What has happened to the Suits at Disney? One of the best run, consistently super-profitable entertainment corporations in history has hit fiscal catastrophe on the “Heaven’s Gate” scale twice in two years.
Still reeling from its 2012 $200 million write-off on “John Carter” which cost $250 million to make, now the Magic Kingdom is facing a $190 million write off on this year’s mega-monster, the $230 million budget “The Lone Ranger.”
Now, the art of selecting and producing movies is very akin to Russian roulette in reverse with an old six-cylinder revolver. If one in six of your shots hits the targets, you’re meeting the national average.
With odds like that, the first order of business when green-lighting any ultra-expensive blockbuster is “go for a sure thing.” The second is, keep your budget under control. How on earth did the Disney Suits let their budgets metastasize out of control first on “John Carter” and then on “The Lone Ranger?” Didn’t they learn anything from the first fiasco at all? Obviously not.
Here, the warning lights should have been much more obvious for “John Carter’ than for the “Lone Ranger.”
Apart from a few thousand, last surviving “Greatest Generation” GIs, who on earth remembers John Carter of Mars (and Virginia), Edgar Rice Burroughs smash hit hero of the 1920s and 1930s? Even the aging Baby Boomers haven’t a clue who he was. Even “John Carter” comic books have always crashed and burned.
Add to that the clear record that mega-movies movies starring 1930s super-heroes like “The Shadow,” “The Rocketeer” and “The Phantom” have universally bombed, despite excellent casts, superb production values, competent direction and lots of action.
Personally I loved both “The Shadow”, starring a young Alec Baldwin and “The Rocketeer” which even had “Lost” super-star Terry O’Quinn and the always wonderful Margo Martindale in minor supporting roles. Those movies presented dream-world recreations of New York City and Southern California in the late 1930’s that were glorious. But from Boomers to Millennials, nobody cared.
The odds should have been better for “The Lone Ranger.” That franchise has been dead as Monty Python’s parrot since Clayton Moore (the eponymous hero) and Jay Silverheels (faithful sidekick Tonto) hung up their spurs after 221 episodes and put their trusty steeds Silver and Scout out to pasture in 1957.
But, Disney had hit the multi-billion mother-lode with director Gore Verbinski and offbeat superstar Johnny Depp in the “Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy” and the wonderful “Rango.” So why not give them another quarter billion budget sandbox to play in with the “Lone Ranger?” That’s studio executive genius Disney style for you. Uncle Walt must be spinning in his grave.
Next: What Went Wrong