Lone Ranger Flops: Hollywood Gets What It Deserves

lone rangerDisney’s new Lone Ranger film starring Johnny Depp is a monumental bust. After spending $375 million in production and marketing, Disney saw opening weekend earnings of only $48.9 million, meaning it will lose at least $100 million on the project. Many films lose money, but Disney’s mammoth investment in a western originally based on traditional racial stereotypes—a white man with an honorable but terse Native American sidekick—speaks volumes to Hollywood’s current disconnection from real-life concerns.

This is not about major American films providing audiences with a way to escape daily realities during tough times; rather, it is the movie industry’s refusal to confront real life problems in a comedic, dramatic, romantic, or even action-oriented way. If the Lone Ranger really wants to ride to the rescue as its namesake promises, its failure should cause the film industry to change course.

To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, I realize that the failure of the new Lone Ranger film “doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” But Disney’s staggering miscalculation—it still holds out hope for ticket sales from “older consumers, who remember the property fondly and don’t have a lot of movies aimed at them in the weeks ahead”—is an extraordinary testament to the film industry’s flight from the realities of contemporary life.

If Disney wanted to make a film addressing and subverting racial stereotypes—which some argue the Lone Ranger tried and failed to do—it could have produced a movie set in the present. But Disney instead thought an “older” audience—the GOP voter base?—hungered to return to the Lone Ranger’s America, which for at least two hours would bring the “good old days” to life.

(Disney also saw the Lone Ranger as reassembling the successful team behind the Pirates and the Caribbeanfranchise. But if studio execs did not see the enormous distinction between these two commodities then Disney is even more out of touch than thought).

Fleeing Reality

Of the top ten box office winners this past weekend, none addressed real world social or personal issues. And in the second ten, only Before Midnight addresses such concerns.

Many were absolutely enthralled with Before Midnight, believing it the best of the series (following Before Sunrise and Before Sunset). Critics and viewers seem awestruck that a 2013 film actually grapples with real life concerns in a realistic way.

If Disney wants to attract the “older consumers” for which it made the Lone Ranger, it might learn from Before Midnight’s success. Audiences have long enjoyed seeing recognizable, real world film characters facing the problems of modern life, whether in comedies, romances, dramas, or action pictures. It’s only in the past decade where cartoons, the supernatural and special effects masquerading as films have completely dominated major studio productions.

Preston Sturges showed in his 1941 classic, Sullivan’s Travels, that tough times like the present do not require humorless films on serious subject matter. But major studios in 2013 are not even giving audiences the chance to laugh at modern life realities. When they make comedies that purport to satirize real life—like The Internship, Vince Vaughn’s and Owen Wilson’s embarrassing advertisement for Google, it is so detached from reality that it would have worked better if set on another planet.

Harold Lloyd’s America

If you want to see how far American films have moved in the wrong direction, check out Harold Lloyd’s Speedy, a silent film that came out in 1928. Although Lloyd is best known for Safety LastSpeedy is a remarkable film that holds up perfectly today.

Unlike Charlie Chaplin, Lloyd never tried to “send a message” with his films. All he cared about was attracting audiences, yet Speedy provides an extraordinarily accurate depiction of life in New York City and much of the United States in 1928.

Speedy includes all of the themes of modern life—greed, inequality, love, romance, sports fan zealotry, and the daily travails of working people—rarely found in a single film today. The film’s many chase scenes lack the pyrotechnics of the computer era but will still excite audiences.

randy shawLike today’s major filmmakers, Lloyd also sought to draw an international audience. Yet he did so by portraying universal themes, rather than by explosions, mass killings or unrealistic plot devices.

American moviegoers should not have to wait until the December holiday season to see real world films. If its colossal failure causes Disney and other major studios to reevaluate their movie plans, then the Lone Ranger will indeed have come to the rescue.

Randy Shaw
Beyond Chron

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


  1. Robert Link says

    Mr. Depp is possibly the greatest student of Buster Keaton’s silent age oeuvre. Probably “hollywood” doesn’t deserve half so good.

  2. artmensor says

    Randy, you hit the nail right on the head! That is why I do not go to the movies today, after 36 years in the industry and being an avid movie fan for 65 years, starting back in the 1940’s. My favorite movies have always been B Westerns and A Westerns (until around the 80’s when special effects took away the reality aspect). B westerns showed the real outdoors with honest characters and a depiction of life in the United States over a hundred years ago.

    Most of today’s movies are about 80% special effects with scenes that move so quickly you can not focus on them, characters so unreal you do not really every get to know and thus like, story lines that are absurd, car races and explosions . Or, they are cartoons, completely unbelievable made for children under the age of 5.

    The studios, like every other aspect of this country, are only concerned with making money. At the expense of everyone involved, including the audience. I know, I’ve been there. The only ones who want to put out something with quality and substance are some of the smaller start up production companies trying to make a name for themselves. But then they allow themselves to be bought up by one of the majors and so goes the integrity.

    The Lone Ranger and Captain Marvel have always been my favorite fictional characters. The Lone Ranger was just exploited to the 21st century and Captain Marvel was only captured on film once in an excellent 1940 serial. Of course it is now the namesake of ‘Marvel Studios Production Co.’, but they have never put out a feature movie of the character. Maybe he is considered too simple for today’s ‘sophisticated’ public that hasn’t demanded that someone go to jail for allowing banks to ruin millions of people lives, allows a president & vice president to declare 2 wars on their own without paying for them, allows for tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations, denies global warming, eats processed food, believes in telling women what they can and can not do with their own body, thinks they will never get old or sick and thus need to see a doctor, allows people to drink all they want, get aggressive and get in their car and race on public streets but not possess an ounce of marijuana which actually mellows people AND want to cut funding for educating our future generations.

    This country and this world is way beyond help. Let’s see the Lone Ranger and Superman and Batman AND Captain Marvel try to fix some of those problems.

  3. Mary says

    Usually I agree with you but not today. I feel like we saw different films. If there was a film released this summer that maybe conservatives would have seen as a return to the “good old days” it would be Man of Steel due to so much symbolism that implies that Superman is like Christ. Not a new motif but I felt it was a bit overdone though I for the most part I enjoyed MoS. The Lone Ranger is not targeted at older white conservatives longing for the days before birth control and women playing Golf at Augusta. Maybe at older baby boomers like myself regardless of politics? Painting corporations (in this case Mr. Cole and the trains) as the bad guys doesn’t strike me as something conservatives would enjoy. Nor that the Native Americans are portrayed in a positive light and as victims not mindless “savages”, either. Another point is that Johnny Depp made “Tonto” the smart one instead of
    the “trusty sidekick” that he was in the old TV series. (Yes, I did
    watch it.) Besides, usual summer “blockbusters” are designed to make us forget reality for 90 or so minutes while we munch on our low calorie popcorn and enter a world of fantasy. My kids, who are arguably not old nor white totally enjoyed this film because it’s actually good. Why not address why Despicable Me II is yet another sequel in a summer filled with Iron Man 3, and other sequels? At least TLR was not a sequel.

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