Johnny Depp's Tonto Tanks: Is ‘Lone Ranger’ One Flop Too Many for the Star?

Johnny Depp's Tonto Tanks: Is 'Lone Ranger' One Flop Too Many for the Star?

TheWrap investigates whether the actor is more than the sum of his mascara

The bellyflop of "The Lone Ranger" at the box office has left some in the movie industry questioning whether star Johnny Depp is still worth his $20 million-plus salary.

Audiences roundly rejected the movie and with it Depp's eccentric Tonto: The Western grossed a mere $48.9 million over the extended Fourth of July weekend. With a reported production budget of $215 million before marketing, the film is a "John Carter"-size dud for Walt Disney Studios with little chance of recouping its costs, even when international box office is added to the till.

Speculation has already begun how much of a write-down the studio may have to take on the movie, an adaptation of a classic radio serial unfamiliar to many of key moviegoing age.

Also read: 'Lone Ranger' Takeaway: Disney, Forget Original Franchises

But "The Lone Ranger" is just the latest in a series of misfires starring Depp, who has proven a dicey money-making proposition outside "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Alice in Wonderland." "Dark Shadows," "The Rum Diary" and "The Tourist" are a few of his underwhelming projects starring the quirky actor in recent years.

"Pirates" and "Alice" have given Depp the clout to get projects like "The Lone Ranger" and "Dark Shadows" made, but also the latitude to indulge in increasingly idiosyncratic projects, complete with eyecatching getups. Producers and distributors privately grouse that his performances have grown ever more rococo and that has alienated fans and subsequently dimmed his star power.

"What is he without extreme makeup?" one international film distributor asked. "Is he an actor or is he somebody who's consistently doing a Keith Richards imitation?"

A representative for Depp did not respond to requests for comment. The producers, distributors and executives quoted in this article requested anonymity because they feared damaging their relationships with the studio or the star.

For its part, Disney said it hopes to continue working with Depp and praised both his talent and his track record.

"Johnny Depp is one of the most iconic and successful actors in the world in part because of his ability to choose unique roles and turn them into something utterly unexpected," a studio spokesman said in a statement to TheWrap. "We are incredibly proud of our long collaboration with him, which includes three billion-dollar films, and look forward to working with him for years to come."

The studio has a fifth "Pirates of the Caribbean" in the works with the actor.

Other studio executives acknowledge that Depp's bankability has taken a shellacking, but caution against writing off the Oscar-nominated actor. They argue that his mystique remains potent even after "The Lone Ranger" was gunned down by audiences and critics.

"Sadly enough there isn't a major studio in town who if Johnny Depp came to them and said, 'I want to do a PG-13 action thriller in which I play a quirky character and, oh by the way it's going to cost $150 million,' would turn him down," a studio executive told TheWrap.

See photos: Beyond 'The Lone Ranger': Johnny Depp's Most Outrageous Roles

The four "Pirates" films have generated more than $3.7 billion, while "Alice in Wonderland" has grossed more than $1 billion. The picture isn't nearly as pretty for other recent Depp films.

>>"Dark Shadows," featuring Depp as a fey bloodsucker, grossed a lackluster $245 million globally on a $150 million budget.

>>"The Rum Diary," with the actor channeling Hunter S. Thompson, eked out $23.9 million worldwide on a $45 million budget.

>>"The Tourist" — notable mostly for the Hollywood Foreign Press' inexplicable decision to nominate it for a Golden Globe Award — recouped its $100 million cost only because of strong foreign sales. Its global total stood at $278.3 million, but domestically it stumbled to a $67.6 million gross.

Early on Disney pulled the plug on "The Lone Ranger," only to resuscitate it when the budget was reduced from $250 million.

"Disney knew it was a mistake, they knew it was a risk," said Jeff Bock, a senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. But the lure of Depp's past success with producer Jerry Bruckheimer prevailed. 

Also read: Will Smith's 'After Earth' Sputters Behind 'Fast 6' and 'Now You See Me'

Depp isn't the only A-list star to fall to earth at the box office this summer: Will Smith and Channing Tatum tripped on the big-budget disasters "After Earth" and "White House Down," leading to a new round of questions about the wisdom of banking on a star when a man in a cape and a mask will do.

The international distributor said that Depp's recent decision to exit Cross Creek and Exclusive Media's biopic of Boston gangster Whitey Bulger over a salary dispute was short-sighted, because the role could have reminded audiences that he is more than the sum of his mascara.

The actor, nominated for "Sweeney Todd," "Finding Neverland" and the first "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," has the science fiction film "Transcendence" and a role as the wolf in the musical “Into the Woods" in the works.

In an interview with Rolling Stone last month, Depp joked that he wanted to make a film version of the '80s television show "ALF," which seems funny except when you consider that he has previously used his weight to bring movies based on a cult Gothic soap opera and a radio show about a silver bullet shooting vigilante to the multiplex. In that light, a Gore Verbinski-directed  "ALF" doesn't seem so far-fetched.

And guess what: it would still be a very bad idea, no matter whose name was above the title.

  • Joel Ekern

    This movie was not really made for American audiences and it should have been. Westerns are Americana. Also, there was no need to spend that much money on a Western. I read somewhere that Costner made Open Range for $22 mil.

  • Tommie

    This movie was well made and well interpreted by Johnny Depp. Sometimes people come to the theatre expecting something they've pre-conceived instead of enjoying what has been prepared for their pleasure. I can say that about every so-called flop he made. People player-hate the fact he can put so much into his characters–including his timing impeccable and meticulous. Word of mouth creates apathy before the film is seen and critics write “quirky” lines about Keith Richards make-up while they hide behind their ho-hum ugly faces and bodies! He is one with his body and character and has done a damn good job in all the so-called flops mentioned. Now they are player-hating Will Smith and family because he looks damn good for his age and is mentoring his children to become great young adults. Just cause you can't look as good as him in a skin-tight suit don't hate!

  • Truckin_Granny

    I don't listen to movie critic's much because most of the time they are wrong for the movies I do go to. American Western's are going to do better in America, this is the country Western's came from, after all. I think most people missed the point that Tonto was a Spirit Warrior. It wasn't apparent to most people until the end and then it might have gone over their heads. Tonto didn't get injured and in the end he vanished instead of walked away. I enjoyed the movie and noticed that most of the people in the theater were older people who grew up watching western's on TV through the 1950's. It probably wasn't popular with todays young people who didn't grow up on TV western's.

  • mv_sidow

    The only reason to see it is because Depp is in it.
    He's one of America's finest actors, hands down.
    If it wasn't a hit, trying to pawn that off on Depp is ludicrous.
    Sounds more like a chance to take a cheap shot
    at a great artist…..

  • Janet Bellant

    The Lone Ranger was much better than critics told us, so they destroyed this movie before it even had a chance, the question is why?

  • Fan

    It wasn't Johnny that flopped. It was the Lone Ranger. He acted like he didn't know what movie he was in and a sissy. I hope Johnny makes movies forever. Once you tune into him, everything else fades into the background.

  • Jimmy

    I saw the movie and I loved it! Let the idiotic critic pages like this one call whatever they want a “flop” but the move was cool and Depp was awesome as usual