Did "The Lone Ranger" Create a "John Carter" Sized Mess for Disney?

Don't pity Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) . For as badly as The Lone Ranger is performing at the box office, the company's Buena Vista Pictures is earning as much as ever.

More on why that is shortly. First, let's dig into the bad news. Minions mastered the masked man in the film's opening weekend as Despicable Me 2 took in $83.5 million over the July 4th weekend versus just $29.2 million for The Lone Ranger, Box Office Mojo reports.

Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp as The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Source: Buena Vista Pictures.

As bad as the showing is for Disney, Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) Universal Pictures walks away with another winner. Despicable Me already ranks as the 10th top grossing animated feature of all time after opening at $56.4 million in July 2010. That the sequel opened more than $20 million better bodes well both for the film and for Universal's animated efforts.

Disney won't be as fortunate with The Lone Ranger, which is why so many are comparing this flop-in-the-making to John Carter, last year's $250 million box office bomb that effectively ended the Disney career of former studio chief Rich Ross.

If only he knew then what we know now. John Carter, for as big a disaster as it was, did nothing to diminish the House of Mouse's theatrical prowess. Here's a closer look at the year-over-year numbers from Jan. 1 through June 30:

Buena Vista Year-Over-Year Comparison
YTD 2013
YTD 2012

Number of films




Total U.S. box office

$886.8 million

$949.8 million


Per-film average

$88.7 million

$79.2 million


Source: Box Office Mojo.
** Includes a 3D rerelease of The Lion King.

After achieving $800 million in domestic box office receipts only once since 2000 (in 2010), Disney has done at least that in both 2012 and this year. Impressive may be too timid a word for how well Buena Vista is doing right now.

Credit two very big films -- Marvel's The Avengers and Iron Man 3 -- which earned more than $1 billion each in global box office receipts. Last year, The Avengers led Disney to a $100 million, or 17%, increase in studio profit, S&P Capital IQ reports. The tough comparable could make similar gains hard to come by in 2013. But profits? There should be plenty to go around, thanks to Iron Man 3.

For investors, the lesson here is simple: Forget The Lone Ranger. Instead, pay attention to what's in the Marvel movie pipeline. Nothing in Disney's portfolio has proven to be so reliable at fixing box office mistakes. Exactly what you'd expect from a superhero.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Did you see The Lone Ranger? If so, what did you think of the film, and are you more or less likely to invest in Disney as a result?

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Read/Post Comments (13) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On July 09, 2013, at 10:24 PM, stockdissector wrote:

    I believe Disney's strength lies with Marvel.

  • Report this Comment On July 09, 2013, at 10:24 PM, stockdissector wrote:

    ...and Lucasfilm

  • Report this Comment On July 09, 2013, at 11:10 PM, matthewluke wrote:

    I don't understand how the movie was a bomb. I mean, I DO understand, because they spent somewhere around $215 million to make and market it. But I don't understand how it cost $215 million to make and market. That's insane! It is a western movie. This movie should have cost at least half of that (if not a quarter, or an eighth even). Cowboys & Aliens was around $160 and just barely made that back at the box office. I think Django Unchained was $100 million or so, and even that still was a bit on the expensive side (although that was a hit).

    Where was the oversight at Disney when someone decided to allocate Iron Man 3 type money (maybe more than Iron Man 3, actually) to make what should have been a relatively-cheap western movie?

  • Report this Comment On July 10, 2013, at 1:36 AM, doorsfan83 wrote:

    Somebody has it out for this movie. Yahoo is constantly running negative reviews on this film. Leave it alone already.

  • Report this Comment On July 10, 2013, at 2:35 AM, PhoenixMusic wrote:

    I saw Lone Ranger on the 4th. And I quite enjoyed it. Not the best movie of the summer, but for me it's up there. What the movie lacks in action it makes up for in cast and the comical lines. There are several lines in the movie that made me and friend (who I went to see it with) made us laugh so hard. Johnny Depp and William Fichtner are in my top 10 favorite actors list. So I was delighted to see them work together. And with more big name stars in the movie (like Helena Bonham Carter, and Tom Wilkinson). I'm surprised it didn't see more movie goers. But seeing as it is competing with Dispicable Me 2 I can see why. Because Dispicable Me 2 is a kid friendly movie and parents are taking their kids to that and forgetting Lone Ranger. Plus I grew up with Lone Ranger (thanks to my Dad). So reliving a bit of my childhood was a plus for me.

    What else I think may be keeping people from seeing Lone Ranger is Johnny Depp himself. Because I remember so many people were upset with Depp getting the lead role. When he wasn't even native american. But quite frankly I don't care, he still did the part justice. Sure a true native american actor would've been nice for the role. But Depp did a great job.

  • Report this Comment On July 10, 2013, at 4:25 AM, Picklock wrote:

    Somebody is making way too much money off these films, $350 million for john carter? Give me a break..

  • Report this Comment On July 10, 2013, at 9:35 AM, cac160 wrote:

    I enjoyed the movie and thought it was worth seeing. It is almost like the press determines a movie is a bomb and then does their best to make it so.

  • Report this Comment On July 10, 2013, at 9:39 AM, Experiment626 wrote:

    A big difference between the two movies.

    'John Carter' was a good movie that wasn't marketed.

    'The Lone Ranger' was a terrible movie that they marketed the hell out of.

  • Report this Comment On July 10, 2013, at 9:59 AM, maledict wrote:

    I don't think anyone has it out for this movie. If it bombed then it bombed. But we have to put the comparison of Despicable Me in perspective. Remember, The Lone Ranger is an adult film so usually you have a single person or a couple paying for tickets. With a children's film you have dad, mom, and the three kids, that's a 5:2 ratio. That's why animated films tend to gross so much more than adult films because the whole family goes to see them.

  • Report this Comment On July 10, 2013, at 10:06 AM, Garywalk wrote:

    I agree with doorsfan83 that someone must have it out for this film. I saw it last night and loved it. It's not the Lone Ranger I grew up with but the movie was very funny and I think that the media should leave the negative comments alone. In todays life the media tries to control our thinking.

  • Report this Comment On July 10, 2013, at 1:25 PM, roqme1985 wrote:

    I am SO glad to hear other people liked this movie. I loved it. And I love these comments. I hadn't thought about the purchase ratio for Despicable Me vs Lone Ranger; that was very smart. And the reason Lone Ranger didn't do well oversees is because it's an American television show. Always has been; always will be. So if Disney is hoping to recoup any losses there, it's very doubtful. Such a shame this movie is getting bad press; don't know why people are ganging up against it. Fun dialogue, great landscape, as Western as it gets, and wonderful actors. Now, the ravenous rabbits and Helena Bonham Carter's role could have been written out in my opinion; but that's just me. I'm just thrilled I'm not the only one who liked this movie. Was feeling lonely there for a minute.

  • Report this Comment On July 11, 2013, at 4:36 PM, ABerean wrote:

    My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed Lone Ranger. There were many moments of great comedy and the the raucous action with the Lone Ranger theme playing in the background was the perfect homage to the TV show which many of us Boomers grew up with. Anyway, if we relied on the reviewers' comments we'd hardly see much. Perhaps word of mouth will cause others to venture in.

  • Report this Comment On July 11, 2013, at 4:42 PM, Costanzawallet wrote:

    Just wait till the next Star Wars installment comes out (sans a Jar Jar Binks I hope) and see the stock climb... Movies should never be measured by opening weekends anyway since that accounts for only a small piece of the pie when counting dvd, and oversees return.

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