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‘Despicable Me 2’ beats ‘Ranger’

Published: Monday, July 8, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

LOS ANGELES – With “Despicable Me 2” dominating the Fourth of July box office, it was no holiday for “The Lone Ranger.”

The animated 3-D film had a lot to celebrate over the long Independence Day weekend as it took in an explosive $142.1 million between its debut at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Sunday evening, according to an estimate from distributor Universal Pictures.

During that same period, the Western starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer was a dud with just $48.9 million. On Tuesday, pre-release audiences suggested the picture would collect at least $70 million during its first five days in theaters, while the film’s backer predicted a lowball estimate of roughly $60 million.

Such a weak opening puts the production on pace to become one of the biggest big-budget bombs at the summer box office. Walt Disney Studios had to halt production on “The Lone Ranger” in 2011 when the movie’s budget soared to $250 million; the studio says it eventually reduced the cost to $225 million. Other summer films with budgets of $200 million or more, including “World War Z” and “Man of Steel,” got off to far better starts at the box office. Last month, Brad Pitt’s zombie flick debuted with $66.4 million, while the Superman reboot opened with $116.6 million. The $29.4 million three-day take for “The Lone Ranger” is an embarrassment for the studio.

“Despicable Me 2,” meanwhile, was made on the cheaper side for an animated family film. While most movies in the genre have budgets of at least $100 million, Universal and its Illumination Entertainment produced the “Despicable” sequel for $76 million. Although the second film received slightly less positive reviews than the 2010 original, audiences gave both films the same average grade — an A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Only 27 percent of the crowd opted to shell out a few extra bucks to see the sequel in 3-D.

Three years ago, “Despicable Me” launched with a surprisingly strong $56.4 million and went on to collect $251.5 million in the U.S. and Canada — about 46 percent of its eventual $543 million global tally.

The movie follows newly reformed super-villain Gru (Steve Carell) as he is recruited by an Anti-Villain League to help catch an evil new foe. The movie also includes the voices of Russell Brand, Kristen Wiig and Miranda Cosgrove. A spinoff featuring the movie’s yellow, blob-like characters, “Minions,” is already set for release during Christmas 2014.

“Despicable Me 2” launched in a few foreign markets last weekend and is now playing in 45 countries and has grossed $151.1 million. Of the 38 markets where the film debuted abroad, it was No. 1 in 36 of them. In Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa, Trinidad and Vietnam, “Despicable Me 2” had the strongest opening ever for an animated title.

It’s unlikely “The Lone Ranger” will be able to make up ground internationally. Even though Depp has long been a draw for foreign moviegoers, Westerns traditionally do not attract big audiences abroad. This weekend, the film opened in 24 foreign markets, including Russia and Australia, and grossed $24.3 million.

After earning dismal reviews, “The Lone Ranger” — produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by longtime Depp collaborator Gore Verbinski — received a kinder reception from filmgoers. The audience that saw the movie gave it an average grade of B-plus. The film appealed to an older audience, as about 68 percent of the crowd was over the age of 25, and 24 percent was over age 50 — indicating that those who saw it were likely familiar with the 1950s “Lone Ranger” television series.

“The heritage and the legacy of the characters, while super-familiar to people of a certain age, was not as familiar to a young audience,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s executive vice president of distribution.

Admitting the studio was “disappointed” with the film’s lackluster performance, Hollis cited a number of factors that may have contributed to the movie’s poor showing. The fact that the picture is a Western — often a tough sell with modern moviegoers — was “always going to be a bit of an overcome,” he said. The bad buzz generated from the film’s production troubles didn’t help either, he admitted.

“It feels like there’s been some circling sharks in the water around productions that haven’t been perfect,” he said.

So where shouldn’t the blame fall? On Depp, who plays the Native American Tonto, partner-in-crime to Armie Hammer’s “Lone Ranger,” said Hollis.

“The audience reaction to Johnny’s performance was extraordinarily positive,” the Disney executive said. “It’s tough when you have the biggest movie star in the world, a beloved property, one of the most successful producers in the world and a well-known director. That seems like a recipe for having something connect. But it just didn’t with a broader audience.”

The only other movie to hit theaters nationwide this week was “Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain,” a stand-up comedy flick Hart filmed during a sold-out performance at Madison Square Garden last year. The picture debuted in 876 theaters at 10 p.m. Tuesday and went on to gross $17.5 million by weekend’s end. That’s an exceptional start for a movie in so few theaters that cost just $2.5 million to produce — money that Hart put up himself.

“This really shows the power of Kevin Hart and how he is the hottest comic talent in the urban space today,” said David Spitz, Lionsgate’s general sales manager. “This opening means he’s a big star.”

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