We should’ve seen the failing of The Lone Ranger at both the box office and from word of mouth coming a long time before it hit theatres … or at least we should’ve spoken about it beforehand. Going in I had openly discussed about how poor this film looks to be purely by looking at the tea leaves of production. Anytime a $200 million plus feature is halted several days in and later restarted over money disputes between the main producer and the studio is bound for failure.
The difference between $20-40 million in budget is significant but something many studios will eat for the right project. Or they’ll come to a deal to delay money based on an alternate revenue stream, et al. The cost of bad publicity usually outweighs the cost of deferred money, of course, and usually you see in Hollywood that they’ll figure a way before they outright cancel something.
Warner through plenty of good money after bad trying to reboot Superman any number of times, losing somewhere in the nine figures after Superman Returns came and went from theatres. Nothing was ever confirmed but the rumor mill pegged their total loss on that film somewhere between $100-200 million but that was just rumors; it was still a loss but the amount has always been debatable. No one ever really knew the final number, and Warner never said, but it was a loss and it’ll probably take almost all of the profits from Man of Steel for the studio to be in the black on Superman.
Warner was willing to green light $225 million for Zack Snyder because they believed in the property that much. And their gamble paid off, and handsomely, as Man of Steel will make enough money for them to survive at least one flop in the next 12 months.
The fact that Disney played hardball to shave money off The Lone Ranger budget says a lot, especially considering they probably lost a good chunk of money by stopping production the first time. It wasn’t the reason why the film failed but it’s a contributing factor. Thus comes this week’s column.
Why did Ranger flop as hard as it did? A number of reasons, actually:
1. Westerns are a tough sell, especially as the budget escalates – The one thing about westerns is that they’re still really a prestige genre. And don’t kid yourself: it may have cost $225 million and marketed as a blockbuster but The Lone Ranger is as much a western as 3:10 to Yuma. Unfortunately Westerns don’t draw enough to justify that kind of a budget; the highest grossing western of all time is still Dances with Wolves, which didn’t break $200 million 23 years ago. It’s easier to gross $200 million plus now with the costs of tickets, of course, but westerns have a fiscal ceiling in the same way Denzel Washington does. There’s only so much money they’ll gross on the maximum, thus you have to budget accordingly.
2. The bigger the budget the bigger the expectation - If this had been a film budgeted between $80 and 100 million then by all means the film’s worldwide gross of over $73 million is absolutely spectacular. The conversation would’ve been “Johnny Depp is a big star,” et al, as having grossed $70 million internationally in one weekend is the start of a profitable film. Unfortunately the production budget crossed $200 million before publicity, advertising and marketing (which was probably another hundred million on top of it). The narrative changed because of the budget size and anything less than $100 million domestically in its opening weekend would be considered a failure.
3. The Lone Ranger isn’t a relevant fictional character anymore – The era of the Lone Ranger and Tonto ended long enough ago that you have to be well into retirement age to remember it. At this point it’s most relevant moment is that it’s part of a dated Bill Cosby joke. People aren’t going to flock to nostalgia because TLR isn’t something people have a fond memory for. Senior citizen homes aren’t going to be emptying en masse, you know?
4. Disney didn’t have confidence in it to begin with … and people knew it – You don’t stop and start production on something you have confidence will be a hit. Money aside one imagines that Disney, Bruckheimer, Depp and Verbinski would’ve found a solution to it without missing a beat. The fact that they shut down and played hardball with the film tells you that they weren’t sure it was going to be a hit in the first. You don’t cancel a film, especially one this size, over what amounted to roughly 10% or so of the budget if you don’t think there is a chance you won’t make it back with box office receipts.
5. Johnny Depp is starting to lose his “cool” factor – Depp became a star by playing Jack Sparrow, a wacky character, and gained a lot of fans in the process. Unfortunately a lot of people weren’t fans before that film and his ability to play weird/goofy characters was novel in a lot of ways. But he hasn’t played a lot regular characters and now it’s become passé. We’ve seen it before and no one will plunk down money for just a character anymore. It’s why Michael Myers hasn’t tried to create another franchise after The Love Guru failed so poorly; Johnny Depp being weird isn’t novel anymore it’s expected.
This Week’s DVD – Miami Connection
Miami Connection was an action film that couldn’t find an audience in the 80s, mainly because it was so awful that no one wanted to lose money on it. Think about this for a moment: in an action movie heavy decade, one in which a film like Action Jackson 2 could get a wide release, this film got rejected because of how awful it was. There takes a special level of awful to pull that off and Miami Connection got a limited release, made no money in theatres and then disappeared for twenty plus years.
That is until Drafthouse films found it and blew it up, making it into a cult hit at midnight showings and getting it a proper DVD release after all these years. In an era where crappy film-making is becoming embraced to a certain degree Miami Connection managed to be seen by more people now than it did back when people were supposed to take this film seriously.
It’s a simple film: a Miami based rock band are all college students and bad-ass Tae Kwon Do experts. When a band of drug dealing ninjas on motorcycles get ticked off that they took their gig at the local night spot shenanigans ensue. And oh boy do they ensue.
The thing that stands out most about this film is that it feels like an expensive, overly long student film from the 80s as opposed to an actual attempt at a legitimate production. It’s just so obnoxiously bad … but without the intent to make it bad. This is a film you can tell everyone is trying, et al, but there’s no actual talent or training on display. It’s a bunch of rank amateurs doing what they think you’re supposed to do, which is what they are. It’s why I can’t help but laugh with them instead of mock them outright: they don’t know any better.
The crazy thing is that the film has a connection with MMA. Maurice Smith, who played Jim, is actually a legitimate badass and one of the first holders of the UFC heavyweight title.
It’s awful … but it’s cheap on Amazon and one of those films you can watch with friends, like The Room, and just openly mock for just how awful it is.
What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club
Grown-Ups 2 – Adam Sandler and his buddies made a movie. Again.
Skip it – The first was bad … and this one looks like a crime against humanity.
Pacific Rim – Guillermo Del Toro Got $200 million for an updated Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, right?
See it – Stringer Bell vs. space monsters? Yeah, I’m down for that.
Fruitvale Station – Michael B Jordan’s apparent breakout role in an indie about a shooting gone wrong on the BART in 2009. In limited release.
See it – It’s been getting Oscar buzz for Jordan, which is usually a good reason to support indie film.
Pawn Shop Chronicles – A bunch of Hollywood stars do what’s been called a redneck Pulp Fiction. In limited release.
See It – Either it’ll be hilarious or it’ll be Movie 43 level embarrassing for some fairly big names.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .