Does Disney really need the grief that comes with trying to launch an original franchise?
With Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar primed to crank out barn-burners for years, Mouse House execs have to be wondering whether it's worth even attempting another "Lone Ranger" in the near future. As of now, there's nothing in Disney's pipeline aiming to be another "Pirates."
Playing that game is difficult, expensive and risky, as Disney found this weekend when its $225 million western went boots up, taking in less than $50 million over five days. Foreign box office won't make up that budget.
Given their comparable budgets and limited foreign prospects, a loss along the lines of to the $200 million writedown the studio took last summer in the wake of the "John Carter" bomb is likely.
And 2011’s "Mars Needs Moms" debacle — a $150 million original that topped out at $21 million domestically — is still fresh in the minds of studio brass.
With nearly half a billion at the worldwide box office, this spring’s "Oz the Great and Powerful" was original-ish … and hardly a flop. But whether it was successful enough – given its $215 million budget — remains to be seen, as the studio still hasn’t given a green light to another "Oz" movie.
At the same time the studio has struggled with its originals, it has been scoring big with its partners. Marvel’s "Iron Man 3" is easily the year’s biggest earner with more than $1.2 billion and Pixar’s "Monsters University" has brought in more than $400 million in less than three weeks. Last year, it was "The Avengers" and "Brave" that drove the biggest profits. And starting in 2015, there will be a "Stars Wars" movie each summer for several years.
"The Disney brand is still gold," said BoxOffice.com editor-in-chief Phil Contrino, "but it has changed. They’re all about Marvel, Pixar and ‘Star Wars’ now, and that’s fine."
He said he doesn’t see the reliance on partnerships as a step back for Disney.
"The reason those companies all came to Disney is because of their reputation and the track record they have for handling these big projects," Contrino said.
There are several upcoming Disney Animation projects that could break out, but on the live-action front, there’s nothing that shouts franchise.
That shouldn’t, and won’t, keep Disney from trying, according to Manatt, Phelps & Phillips entertainment partner Lindsay Conner told TheWrap.
"Disney has a long history of coming up with original ideas and characters he said, and they will in the future," he said. "And remember, because they’re a theme park company, when they connect, the benefits go beyond the big screen, the small screen and even digital."
He also pointed out that where the next franchise is coming from isn’t always so clear, and that studios have to take what seems like a flyer sometimes.
No one thought that "Pirates of the Caribbean," would turn into a franchise that has brought in more than $3.7 billion at the global box office.
"Pirates" made it reasonable to think "The Lone Ranger" — with Jerry Bruckheimer, Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp reteaming — might work. But the spectacular flameout of "The Lone Ranger" makes it reasonable to think that Disney may retrench to its more sure-fire fare for a while.