Peter Mountain, Associated Press
NEW YORK — The minions of "Despicable Me 2" ran away with the July 4th box office, leaving the Johnny Depp Western "The Lone Ranger" in the dust.
According to studio estimates Sunday, the Universal animated sequel took in $82.5 million over the weekend and $142.1 million across the five-day holiday window. Gore Verbinski's reimagining of the iconic lawman bombed for the Walt Disney Co., opening with just $29.4 million over the weekend, and a disappointing $48.9 million since Wednesday.
The trouncing for Disney was especially painful because of the high cost of "The Lone Ranger," which reportedly cost at least $225 million to make. Made by the same team that created the lucrative Disney franchise "Pirates of the Caribbean" (the four film series that grossed $3.7 billion worldwide) the Western drew bad reviews and failed to capture the attention of younger moviegoers.
"We thought it would appeal to a broader audience than it did," Dave Hollis, head of distribution for Disney, said.
Based on the long-running radio program begun in 1933 and the TV series that debuted in 1949, the "Lone Ranger" brand proved a musty one. The audience for the film skewed heavily toward older moviegoers, with 68 percent of its audience older than 25.
"You think that you have everything in place," said Hollis, listing the proven box-office commodities of Depp, Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. "Even when you have all the ingredients for what you think will be a four-quadrant, 'everybody' picture, sometimes it doesn't work out that way."
The poor performance of "The Lone Ranger" called to mind a previous bomb for Disney: last year's similarly-budgeted sci-fi adventure "John Carter," which opened with $30.1 million.
But "The Lone Ranger," which stars Armie Hammer as the masked lawman, will likely fare better than that disappointment, since Depp's international star power should bring in better worldwide business. It started with $24.3 million abroad, opening in about 30 percent of its planned international market.
While critics skewered the film, it did earn a B+ CinemaScore grade from moviegoers. But "The Lone Ranger" is nevertheless likely to be a sizeable write-down for Disney and could impact the company's stock price when markets reopen Monday.
"Everybody beat up on 'The Lone Ranger' pretty hard," said Paul Dergarabedian, analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "Everything was just not going in its favor."
On the other hand, Universal made "Despicable Me 2" for the comparatively small amount of $76 million (a figure that doesn't count a huge marketing budget). The better than expected haul (along with another $88.8 million overseas) establishes "Despicable Me," which stars Steve Carell as a diabolical villain turned stay-at-home dad, as a new franchise for Universal and Chris Meledandri's Illumination Entertainment, the Universal-backed animation company.
Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, attributed the strong performance to Meledandri, the robust appetite for summer family films, and, above all, those teaming little yellow guys. The minions will get their own spin-off in 2014, and Rocco said another "Despicable Me" film is a certainty.
"The minions steal everybody's heart," Rocco said. "It's a great time of the year to release a family film with broad appeal."
Stand-up Kevin Hart's concert documentary "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain" proved savvy counter-programming for Summit Entertainment, opening with $17.5 million over five days, with $10.1 million over the weekend.
Fox Searchlight's family comedy "The Way, Way Back" (which also stars Carell) opened in 19 theaters with a strong theater average of about $30,000. It slowly expands for a July 26 national release.
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