The minions of "Despicable Me 2” ignited the July 4 weekend at the box office with a sparkling $34 million opening Wednesday, running circles around Disney’s mega-budgeted "The Lone Ranger,” which brought in less than $10 million.
The weak $9.7 million debut puts the adaptation of the classic radio and TV show, with Armie Hammer as the title character and Johnny Depp as Tonto, on course for a weekend in the $45 million range. That's way under projections, and all but assures the action Western, from the "Pirates of the Caribbean team of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski, won’t come close to recouping its $225 million budget and marketing costs.
The crowds that did show up liked it better than the critics, the majority of whom have blasted it, and gave it at "B+” CinemaScore. That offers some hope that the PG-13 rated "The Lone Ranger" will rebound over the next few days, and Depp’s popularity could help it overseas, but both of those look like real long shots now.
More likely it will mark the second disappointing outing in a row for Depp, who is coming off last summer's "Dark Shadows." And it will put the "Lone Ranger" up with the biggest Western bombs of all time, such as "Wild, Wild West." That was the 1999 Will Smith-Kevin Kline horse opera that opened to $27 million despite its $190 million budget, huge for that era.
"The Lone Ranger" was always facing an uphill ride. The top debut ever for a live-action Western belongs to 2011's "Cowboys & Aliens" and that was just $36 million; with its $163 million budget, even that lost major money.
The news was a lot better for Universal and Illumination Entertainment’s animated "Despicable Me 2.” It received an "A” CinemaScore from the first-night family audiences that flocked to its 3,957 theaters. "The Lone Ranger” was in 3,904 locations.
The strong debut by "Despicable Me 2" means its will blow away the $56 million over three days that the original film opened to, and almost surely go well over the $110 million that analysts had projected.
The debut by “Despicable Me 2" is the eighth-highest Wednesday opening ever and Universal's best ever. With nearly $66 million from foreign opening last week, it has already grossed $100 million globally. Making that all the better for the studio is the film's relatively modest $76 million production budget.
Also debuting strongly Wednesday was Summit Entertainment’s comedy concert movie "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain,” which brought in $4.7 million from just 876 theaters. Its $5,422 per-theater average was behind only "Despicable Me 2," and means it will likely top $20 million for the five days.
Disney’s “Monsters University," the reigning box office champ, took a predictable hit from the minions and was fighting for third place with Fox’s Melissa McCarthy-Sandra Bullock comedy “The Heat.” Both took in just over $5 million Wednesday.
“Let Me Explain” was next, followed by Brad Pitt’s zombie thriller “World War Z” ($4 million), Sony’s Channing Tatum-Jamie Foxx action epic “White House Down” ($2.6 million) and Warner Bros.’ “Man of Steel” ($2.3 million).
Sony’s Seth Rogen comedy “This is the End” ($1.6 million) and Summit’s magic-themed heist thriller “Now You See Me”($538,000) rounded out the top ten.