Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

What Went Wrong?: Volume 31 – The Lone Ranger

I know it’s been a little while, but this summer has surprisingly not really been filled without outright flops. Outside of The Hangover Part III, which was the last movie I covered for this feature, and Will Smith’s disastrous After Earth, there haven’t been too many box office disappointments this summer. Even World War Z has over-performed (especially worldwide), and it looked like an absolute train wreck based solely off of pre-release bad buzz. So last weekend when The Lone Ranger absolutely bombed, of course I had to write about it (along with apparently everyone else). Anyway, here goes…


The Lone Ranger is the story of John Reid (Armie Hammer), a lawyer and ex-Texas Ranger who, after a spiritual encounter with a magical horse, begins moonlighting as the titular masked vigilante. Reid is helped along by Native American sidekick Tonto (Johnny Depp, playing yet another eccentric weirdo), who wants justice for his tribe mates, who had been slain when Tonto was a child. Together the two must face off against the villainous Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and expose the double-dealing railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson). The movie is, of course, loosely based on The Lone Ranger properties from the 1930s.

The film’s pedigree was incredibly high, with producer Jerry Bruckheimer at the helm of the project, established studio director Gore Verbinski behind the lens, and marquee name Johnny Depp signed on for a lead role. These three men were responsible for the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (Verbinksi did not direct the fourth installment), a film franchise which grossed an absolutely obscene amount of money. When The Lone Ranger opened over the Fourth of July weekend, however, it underperformed to the tune of just 29 million dollars (48 million over the five-day holiday weekend). So, what exactly went wrong?

The Lone Ranger had been in development hell for years (it was announced way back in September 2008 that Johnny Depp was in consideration for the role of Tonto, for example). Verbinski and Disney fought over the budget for quite some time, and the budget eventually ballooned due to the extraordinary sets built for the film (particularly the train segments). In August of 2011, Disney announced that production on the film had been delayed due to budgetary issues, and Verbinksi  and Bruckheimer, along with stars Hammer and Depp, agreed to defer 20% of their salaries for the film in order to help cover the budgetary issues. The film finally started shooting in March 2012 with an intended release date of May 31st, 2013, which was then pushed back to July 4th, 2013, presumably to avoid competition with studio stablemate Iron Man 3 as well as Star Trek: Into Darkness and Fast 6, each of which has grossed a healthy amount at the box office.

Due to the age of the property it is based on, The Lone Ranger was primarily targeted toward adults. Under usual circumstances, adults pay attention to reviews. Unfortunately for The Lone Ranger, the film opened up to incredibly harsh reviews, receiving an aggregate score of 26% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film also opened up against Despicable Me 2, which was definitely intended for a younger audience but which also had pretty high crossover appeal. Despicable Me 2 won the weekend, ultimately grossing 143 million dollars over the long holiday weekend. Other films, such as The Heat, World War Z, and Man of Steel also continued to pull in big box office numbers, and audience fatigue over action films may have played a factor in The Lone Ranger’s failure as well.

In a way, I’m kind of sad that The Lone Ranger didn’t do better at the box office. Its failure (along with the huge losses from 2012’s John Carter) probably means that Disney won’t take chances on less known or older properties, and we’ll see fewer non-franchise/non-Marvel films in the future. I’m certainly not the biggest fan of Gore Verbinksi’s work either, but there is something admirable in how he wanted to film this movie, with the use of the big, physical sets and all that. I’m not sure that The Lone Ranger was doomed to flop, as other media outlets have noted. I certainly expected it to do better than it has done thus far. At this point, only a lengthy international run will help save The Lone Ranger, but being that it is a Western-themed film based off an old American character, I don’t think that’s really in the cards.



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