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THE LONE RANGER Weekend Box Office: Bigger Flop Than Anticipated?

The Lone Ranger Johnny Depp Tonto Armie HammerThe Lone Ranger weekend box office: Bigger flop than early estimates indicated? (Image: Johnny Depp as Tonto, Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger)

The Pirates of the Caribbean team is back with The Lone Ranger: that's producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Gore Verbinski, screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, actor Johnny Depp, and distributor Disney. But whereas Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the White Pearl, co-starring Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush, and Orlando Bloom, was a major domestic box office hit, opening with $46.63 million at 3,269 locations in early July 2003 (approximately $61 million today) and going on to gross $305.41 million in North America (approximately $402 million today), The Lone Ranger is bound to become one of the biggest domestic box office flops of 2013 in relation to its exorbitant $215 million production budget, alongside several other costly underperformers at the North American box office: M. Night Shyamalan / Will Smith's After Earth, Roland Emmerich's White House Down, John Moore / Bruce Willis' A Good Day to Die Hard, and Bryan Singer's Jack the Giant Slayer.

According to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo, The Lone Ranger, which pairs up a heavily madeup Johnny Depp as Tonto with The Social Network's Armie Hammer in the title role, has taken in a meager $30.16 million from 3,904 North American locations in its first three days out. On Friday, early estimates found at Deadline.com foresaw a $13 million gross that day; instead, The Lone Ranger collected $10.65 million, a mere 8 percent increase from the previous day.

Among the top eight movies at the domestic box office, The Lone Ranger was the only title with a single-digit surge on Friday. For comparison's sake: Despicable Me 2 was up 23 percent to $30.2 million (more than The Lone Ranger's three-day cume) and probably somewhere around $140 million by Sunday evening; the Sandra Bullock / Melissa McCarthy buddy movie The Heat was up 35 percent to $8.6 million; and Marc Forster / Brad Pitt's zombie flick World War Z was up a whopping 47 percent. Even Sony Pictures' domestic box office bomb White House Down, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, was up 31 percent, while the stand-up comedy movie Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain was up 44 percent. (Needless to say, the Kevin Hart movie, which may gross around $16 million by Sunday evening, has zero chances of international success – in fact, the film will be lucky if it finds distribution outside North America.)

The Lone Ranger weekend box office estimates

Disney was reportedly expecting at the very least $65 million over The Lone Ranger's first five days in the U.S. and Canada. With luck, The Lone Ranger will reach $50 million – though $46-$48 million is a more likely scenario. If that sounds bad, expect things to get even worse once Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim opens next weekend, followed by Dean Parisot's Red 2 a week later.

So, don't be too surprised if The Lone Ranger ends its domestic run with less than $120 million. If so, the best thing that can be said about Disney's investment (in relation to the domestic box office) is that The Lone Ranger didn't turn out to be as much of a disaster as, say, Andrew Stanton / Taylor Kitsch's John Carter ($250 million budget; $73.07 million domestic gross) or Robert Zemeckis' Mars Needs Moms ($150 million budget; $21.39 million domestic gross).

Also worth remembering is that Westerns are notorious box office underperformers outside the United States. Recent examples include Harrison Ford / Daniel Craig's Cowboys & Aliens, with $74.58 million internationally (vs. $100.24 million in North America); and Joel and Ethan Coen's True Grit, with a not insignificant $79.88 million internationally most likely thanks to Jeff Bridges' Best Actor Oscar (vs. $171.24 million domestically). A major exception to this rule is Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. Featuring major international box office draw Leonardo DiCaprio, Tarantino's Best Picture Oscar-nominated quasi-Western raked in $261.17 million internationally (vs. $162.8 million domestically).

Sunday, July 7, 2013, update: Despicable Me 2 grossed an estimated $142.07 million in its first five days, followed by The Lone Ranger with $48.93 million. Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain took in $17.46 million. Weekend box office actuals will be released on Monday.

Johnny Depp to save The Lone Ranger at international box office?

As explained in my previous The Lone Ranger box office article, the film's key chance of becoming an international box office hit lies with Johnny Depp, who remains a top international box office magnet. Whereas Tim Burton's Dark Shadows bombed in the U.S. and Canada, grossing a paltry $79.72 million, it was a solid hit elsewhere, collecting $165.8 million. Co-starring Penélope Cruz, Rob Marshall's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was the weakest domestic performer among the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, earning $241.07 million; internationally, however, On Stranger Tides scored an astonishing $802.8 million. Even Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's widely lambasted (and Golden Globe-nominated) The Tourist, co-starring Angelina Jolie, brought in $210.71 million internationally after collecting a meager $67.63 million domestically.

Of note: Gore Verbinski's previous Western, the animated feature Rango, featured Johnny Depp's voice on the English-language soundtrack. Rango collected $123.47 million domestically and a slightly more modest $121.89 million elsewhere.

International box office estimates for The Lone Ranger will be available on Sunday. The film has opened in about two dozen international territories this week, including Russia, Italy, South Korea, and Australia.

I should add that Disney's domestic disaster John Carter performed admirably internationally, grossing $209.7 million.

Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer topline The Lone Ranger cast

Besides Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer in the title role, The Lone Ranger features Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter (one of Depp's co-stars in Alice in Wonderland, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Dark Shadows), James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Harry Treadaway, Mason Elston Cook, James Frain, JD Cullum, Barry Pepper, Saginaw Grant, Damon Herriman, Gil Birmingham, Damon Carney, and Stephen Root. Justin Haythe is credited alongside Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio for the film's screenplay.

The Lone Ranger is beset with a disastrous 11 percent approval rating and 4.2/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics.

The Lone Ranger photo featuring Johnny Depp as Tonto, Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger: Walt Disney Studios.

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