If Disney Follows the John Carter Precedent, They Will Announce the Lone Ranger Writedown Tomorrow. Will it happen?

John Carter (The Disney Movie)

One of the many interesting aspects of Disney’s handling of John Carter was the decision to break with tradition and announce the writedown on the second Monday after release, rather than waiting until the next quarterly earnings report, which is what they had done previously.  Many John Carter supporters felt that this announcement was premature, coming as it id before the film had even opened in key markets like Japan and China.

Flash forward fifteen months to The Lone Ranger, which did even more poorly than John Carter on its opening weekend (29M vs 31M for John Carter).  What should we expect from Disney?

I’m not sure.

First of all, let’s compare the performance of the two films.  Here’s a chart which is instructive, up to a point.

Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 9.02.12 AMSome other points to consider:

  • The reputed promotional spend for Lone Ranger was 175m vs 150m for John Carter, so if that’s true — the foregoing charts basically zero out when promotion/marketing investment is added.
  • John Carter had a much stronger Foreign opening, and clearlyw ill have a higher foreign total than Lone Ranger.  But Lone Ranger opened on Wednesday, not Friday, and there are the Wed / Thu figures (including holiday July 4, Thursday) that are not captured in the chart above.   So for its first 5 days, Lone Ranger had 48m and JC had 35m — but JC’s first five were Friday through Tuesday, with no Holiday, and kids in school, yada yada.

The bottom line is they are pretty similar in terms of outcome, if you consider worldwide gross.  But more of JC’s money came from foreign, where Disney earns less from each box office dollar.

But on to the question — will Disney announce a writedown tomorrow?

If such an announcement is purely a matter of looking at the the numbers and making an announcement, then they should.  But as everyone knows, it’s more complicated than that.

Let’s start with the pre-release “it’s a bomb” drumbeat.

For whatever combination of reasons, the pre-release drumbeat regarding  The Lone Ranger didn’t come close to the “it will bomb” clamor that John Carter endured.  At least that’s my impression — I didn’t follow Lone Ranger as closely as i did John Carter. But I think that’s a fair observation and it makes sense because there are things that differentiated Lone Ranger from John Carter as far as whether or not the package made sense is concerned.

Why did JC become such a profound target of pre-release ridicule, when Lone Ranger did not get whacked to that extent?

Both involve an attempt to revive interest in a thrilling series from yesteryear, and there are those who are using this to show them as corollaries to each other.

But in the case of John Carter the series simply wasn’t known whereas Lone Ranger was at least something that most moviegoers had heard of, even if they had never seen it.  There was recognition.  The title conjured up an image.  The title “John Carter” conjured up nothing.  So there was a difference on that level.

More importantly, Lone Ranger had marketing hooks that John Carter didn’t.  Johnny Depp.  Jerry Bruckheimer.  From the team who brought you the Pirates of the Carribbean.

That last one is very important.  Moviegoers understood that the Lone Ranger was basically what the POTC team moved on to — it was their next thing.

For  all those reasons, Lone Ranger wasn’t ridiculed in advance as an outrageous allocation of studio resources the way that John Carter was.

Remember — John Carter was an obscure, untested literary property, it had a first time action director, it had no major stars, and it didn’t have a “name” producer attached.

So, the “Schaenfreude Quotient” for John Carter was 95, and it’s only 75 for the Lone Ranger.

Will Disney make an announcement?

I doubt it, but that might.  They might be smarting a little bit for the criticism they got for how they handled John Carter, but I doubt it.  They may also have discovered that making such an announcement does in fact make sense from a stock price management point of view.  It soothes shareholders and diminishes the likelhood that a bomb will result in a significant drop in stock prices.

So maybe they will think it makes sense to do this all the time when a film bombs in a big way – even though it hurts the movie’s performance to do so.

We’ll see.



  • I went to a toy store and saw Lego Lone Ranger!! How on earth can we have Battleship and Lone Ranger Lego and no John Carter? I so much want my Lego Woola!!

  • Yeah, Disney once again did a terrible job on the marketing, but at least they decided to give Johnny Depp another chance. Nice Topic! 🙂

  • Just a short comment that JC’s $31 million gross happened in March where the weather is pretty rough throughout most of the country and the kids are in school. That’s actually a pretty good gross for that month, whereas The Lone Ranger’s gross is far more devastating since the weather and school are not factors.

    I also think that making fun of venerable characters in movies usually bombs since die-hard fans stay away. Good examples are Richard Lester’s slapstick Superman and Joel Schumacher’s Batman codpiece movies in contrast to Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan’s Batman and Richard Donner’s Superman.

  • Johnny Depp’s international popularity might save Disney’s bacon a little bit on Lone Ranger, but I think John Carter will have a bigger cult following and be considered a better film in the future.

    How do you think Pacific Rim fits into all this, in terms of the “flop” label from journalists before release? Over the weekend, 2 sequels (Despicable Me 2 and Grown Ups 2) beat Del Toro’s big-budgeted blockbuster.

    I agree with Tim Young somewhat. Maybe a positive to come of all of this is that we’ll see more well-written smaller-budgeted films like Mud, A Place Beyond The Pines and The Way Way Back.

  • I suspect the most depressing outcome to all this is that, in the future, Disney and other major studios will be even MORE reluctant to take a chance on a vintage storyline, dimming even further the chances of a John Carter sequel. …sigh…

  • Virtually unlike re: write down announcement. Unlike John Carter, Bob Iger owns this fiasco totally, he can’t blame this on Rich Ross, and guys like that won’t own up. What I see is Verbinski/Depp/Bruckheimer bolting to another studio as soon as their contractual obligations have been met.


  • Honestly probably not. At the time of Mopey’s release, Disney had nothing else out prior to that. It was before The Avengers, Brave and Wreck It Ralph came out. Here The Lone Ranger is arriving after the billion Iron Man 3 made, plus the profits of Monsters University and Oz so while Lone Ranger will cause a write off it will be lost among the money winners Disney released.

    The major issue with Lone Ranger is the same one Mopey Carter had which is that Disney making movies to keep someone happy, in this case Johnny Depp. Who other than Depp really had any interest in a Lone Ranger film? I doubt Alan Horn, Rich Ross or the Back to Barsoomers’ Arch Nemesis Iger did except to keep the Money Pot happy, which is what they did here. The same thing with Mopey. I really doubt Dick Cook believed Carter would become the next Star Wars but wanted to keep the tempremental Andrew happy since they didn’t want him to go off and cry to Lassiter, the only person anyone at Disney-including Iger-seems to truly fear.

    Besides Disney got what they wanted. Depp has agreed to do Pirates 5 and reportedly is in talks for Alice in Wonderland 2 so they’ll forgive Ranger as much as they did Stanton when he agreed to make Finding Nemo 2: The Search for More Pixarian Egos.

    Also as a side note no post on the new Tarzan trailer?

  • In fact, in France, I’m sure John Carter is most well known than the Lone Ranger. We at least had the Barsoom novels in print at some points. For the Lone Ranger we had strictly nothing. I had to look at Wikipedia to have some idea about the character, and I think I can be considered a pretty good geek example to begin with. But yes, it was marketed as another Verbinski/Depp/Bruckheimer effort.

    When seeing what appeared to me as a fairly light marketing campaign, compared to this summer’s other tentpole movies, I wondered if that was another case of mishandling from Disney. After all, another common point between John Carter and the Lone Ranger is that it was greenlit by a previous regimen at Disney, precisely the infamous Rich Ross one.

Leave a Reply