Johnny Depp's Tonto Tanks: Is 'Lone Ranger' One Flop Too Many for the Star?
The bellyflop of "The Lone Ranger" at the box office has left some in the movie industry questioning whether star Johnny Depp is still worth his $20 million-plus salary.
Audiences roundly rejected the movie and with it Depp's eccentric Tonto: The Western grossed a mere $48.9 million over the extended Fourth of July weekend. With a reported production budget of $215 million before marketing, the film is a "John Carter"-size dud for Walt Disney Studios with little chance of recouping its costs, even when international box office is added to the till.
Speculation has already begun how much of a write-down the studio may have to take on the movie, an adaptation of a classic radio serial unfamiliar to many of key moviegoing age.
But "The Lone Ranger" is just the latest in a series of misfires starring Depp, who has proven a dicey money-making proposition outside "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Alice in Wonderland." "Dark Shadows," "The Rum Diary" and "The Tourist" are a few of his underwhelming projects starring the quirky actor in recent years.
"Pirates" and "Alice" have given Depp the clout to get projects like "The Lone Ranger" and "Dark Shadows" made, but also the latitude to indulge in increasingly idiosyncratic projects, complete with eyecatching getups. Producers and distributors privately grouse that his performances have grown ever more rococo and that has alienated fans and subsequently dimmed his star power.
"What is he without extreme makeup?" one international film distributor asked. "Is he an actor or is he somebody who's consistently doing a Keith Richards imitation?"
A representative for Depp did not respond to requests for comment. The producers, distributors and executives quoted in this article requested anonymity because they feared damaging their relationships with the studio or the star.
For its part, Disney said it hopes to continue working with Depp and praised both his talent and his track record.
"Johnny Depp is one of the most iconic and successful actors in the world in part because of his ability to choose unique roles and turn them into something utterly unexpected," a studio spokesman said in a statement to TheWrap. "We are incredibly proud of our long collaboration with him, which includes three billion-dollar films, and look forward to working with him for years to come."
The studio has a fifth "Pirates of the Caribbean" in the works with the actor.
Other studio executives acknowledge that Depp's bankability has taken a shellacking, but caution against writing off the Oscar-nominated actor. They argue that his mystique remains potent even after "The Lone Ranger" was gunned down by audiences and critics.
"Sadly enough there isn't a major studio in town who if Johnny Depp came to them and said, 'I want to do a PG-13 action thriller in which I play a quirky character and, oh by the way it's going to cost $150 million,' would turn him down," a studio executive told TheWrap.
The four "Pirates" films have generated more than $3.7 billion, while "Alice in Wonderland" has grossed more than $1 billion. The picture isn't nearly as pretty for other recent Depp films.