In a stunning development, Disney has shut down production on The Lone Ranger, the Gore Verbinski-directed period Western that was to star Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the title character. Jerry Bruckheimer is the producer and the script's by Justin Haythe. I'm told this all just happened, and Disney pulled the plug because the budget, which I've heard the filmmakers were trying to reduce from $250 million--I've heard from insider that they'd gotten down to $232 million, but whatever the number, it wasn't close to the $200 million that Disney wanted to spend. This had to be an incredibly tough call for Disney's Rich Ross and Sean Bailey, but they have several huge live action bets on the table already. John Carter, the Andrew Stanton-directed adaptation of John Carter of Mars with Friday Night Lights' Taylor Kitsch in the lead role, has a budget that has ballooned to north of $300 million because of extensive re-shoots [a studio insider said the number is lower], and The Great and Powerful Oz, the Sam Raimi-directed James Franco-starrer has a budget is hovering at $200 million. Lone Ranger wasn't starting production until October, and and even though money has been spent as the picture is in pre-production (Depp is pay or play), but it was the easiest one on which to apply the brakes. The shoot was set for New Mexico. Between Depp, Bruckheimer and Verbinski, the gross outlay on the film is substantial. The film was still casting up, with Ruth Wilson, the serial killer from the BBC's Lutherseries, set for the female lead.
This becomes the second major Western-themed project to bite the dust, after Universal halted a mammoth adaptation of Stephen King's The Dark Tower. Is it coincidence that The Lone Ranger halted right after another Western, Cowboys & Aliens, proved to be a pricey disappointment for DreamWorks and Universal?
The development is stunning because the principals have minted money when they've worked together for Disney. Bruckheimer is the long time cornerstone producer on the Disney lot and because Depp has starred in the studio's all time biggest films, including Alice in Wonderland and the four Bruckheimer-producedPirates of the Caribbean films. Depp and Verbinski teamed for three Piratesinstallments, grossing billions of dollars for the studio. Verbinski most recently directed Rango, the Paramount film that is a front runner for Best Animated Film Oscar and which grossed $243 million worldwide. Disney has four of the 10 all-time top worldwide grossing films in Hollywood history, and three of them starred Depp. That includes Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, which Verbinski directed and which grossed $1.066 billion. The most recent Pirates installment also cracked the $1 billion mark this summer, and Disney's only other film on that All-Time Top 10 list is Toy Story 3.
Lone Ranger was scheduled to be released December 21, 2012, smack up againstThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which opens December 14, and the Brad Pitt-starrer World War Z, which was just slated for December 21. It's unclear whether that factored into the decision. The studio and filmmakers are trying to figure out the next step, which would either be to shop it elsewhere or put it back together at a later date at a lower budget. Calls to Disney were not returned. The Lone Ranger has a long history, but Disney counted on Depp to make it relevant. The series began on radio in 1933, became a TV series that ran from 1949-1957, and both were wildly popular as the masked Lone Ranger and Tonto fought crime in the Old West, with the Lone Ranger calling out Hi Yo, Silver! Away!, as his horse took off.
Halting the movie is shocking because of the participants involved, but it certainly is happening with more regularity in Hollywood lately. Universal recently halted production on a version of At the Mountains of Madness that Guillermo del Toro was going to direct with Tom Cruise starring, and it also halted an adaptation of King's The Dark Tower that Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Akiva Goldsman were ready to do, in a trilogy of movies and two limited run TV series. And just this week, DreamWorks halted Southpaw, a boxing drama that has Eminem set to star in his first role since 2002's 8 Mile, with Antoine Fuqua directing. This happened after the failure of Cowboys & Aliens. While Southpaw's $30 million budget was small compared to those other cancellations (other suitors are circling for the picture), it's clear that studios are making their bets more shrewdly, particularly with the economic uncertainty that has rocked the stock prices of parent companies of film studios. Even if it means bruised feelings from stars, directors and producers accustomed to having it their way.
Depp is in Europe at the moment, but really wanted to make the film. All parties are saying the outcome here is unclear what will happen. "There's always a chance it could still go," one insider said. "You never know until you know." But clearly, Disney would not have taken such a drastic stance unless is was determined to bring the cost down $40 million or so. Can it do that when they're shooting in the outdoors in winter, and keep that late 2012 release date? That would be more shocking than what happened today.
-Joey's Two Cents: I have no clue why the film needed to cost so much, but regardless, I'd still like to see it happen at some point...thoughts?