three or four other offerings released in the same week and we quite quickly end up with a project costing in the region of $300 million +.
The latest example of this expanding gulf between cost and box office takings comes via Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer‘s big screen re-imagining of The Lone Ranger, starring Armie Hammer (The Social Network) and Johnny Depp (
Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory every Tim Burton movie like, ever). The film cost an estimated $375 million all told, but so far has only managed to claw back just over $86.5 million from domestic (and $88 million from international) movie goers. They’ll need to make a worldwide sum of $800 million before they can break even.
The poor performance of The Lone Ranger seems to have prompted Disney to take a closer look at their books, and it has been reported that as a direct result there may be budget and/or privilege cuts to the production of the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie. As producer, Bruckheimer looks to be losing final cut privileges and directors Gore Verbinski and Rob Marshall - who have been at the helm for the previous outings in the franchise – have been replaced by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, who directed the 2012 Norwegian Biography/Adventure Kon-Tiki.
It is also rumoured that Disney may cut the budget of Pirates 5 by as much as $50 million (which incidentally is still more than double the entire estimated budget for Kon-Tiki), although that still leaves the film around $200 million to play with. Both Disney and Bruckheimer have so far declined to comment regarding any wider contract implications between them as a result of the recent performance issues.
The poor performance of The Lone Ranger has been the topic of much discussion among cast and crew, with most blaming the lackluster attendance figures on early reviews from critics which slammed the film. Cast members Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer recently spoke with Yahoo! Movies (UK and Ireland) about their feelings as to why the film had performed so badly, and all seemed to be in agreement that bad reviews did nothing to help on opening weekend.
“This is the deal with American critics. They’ve been gunning for our movie since it was shut down the first time. And I think that’s probably when most of the critics wrote their initial reviews. [...] They tried to do the same thing with to ‘World War Z,’ it didn’t work, the movie was successful. Instead they decided to slit the jugular of our movie.”
It is unclear why Hammer chose to specifically mention World War Z, as the movie’s reviews and box office takings have both been reasonably good. A better example for comparison might have been Disney’s recent disappointing sci-fi outing John Carter, which also failed to impress audiences and critics alike, whilst also losing the studio a lot of money. It’s also an adaptation of dated source material that has a questionable modern draw.
“I think the reviews were written when they heard Gore [Verbinksi] and Jerry [Bruckheimer] and me were going to do ‘The Lone Ranger.’ Then their expectations of it that, you know, it must be a blockbuster. I didn’t have any expectations of that. I never do. Why would I?”
Not to undermine the estimable Mr. Depp, but seeing the names Verbinski, Bruckheimer and Depp attached to a $300 million+ budget would make anyone think that the resulting movie was meant to be a blockbuster. If Depp doesn’t consider that ‘blockbuster money’, I dread to think what figure he does consider to be large enough to warrant the association.
Bruckheimer seems to be a little less worried about the short term reception for the film, choosing instead to focus on a cult revival in a decade or so:
“I think that they were reviewing the budget and not reviewing the movie. The audience doesn’t care what the budget is. They pay the same amount to see the movie whether it cost a dollar or $20 million. [...] It’s one of those movies that, whatever critics missed it this time, will re-review it in a few years and see that they made a mistake. [...] The critics keep crying for original movies. You make one, and they don’t like [it], so what can I tell you?”
Some people may be a little confused by Bruckheimer’s comments about original film making in this case. The Lone Ranger first appeared as a concept on radio shows in the 1930′s and has since then enjoyed exposure as a TV show, movies and comic books on multiple occasions. Plus many of the critics have lambasted the film precisely because it’s as unoriginal, and trite (just all round bad) as they come.
Interestingly, this is the first time in quite a while that he’s been openly reprimanded by a studio, as the Bruckheimer formula is usually infallible (in blockbuster/money terms). How does it feel Jerry?
So could this first step by Disney be a precursor to other companies revising their budgets for future projects? After all, if the industry as a whole is seeing less and less revenue returned from their biggest investments, why shouldn’t they start reigning in the spending and trying to make a few more movies that will at least make back the production budget rather than leaving them in the red?
No one really expects a Pirates sequel to make a loss. However many millions it takes to try and make Johnny Depp staggering around on a pirate ship in a daft hat interesting for the 5th time in a row, the franchise has a big enough existing fan base to absorb the cost and at least break even. A more pertinent question might be: what does this mean for the upcoming Disney funded Star Wars reboot? Will they need to throw another $300 million at the production just to try and convince fans that this isn’t going to go the same way as The Phantom Menace? Or will people be excited enough for a fresh perspective on the classic franchise that they will flock to theatres just based on the existing reputation.
Obviously Star Wars as a whole will be covered in much more detail in the future as more details are unveiled/leaked. Just watch this space!