The Lone Ranger Falls Flat at Box Office


Disney’s The Lone Ranger had a horrible holiday box office managing to lasso only a paltry $49 million over the five days. Even when you add in the international box office of $23 million, it doesn’t match the $82 million made by Despicable Me 2 at the domestic theaters. So where did Disney go wrong with this film?

Let’s look at the growing list of complaints:

  • First of all the film was too violent and word got out that you should not bring your young’ens. This made the choice of which movie over the holiday to see very easy for families. I really have to question the creative choice to make such a violent film. Keeping the blood to a minimum doesn’t count when you’re cutting out the heart of a character just off screen, shooting down a whole tribe of Native Americans, killing a bunch of soldiers, and shooting up a town. Disney Studio executives would do well to remember that the Disney name used to stand for something at the box office – quality family entertainment. Be definition you can’t provide that when the rating is PG-13 for violence. 
  • Critics just didn’t like it. This is not always a death knoll for a film. The 25% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, was paired with a 68% approval rating from audiences. So there was some positive momentum there, just not enough. Critics knew that The Lone Ranger was a troubled production being retooled from a $250 million budget to $215 during a forced hiatus. Disney should have known the film would be subject to intense scrutiny from the critics and forced the producers to tighten it up before releasing it.
  • As stated above, it’s tough to open against a family friendly animated film when everybody is saying not to bring the kids due to the violence in the film. It’s even more difficult when that film is a sequel with a built in audience. The Lone Ranger spent two-thirds of the film dealing with the origin story before getting to the good stuff. Perhaps this formula doesn’t work any more. The first three Pirates of the Caribbean films never once focused on an origin story, The Lone Ranger could have dealt with it in the opening credits and gotten on to the mustache twirling villain.
  • The Lone Ranger was never really sure what it was. Was it a western? A buddy film? An origin story? or a chase movie? This was bound to confuse.
  • It was long. When you add in the previews you’re in the theater for over two and a half hours. That’s a long commitment for a family to make on a summer’s day.
  • Finally, Disney was counting on the legend of The Lone Ranger to propel the film. But I don’t think enough of its target audience, 14 to 29 year olds, were familiar with the story. The Lone Ranger was in re-re-runs by the time I was growing up in the 70s and really hasn’t been in the mainstream of public consciousnesses since then. I don’t think we can pin the failure of The Lone Ranger on marketing like we could with John Carter, but Disney should have spent the last 3 years since it greenlit the film promoting the characters of The Lone Ranger and Tonto and reintroducing the legend to the public. They company has these things called theme parks that a just perfect for promoting movies. Walt Disney famously opened Disneyland with Sleeping Beauty Castle four years before the movie debuted in theaters.

Any one of these would have done in a minor film. Sometimes star power can over come a few of them, but not this time. If you read my review, you’ll see that I actually liked the film as a fun bit of Hollywood entertainment. But that’s just not enough to create a blockbuster film these days.

Disney was counting on The Lone Ranger to be the anchor of a new franchise it could monetize for years to come. It’s going to need a lot of help to avoid going the way of John Carter. We’ll see if the international box office can rescue the film. If not, it might also signal the end of the Gore Verbinski/Jerry Bruckheimer/Johnny Depp trio of film production.

For more to chew through also see this article in Vulture on how The Lone Ranger represents everything that’s wrong with Hollywood.

16 thoughts on “The Lone Ranger Falls Flat at Box Office”

  1. Personally speaking, I am a western fan, and would have love to have had this be of the quality of Tombstone, but I was/am in no way excited to see this film. I grew up watching the Lone Ranger and loved it because my Dad did, but I am frankly tired of seeing Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in…. well anything. It may be a biased opinion, but I just can’t think of any movie that they have been in that has been “good”.

  2. John Carter last year, The Lone Ranger this year — the Mouse is having quite a bad run. Will Disney fans now look forward to each year’s summer bomb the way we used to look forward to each new animated release?

    1. While i dont necessarily disagree with your assesment. A couple of notes, John Carter was released in late winter, early spring of last year, and was not a summer release. Still a bomb sadly as it was a solidly fun film. Oz pulled in a decent profit this year and had a similar release date as John Carter.

      All said, there’s two issues at play here. Quality and marketing.

      The marketing for The Lone Ranger was just as big a mess as John Carter. And Disney spends far to much relying on America’s preconceived knowledge of a character or story. They “assumed” everyone knew John Carter of Mars, they did the same with the Lone Ranger. This thinking, leads them to shy away from the story and characters and focus on the action and comedy. The audience has no connection with generic action and comedy, in the end it just looks like another random generic action movie. Sell the story, not the design.

      Secondly, the films are poorly reviewed, because unfortunately, they’re poorly made. Bob Iger has an obsession with green lighting big budget franchises, Disney makes less films, but they spend more on them. John Carter lacked star appeal, it was a good film but the central character lacked familiarity and charisma needed. The Lone Ranger went the opposite spectrum. Big names, big sets, big explosions. No story. The key is to find the balance.

