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Did “The Lone Ranger” Create a “John Carter” Sized Mess for The Walt Disney Company (DIS)?

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Don’t pity The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS). For as badly as The Lone Ranger is performing at the box office, the company’s Buena Vista Pictures is earning as much as ever.

The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS)

More on why that is shortly. First, let’s dig into the bad news. Minions mastered the masked man in the film’s opening weekend as Despicable Me 2 took in $83.5 million over the July 4th weekend versus just $29.2 million for The Lone Ranger, Box Office Mojo reports.

Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp as The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Source: Buena Vista Pictures.

As bad as the showing is for The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS), Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA)‘s Universal Pictures walks away with another winner. Despicable Me already ranks as the 10th top grossing animated feature of all time after opening at $56.4 million in July 2010. That the sequel opened more than $20 million better bodes well both for the film and for Universal’s animated efforts.

The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) won’t be as fortunate with The Lone Ranger, which is why so many are comparing this flop-in-the-making to John Carter, last year’s $250 million box office bomb that effectively ended the The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) career of former studio chief Rich Ross.

If only he knew then what we know now. John Carter, for as big a disaster as it was, did nothing to diminish the House of Mouse’s theatrical prowess. Here’s a closer look at the year-over-year numbers from Jan. 1 through June 30:

Buena Vista Year-Over-Year Comparison YTD 2013 YTD 2012 Change
Number of films 10 12** (2)
Total U.S. box office $886.8 million $949.8 million (6.6%)
Per-film average $88.7 million $79.2 million 11.9%

Source: Box Office Mojo.
** Includes a 3D rerelease of The Lion King.

After achieving $800 million in domestic box office receipts only once since 2000 (in 2010), The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) has done at least that in both 2012 and this year. Impressive may be too timid a word for how well Buena Vista is doing right now.

Credit two very big films — Marvel’s The Avengers and Iron Man 3 — which earned more than $1 billion each in global box office receipts. Last year, The Avengers led The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) to a $100 million, or 17%, increase in studio profit, S&P Capital IQ reports. The tough comparable could make similar gains hard to come by in 2013. But profits? There should be plenty to go around, thanks to Iron Man 3.

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