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Here’s What Killed The Walt Disney Company (DIS)’s “The Lone Ranger”

In May, I wondered whether The Lone Ranger had what it takes to become The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS)‘s  next huge franchise.

The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS)

After all, The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) did pile a reported $215 million into production of the film, while optimistically noting that it had all the makings of a winner, including a classic, well-known storyline, big names in Pirates of the Carribean franchise director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and the prowess of Pirates star Johnny Depp to boot.

disney stock

Image source: Disney.

What’s more, some reports say The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) spent more than $100 million marketing the movie in an effort to bolster excitement for the title before its release.

In fact, less than two weeks ago it seemed the studio was already planning more, when all three of the film’s most significant actors (in Depp, Armie Hammer, and Ruth Wilson) went on record to say they’d love to shoot multiple sequels if The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) deemed the effort worthwhile.

Here’s who didn’t care

Unfortunately, that’s looking much less likely after the big-budget Western took in a meager $48.7 million domestically at the box office during the five days since its debut on Wednesday, including a paltry $29.2 million take over the calendar weekend.

Of course, it didn’t help when critics largely panned The Lone Ranger before its opening.

However, the first weekend’s results also revealed a more troublesome trend for the aspiring franchise: 68% of The Lone Ranger‘s audiences last weekend were over 25, with only 16% under 18. Meanwhile, one in four Ranger moviegoers last weekend was over 50 — a massively atypical audience structure compared with what The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) is generally accustomed to welcoming.

Simply put, younger consumers just aren’t interested in seeing what this old-school storyline has to offer.

Instead, they largely chose to check out Despicable Me 2 from Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA)‘s Universal Studios. That film hauled in a whopping $143.1 million domestically in its first five days, including an $83.5 million domestic gross during the three-day calendar weekend. For those of you keeping track, that extended holiday weekend gross beats even Disney Pixar’s Toy Story 3, which held the previous record for the best five-day start for an animated movie at $141 million.

They wouldn’t keep it going … would they?

Then again, 55% of the Despicable Me 2 audience was predictably under 25, and critics didn’t seem to mind praising the animated sequel. Looking back, though, we should also remember that the original Despicable Me took in just $56.4 million during its own 2010 opening, so there’s always hope for better things to come.

That’s why I can’t help wondering whether the House of Mouse is mulling whether it should simply call The Lone Ranger franchise quits now, or instead keep the sequel train rolling in an effort to recoup its earlier losses. Of course, there’s also the possibility that the first Lone Ranger could miraculously maintain some momentum and find a way to pay for itself, but that’s not exactly the norm in the movie biz, as ticket sales quickly taper off.

With that in mind, however, apparently Verbinski opted for the all-too-expensive effort of constructing his own period trains as well as an incredibly long stretch of custom train tracks for this first film, so it’s possible everyone was betting on making these upfront investments with lower production costs down the road for Lone Ranger sequels.

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