Even though producer Jerry Bruckheimer and the sad stars of The Lone Ranger—what is perhaps the summer's most notorious flop in a sea of flops—are faulting critics for the movie's failure, Disney is likely going to lay some of the blame on Bruckheimer, bad news for the producer whose hit-making machine isn't what it used to be.
Lucas Shaw of The Wrap reported Wednesday that Disney is trying to restructure Bruckheimer's deal on the next installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and will probably end up restricting his budget and taking away his final cut privileges.
The big question, of course, is what this means for Bruckheimer's future with the studio. Bruckheimer is immensely successful, but recent films of his have not made the kind of bucks that justify their extravagant costs. Back in 2010, when The Sorcerer's Apprentice—you know, that thing staring Nicolas Cage—flopped, there was some speculation about what the future held for Bruckheimer at Disney. The Sorcerer's Apprentice had followed other problematic Bruckheimer pictures. In May of that year Prince of Persia: Sands of Time had a disappointing opening, and in 2009 Bruckheimer had the guinea-pig crime-fighting movie G-Force and forgettable rom-com Confessions of a Shopaholic. Though The Hollywood Reporter's Carl DiOrio reported back then that Disney reassured Bruckheimer that his status with the studio was secure, he added that "whispers of a growing breach between the multibillion-dollar producer and his studio partner circulated in the aftermath of a disappointing $17.6 million first weekend" for the film. But, when the film went on to gross $215 million worldwide, thanks to a strong overseas performance (what can we say? The French, Russians, and Chinese love Cage) those murmurs quieted down, as did Bruckheimer's output.
Which has been a a good thing because he's focused more on his blockbuster franchises than launching news ones, like The Lone Ranger. His most recent film before that dud was 2011's fourth Pirates installment. The third National Treasure movie, which DiOrio reported was in development in 2010, hasn't gotten off the ground. But lawyers on both sides are no doubt starting to think about the negotiations of deal at Disney which runs through 2014. Still, few can imagine Bruckheimer, who's been with Disney since 1991, going elsewhere. Kim Masters at The Hollywood Reporter wrote in July, "it seems probable that the producer will test the waters at other studios."
Still, the speculation over studios meting out punishments over The Lone Ranger is more about the myriad of change hitting the film business. Yes, we know—hell, even Mark Wahlberg knows—that they spent too much money on the movie. Disney perhaps feels that most strongly, since the company will suffer the $190 million loss. Another problem with the film—the problem that ultimately made it such a bad one—was the fact that it was far too long and unfocused.
And there are some who say Bruckheimer doesn't deserve the blame. In Masters' story, mega-director Michael Bay and CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves (home of Bruckheimer's CSI franchise) defend Bruckheimer, who had to contend with Lone Ranger director Gore Verbinski. Masters notes that Verbinksi was stripped of final cut privileges "early on due to budget overages." Masters wrote that "Verbinski seems likely to suffer the most fallout of all the key players." And Verbinski, who was responsible for making the Pirates phenomenon what it is, isn't on board for the fifth film. It will be helmed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, who directed the Oscar-nominated foreign language film Kon-Tiki. The choice of Rønning and Sandberg, Shaw points out, is an indication of Disney's "heightened involvement." Disney picked two men who made a well-received film with more limited resources — $15 million. Of course, Pirates will still be given a budget over $200 million (instead of a possible $250 million) to work with. So it's not like all that much has changed.