After all, Disney did pile a reported $215 million into production of the film, while optimistically noting that it had all the makings of a winner, including a classic, well-known storyline, big names in Pirates of the Carribean franchise director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and the prowess of Pirates star Johnny Depp to boot.
What's more, some reports say Disney spent more than $100 million marketing the movie in an effort to bolster excitement for the title before its release.
In fact, less than two weeks ago it seemed the studio was already planning more, when all three of the film's most significant actors (in Depp, Armie Hammer, and Ruth Wilson) went on record to say they'd love to shoot multiple sequels if Disney deemed the effort worthwhile.
Here's who didn't care
Unfortunately, that's looking much less likely after the big-budget Western took in a meager $48.7 million domestically at the box office during the five days since its debut on Wednesday, including a paltry $29.2 million take over the calendar weekend.
Of course, it didn't help when critics largely panned The Lone Ranger before its opening.
However, the first weekend's results also revealed a more troublesome trend for the aspiring franchise: 68% of The Lone Ranger's audiences last weekend were over 25, with only 16% under 18. Meanwhile, one in four Ranger moviegoers last weekend was over 50 -- a massively atypical audience structure compared with what Disney is generally accustomed to welcoming.
Simply put, younger consumers just aren't interested in seeing what this old-school storyline has to offer.
Instead, they largely chose to check out Despicable Me 2 from Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal Studios. That film hauled in a whopping $143.1 million domestically in its first five days, including an $83.5 million domestic gross during the three-day calendar weekend. For those of you keeping track, that extended holiday weekend gross beats even Disney Pixar's Toy Story 3, which held the previous record for the best five-day start for an animated movie at $141 million.
They wouldn't keep it going ... would they?
Then again, 55% of the Despicable Me 2 audience was predictably under 25, and critics didn't seem to mind praising the animated sequel. Looking back, though, we should also remember that the original Despicable Me took in just $56.4 million during its own 2010 opening, so there's always hope for better things to come.
That's why I can't help wondering whether the House of Mouse is mulling whether it should simply call The Lone Ranger franchise quits now, or instead keep the sequel train rolling in an effort to recoup its earlier losses. Of course, there's also the possibility that the first Lone Ranger could miraculously maintain some momentum and find a way to pay for itself, but that's not exactly the norm in the movie biz, as ticket sales quickly taper off.
With that in mind, however, apparently Verbinski opted for the all-too-expensive effort of constructing his own period trains as well as an incredibly long stretch of custom train tracks for this first film, so it's possible everyone was betting on making these upfront investments with lower production costs down the road for Lone Ranger sequels.
And while Disney stock did manage to close up more than 1.4% despite the flop, as investors assumed the strong showing from Iron Man 3 could carry the Disney's studio segment through any potential writedowns -- remember that Iron Man 3 has taken in more than $1.2 billion in worldwide ticket sales to date -- I wouldn't be completely surprised if Disney decided to move forward with more if the first film comes even close to paying for itself, given other opportunities down the road with Blu-ray and DVD sales, merchandising, and supplemental deals with video streaming operations such as Netflix and Amazon.com's Prime service.
In the end, then, I still think there's a chance The Lone Ranger could serve as a nice supplemental catalyst franchise to boost Disney Stock over the long run.
But what do you think? Could Disney be crazy enough to keep The Lone Ranger going after last weekend's results?
Fool contributor Steve Symington owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, Google, Netflix, and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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