Disney’s "The Lone Ranger" isn’t going to do for Westerns what "Pirates of the Caribbean" did for swashbucklers.
The $225 million adaptation of the classic radio and TV show, with Armie Hammer as the title character and Johnny Depp as Tonto, has been hit with a late barrage of bad reviews and buzz. At least one analyst has dropped his projection on the eve of Wednesday’s debut, which will ignite the July 4 weekend at the box office.
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Gore Verbinski, "The Lone Ranger" had a week ago been projected to take in around $70 million over the five days, but that’s hardly a slam dunk now. Even if it does hit that number, it won’t be enough to catch Universal’s "Despicable Me 2," which the studio expects to top $100 million. And it won’t be enough to put it on the path to profitability unless it overperforms oveseas, unlikely for a Western.
Among the ominous late signs for "Lone Ranger":
>> It has a paltry 17 percent positive rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Reviews rarely make or break action movies, but that's a very low number and many of the critics have taken it to task for excessive violence, which won't help with families.
>> Its social media signs are terrible. Two days from its opening, "The Lone Ranger" was mentioned in 5,031 tweets according to BoxOffice.com, as compared with 22,412 for "Dark Shadows," the Depp send-up of the TV vampire soap that bombed last summer. Facebook isn’t much better, with "Lone Ranger" topping "Dark Shadows" in "likes" by just 586,412 to 424,520.
>> Online ticket broker Fandango reports that as of Thursday afternoon "Despicable Me 2" was outselling it by a 2-1 margin. The animated film’s sales are outpacing those for "Monsters University" – which opened to $82 million two weeks ago — by 15 percent.
Despite all that, many of the projections for "The Lone Ranger" are brighter than they were at the start of summer, which was at roughly half its current number. For the most part, the barrage of bad buzz that hit when the studio shut down production over an out-of conrol budget last summer seems largely forgotten. But it’s going up against a juggernaut in "Despicable Me 2."
"I just don’t know who the audience for this movie will be," said BoxOffice.com editor-in-chief Phil Contrino, whose service has "The Lone Ranger" doing closer to $50 million for the long weekend.
"With those reviews and the competition, I don’t think it’s going to do any business with families, and the word of mouth has been toxic," Contrino said. "It feels a lot like the ‘Wild, Wild West’ to me." That was the 1999 Will Smith-Kevin Kline horse opera that opened to $27 million despite its $190 million budget, huge for that era.
Disney has attempted to sell the PG-13 rated "The Lone Ranger" as an action film, rather than a Western. That strategy worked recently for Paramount, which played down the zombie elements of "World War Z." Problem is, there is plenty of competition in that realm in the marketplace now, with the Brad Pitt thriller and "Man of Steel" still doing solid business.
"Despicable Me 2," on the other hand, seems to be surging, and Contrino believes it could go as high as $130 million. It will open in 3,900 theaters, compared to 3,700 for "The Lone Ranger," and both films are doing Tuesday night screenings.
The sequel from Universal and Chris Melandri’s Illumination Entertainment will easily outstrip the opening of the original film, which debuted to $56 million over three days around the same time of year in 2009. The success of that one was a surprise, but the sequel isn’t sneaking up on anyone, and it’s been looking strong for months. A teaser trailer in March of last year generated more than 60 million views.
The critics like it, and it has an 80 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes.
Most of the team from the original is back, including co-producer Janet Healy, directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin and writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio. Steve Carell returns as Gru, as do Gru’s girls — Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher). Russell Brand is also back as Dr. Nefario with Kristen Wiig voicing a different role than the small one she had in the first film. Benjamin Bratt, Moises Arias, Steve Coogan and Ken Jeong join the cast.
Making this all better for Universal is the film’s $76 million production budget, low for an animated movie.
Also debuting this week is the comedy concert film "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain." Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment is giving it a limited debut – around 825 theaters – targeting African-American and comedy audiences. It’s produced by Lionsgate’s Codeblack Films and the comedian’s HartBeat Productions.