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Lone Ranger: Inflated Budget Drama Pits Risk-Averse Disney Against Verbinski Loyalist Depp UPDATE

Lone Ranger: Inflated Budget Drama Pits Risk-Averse Disney Against Verbinski Loyalist Depp UPDATE

UPDATE 9/29: The Lone Ranger is set to ride again, with budget issues being worked out between the studio and director Gore Verbinski and his loyal star, Johnny Depp. Deadline has the good news details (though an official announcement is yet to be made).

9/1:To be or not to be? That’s been The Lone Ranger question since Disney balked at a $232 million budget (a reduction from $250 million) while the film was in advanced pre-production. After the picture (more here) got shut down due to its inflated budget, Disney, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Pirates director Gore Verbinski started playing a high stakes game of poker. Disney even considered replacing Verbinski.

But Johnny Depp insists that he won’t ride without him — and now that the budget has been set at $215 million by the studio (they wanted to cap it at $200 million), Bruckheimer and Verbinski may do the handshake. THR has some insider commentary on whether this will be the magic number that allows Depp and co-star Armie Hammer to ride off into the sunset. Depp–one of last standing to wield the title of Movie Star—-has the leverage. Disney can thank him for making bank on three too many Pirates of the Caribbean films and their 3-D Alice in Wonderland with his other loyal-to-the-hilt director, Tim Burton.

Disney CEO Roger Iger tells THR the studio now takes “a very careful look at what films cost,” adding that “if we can’t get them to a level that we’re comfortable with, we think that we’re better off actually reducing the size of our slate than making films that are bigger and increasingly more risky.” Their riskiest bet is Andrew Stanton’s performance capture Mars adventure John Carter (due in March), which reportedly will cost more than $250 million (in the same ballpark as the The Hobbit films, The Dark Knight and Avatar, and more than Green Lantern or Tron: Legacy), despite lacking a bankable movie-star (Taylor Kitsch ain’t there yet) or a familiar brand to sell audiences.

After pricey western Cowboys & Aliens failed to deliver for Universal, Disney looked long and hard at The Lone Ranger numbers, as well they should. But it looks like they’ll be saddling up again soon.

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