      Hopefully Alan Horn can find the balance and bring more attention to quality films.

  3. The Lone Ranger is very familiar to the baby boomers such as myself. Haven’t seen it yet but plan to. My son, daughter in law and her relatives have seen it and loved it except for the length. I was put off by the previews on tv they seemed to favor Tonto when he was not the main character. We know the story but do kids, teens and 20 to 30’s ? Looking forward to seeing it this week!

  4. Long before this version was greenlit I heard rumors that Disneyland wanted to make the film in order to add a Lone Ranger attraction to Frontierland. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has been closed for a long time and I can’t but wonder if it will reopen with Johnny Depp in another Disneyland ride.

    Obviously this has nothing to do with why the film did poorly—I agree with your assessment that the violence was too much for a family film and that DM2 entered theaters on the heels of a fantastic marketing campaign and was set to crush anything in its way. That said, The Lone Ranger is a lot of fun, and I think that word of mouth will spread, too.

  5. personally, I think this is the best live action movie of the summer (june-august) hands down. Also, you can’t complain that disney made a pg-13 film with violence in it. All 4 Pirates movies were pg-13 for the same reason, not to mention their marvel movies are all pg-13 and violent (did you see avengers?)

    as to “it was long”… time comparisons have it right around the Pirates runtimes.

    “critics don’t like it” – ok, yes the critics were flop hungry and wanted it to flop, however, in my life experience I’ve never, not once heard someone say they were skipping a movie just because a critic didn’t like it.

    You said it didn’t know what kind of movie it was, and I’m sorry but that just sounds like a cop out because many of the best movies have multiple tropes. Its an old west super hero origin story. I personally think that so far Lone Ranger and Iron Man 3 are the best hero movies of the summer, Man of Steel (way more violent) was awful in comparison to either movie.

  6. I haven’t seen Lone Ranger yet, but the point about the youth market not knowing the characters is valid. I showed my 14-year-old daughter one of those awful Tonto bird hats at the Disney Store and she looked at me and said, “How do you even know who these characters are?” She had no idea that the Lone Ranger has been around for a long time.

    Can Johnny Depp act without heavy makeup and a funny hat any more?

  7. We were just discussing this yesterday — The Lone Ranger has a tremendous nostalgia factor. The problem is, the only people nostalgic for it tend to be over the age of 50. As someone in my 40s, I never really had any exposure to The Lone Ranger during my childhood, so I have no nostalgic connection (and therefore no great urge to see it).

    My 75-year-old father LOVED The Lone Ranger when he was a kid, and he even still has some of his 1940s-era Lone Ranger toys. But he doesn’t want to see the movie because he says it doesn’t look anything like The Lone Ranger he remembers, which I’m sure is a correct assessment.

    I understand the concept of “rebooting” a nostalgia franchise, but The Lone Ranger just doesn’t seem like the right one.

  8. I agree with much of what you said but at the end of the movie as I was walking out I felt that just watched a really good PG13 action movie. I felt that the price I paid for my ticket was well worth the entertainment value I had just received.
    A little too violent…yes at times. Poor marketing…perhaps. Over hyped because it was Disney and Johnny Depp….of course.
    I’ll be sure to get it on Blue Ray when it comes out.
    Better than OZ….my opinion.

  9. I thought it was allright, didn’t bowl me over but had a few good points. My parents & in-laws who we took actually remembered the Lone Ranger TV show (and one remembered the radio show), and they were a tad disappointed that it wasn’t the same old LR/Tonto, but thought the reboot was OK.

    We all had the same complaint… it just wasn’t tight. WTH was the whole point of the “framing” with old Tonto and the boy? It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t informative, it wasn’t interesting…. just seemed to be filler… that was the problem with the movie, tons of filler. Strip out the framing and a bunch of useless scenes and bam, it would be a decent movie.

    And sitting through the credits (older folks have stiff knees and don’t move fast) the “entertainment” is watching old Tonto walk away REALLLLY slowly. BORING! Saw Despicable Me 2 as well this week and the minions performing during the credits were HILARIOUS. Maybe that’s what Disney forgot with this one… the movie is supposed to entertain… tell a story, make us laugh, make us gasp…. don’t make us wait for the next nibblet of entertainment.

  10. I loved the movie. Saw it twice. Johnny depp was why I gave it a chance. Critics r stupid and they we’re purposely setting the sites on this movie. I hope that it go wild internationally and shows the us critics how silly they look. Love this movie and johnny depp.

  11. We all loved this movie. Saw it twice and can’t wait to buy it. Fantastic. I watched the TV show as well, but this was made well, full of action, fun, and thank you all for making this movie! Love Silver, the Wm. Tell Overture, Armie Hammer, and Tonto too. Beautiful Ruth was perfect.

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