Is Disney Making Another John Carter Style Mistake With The Lone Ranger?

Last year the Walt Disney Corporation announced they expected to lose money in the upcoming quarter due to the box office failure of the highly expensive “John Carter” which despite scoring well with fans who actually saw the film failed to capture the mass audience and launch the franchise as the studio had expected.
Shortly after the film’s release, I wrote an opinion piece stating that I did not believe the film would ultimately lose money as in the modern system with the ever-growing foreign market, on-demand, rental, broadcast, and DVD sales markets that it might be very tough for even a film with a reported $250 million budget as well as an extensive ad budget to lose money.

As I write this “John Carter” has earned approximately $283 million worldwide and has done fairly well in DVD sales and rentals. Determining a film’s profit/loss is often tricky as there’s all sorts of hidden costs as well as clever bookkeeping tricks that are done but it does appear that my earlier statement that the film was not a box office bomb and would eventually earn money for the studio appears to be holding up.
Disney has often stayed away from large budgeted films until recently. The studios remembers all too vividly the ultra-expensive “Pearl Harbor” and how its failure underscored the studios need to stick to more budget appropriate films. The studio is recently moved away from this formula more and more with films such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series and the upcoming “Star Wars” films which will have pretty hefty budgets attached to them. I do not mention their Marvel superhero films as those are done in partnership with other studios such as Paramount, Sony, and Fox.

However as we look towards the summer 2013 movie season I have to worry if Disney is perhaps not poised to repeat the mistake of the past with their pending adaptation of “The Lone Ranger”. Universal learned a very expensive and costly lesson in 2011 when their film “Cowboys and Aliens” fail to deliver at the box office despite the star power of Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, and strong mix of director-producer power. Many analysts equated the failure of the film simply to audiences not being willing to accept a Western and a very large and competitive movie season.
With a production budget reported to be in excess of $250 million, the Johnny Depp powered movie was shut down so that the budget could be trimmed down to a more workable figure. Director Gore Verbinski who team very well with Depp and Disney to launch “Pirates”, got a modified budget much to work with and set off to New Mexico to make the film.

The film has long been a passion project for Depp who as rumor has it required the film to get made in order to secure his services for future outings as Capt. Jack sparrow. Reports from the set that the film had been plagued by cost overruns and delays due to a myriad of issues such as weather and costly and elaborate sets. Al of which have taken the $215 million movie over the original $250 million budget which Disney was so determined to move away from. The Hollywood reporter also reported rewrites going on mid-production in order to streamline the production and try to get the cost under control to what some insiders have said could exceed $275 million when all is said and done. Note this is before things such as expensive Super Bowl promotional ads and future advertising expenses are factored in.

Now I’m certainly not going to judge a movie until I have seen the finished product, so I base this report simply on what I have seen to date. That being said, I have been pretty underwhelmed by the trailers that I have seen for the film. The dialogue has been awful even by action movie standards and I do not see any “wow” inspiring moments in the trailers that make the film appear to be anything more than the standard Western. I am sure the studios holding back some of the better scenes to teases with closer to the film’s release, but after doing some checking with several fans as well as peers in the review business, it appears that the buzz for the film is well below expectation.

When I first heard it announced, I wondered how a film about a character that was basically last popular amongst her grandparents generation would manage to capture box office gold. Yes there will be the nostalgic factor regarding the name and the inclusion of Depp, but this is going to be one very crowded summer movie season. “Iron Man 3″, Star Trek: Into Darkness” “Pacific Rim”, “Superman: Man of Steel”, and countless other big-budget blockbusters poised to dominate the multiplexes this year which could leave “The Lone Ranger” left in the dust and Disney holding any very expensive price tag.
I wondered if perhaps the studio would be better suited to hold the film until the holiday season but that’s no sure thing anymore as it has become a very crowded time a year even for non-holiday fare.

Whether or not the film succeeds and launches a new franchise or ultimately rides off into the sunset as a box office disappointment remains to be seen. One thing is clear, I am sure there are several people at Disney still smarting over “John Carter”, who are very nervous over this film.

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