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‘Lone Ranger’ the Second Straight Flop for Johnny Depp

Walt Disney Pictures

What’s happening? The box office titan known as Johnny Depp ISN’T invincible after all? You mean to tell me he CAN’T get people to come see movies based on likely outdated properties like The Lone Ranger and Dark Shadows?

I have a hunch that Johnny Depp is a big fan of nostalgia. I look at a list of his films–the eight biggest of which have grossed more than $2 billion–and I see a great many movies based on literature, old television, or–most notably–one of the most popular rides at Disney World. There seems to be a common thread in that everything he wants to do has something or could have something to do with things he enjoyed in his childhood. I’ll never forget the first time I rode Pirates of the Caribbean. What a blast! I loved The Legend of Sleepy Hollow when I was a kid. I was a huge fan of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. And I couldn’t get enough of Dark Shadows. (Now, imagine the sound of me putting on the brakes.)

Ah, Dark Shadows…a great gothic soap opera from the early 70s about vampires and werewolves and not much else. And when you’re six, you don’t want anything else. But when you’re FORTY-six, you do. You want a clever, dark, gothic horror flick about an unusual family with dark secrets and a long-lost brother whose favorite beverage is O-negative. And, instead, you get a silly bad-sitcom-level farce loaded with absurd dialogue and a dumb plot not even worthy of actors with FAR less integrity than the likes of Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer. I’m not alone. Most critics posted it in their “hated it” column. Most people didn’t go see it. It cost $150 million to make and made back just over half that. FLOP, flop, fizz, fizz.

So Johnny Depp needed to get back up on the horse. Except that “Scout” turned out to be the wrong horse. That fictional pinto may have carried Depp–as Tonto–through a nearly two and a half hour long movie. (And I confess I haven’t seen it so I don’t know if he actually RIDES a horse or not; I’m just going on the Tonto legend. But for figurative purposes…). But Depp–as gigantic movie superstar–couldn’t carry the movie into the kind of holiday weekend box office haul that bodes well for a studio’s return on investment. Yep, Depp has swallowed his second straight bomb. With a five-day take of just $49 million for a film that cost $225 million to make, The Lone Ranger looks to ride off into the sunset as a major catastrophe for the Disney studios.

I think it’s because of the age of the Lone Ranger franchise. I feel like it’s too dated to be successful in 2013. Add to that the fact that westerns as summer blockbuster possibilities have died quick deaths before–Wild, Wild West and Cowboys & Aliens, anyone?–and it feels like Disney was cooking from a recipe for disaster from the start. I think it was the same way for Dark Shadows. That television series has rarely popped up in syndication since the 70s, so there probably wasn’t much of an audience for it, anyway. And then the bad reviews came in and one thing lead to another.

Depp is hardly finished. His is one of the biggest names in movie history. But maybe it’s time to do some hard thinking about what types of projects can make money. It’s time to do some research. It’s time for the kind of movie that will bring a LOT of people in–like Pirates, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And it’s time to shelve the possibly arcane nostalgia of Dark Shadows and The Lone Ranger.

In other words, “Hi yo, Silver…go awaaaayy!”

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