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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.