The Lone Ranger reboot was slated to star Armie Hammer from The Social Network in the title role and Johnny Depp as Tonto.
The long-awaited film was all set to face stiff competition next December, as it was going up against The Hobbit, Life of Pi, Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, and World War Z. That is, until Disney pulled the plug on the movie while it was still building sets.
The official reason for the unceremonious cancellation? Disney was concerned about the budget.
Still, whatever the real reason, the last minute shutdown left many scratching their heads.
Think about it: the movie had the star power of Depp returning to work for director Gore Verbinski, who let actor create a magic role with Jack Sparrow in Pirates, and there's no reason to think he couldn't create another great secondary role that steals the show with Tonto.
It also had Jerry Bruckheimer producing, whose blockbuster instincts are usually pretty sharp. Sure, he's had some bad luck at the box office lately with Prince of Persia and The Sorcerer's Apprentice, but Bruckheimer may hit pay-dirt on TV again with Take the Money and Run - and there's absolutely no reason to think he won't knock one out of the park with a movie or two down the road.
Just days after the news hit about The Lone Ranger getting shut down, a report surfaced on the Hollywood Reporter that Disney was giving Verbinski a week to make changes to the script to bring down the budget, with Verbinski and Bruckheimer apparently giving up $10 million total from their fees to bring costs down. (Depp also agreed to reduce his fee as well.)
Other factors contributing to the shutdown include: fears that the movie may not have generated the necessary $800 million (worldwide) to be profitable, as well as Cowboys and Aliens underperforming at the box office, which could kill off the western genre for a while at the movies.
Of course, there were also previous problems with Verbinski letting the third Pirates movie get up to $300 million, and Disney has also reportedly spent $300 million on John Carter.
Robert Iger, CEO of Disney, told the Reporter, "it's our intention to take a careful look at what films cost, and if we can't get them to a level that we're comfortable with, we think that we're better off actually reducing the size of our slate than making films that are bigger and increasingly more risky."
Although many are pessimistic the movie won't be revived, the L.A. Times did report the set tear down in Silver City, New Mexico was halted for the time being, and that the "Lone Ranger may get back in the saddle soon."
Verbinski's been asked to bring costs down to $210 million, still a big number, but budget battles like these have been worked out before. For example, Michael Bay and Bruckheimer had budget fights with Disney before Pearl Harbor got the greenlight, and Minority Report famously couldn't get off the ground before Cruise, Spielberg and company reduced their fees as well.
Will the Lone Ranger make it, and help bring westerns back to the movies? Quite a cliffhanger in today's difficult economy, that's for sure.
As Mike Fleming also reports on Deadline, "The Lone Ranger is a giant risk because Westerns don't traditionally perform well overseas. In a DVD-collapsed world, a $275 million film is back to grossing 3 times its budget to earn out, and that can't be done without a big overseas reward."