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Why Disney Shrugged Off 'Lone Ranger' Disappointment

Monday, 8 Jul 2013 | 5:29 PM ET
Johnny Depp as Tonto in Disney's Lone Ranger
Source: Disney
Johnny Depp as Tonto in Disney's Lone Ranger

Disney's "Lone Ranger" had a number of factors working in its favor: Johnny Depp's star power, Jerry Bruckheimer's track record and a familiar 80-year-old brand. But the fact that the brand is 80 years old and Westerns are a challenged genre—particularly overseas—worked against it, and the film fell short of expectations, grossing $73 million worldwide in its first five days in theaters.

Most surprisingly is the fact that a $225 million budget Disney tentpole was beaten by a much lower-budget animated film, the sequel to Universal's "Despicable Me."

Knocking Disney Off the Horse?
The "Lone Ranger" cost at least $225 million to make and grossed $73 million in its first week at the box office, reports CNBC's Julia Boorstin. Nevertheless, Disney shares are still trading at an all-time high.

But Disney shares shrugged off the news and moved 1.4 percent higher on the heels of the weekend, more than twice the Dow's gains Monday. The fact that investors ignored the disappointing news speaks to a couple key trends at Disney, and the studio in particular.

First: there's great confidence in Disney CEO Bob Iger's leadership, and just last week the media giant extended Iger's contract as CEO through 2016. The board was eager to have him stay because the company is trading around an all-time high. Another key reason both Iger and the board want him to stick around is to oversee the $4 billion acquisition of LucasFilm.

(Read More: Disney CEO Robert Iger Gets 15-Month Contract Extension)

That brings us to point two: There's great confidence in the direction the studio is going. With the acquisition of LucasFilm as well as two other massive acquisitions Iger made—Marvel and Pixar—the studio is reducing its risk and growing its upside by focusing on established franchises, like Marvel's "Avengers" characters, and Pixar's unbroken track record.

Who's on the hook for the film's disappointment? The studio chief who green-lit the film, Rich Ross, has already been fired, and the current studio head, Alan Horn, didn't start until halfway through the shooting of "The Lone Ranger."

(Read More: Finally! HBO GO and ESPN App Come to Apple TV)

And point three: The studio has had a great year, with three of the year's biggest films, including "Iron Man 3," which broke records, grossing $1.2 billion worldwide. "Oz the Great and Powerful" broke records with its March debut and has grossed nearly half a billion. And it's been a strong summer so far with Pixar's "Monsters University," which opened just two and a half weeks ago, already grossing $400 million worldwide.

Still, "The Lone Ranger" disappointment will sting Disney: it certainly does not seem to be launching another franchise. And Wall Street analysts expect to take a loss on the film. Lazard Capital's Barton Crockett projects the studio will write off as much as $190 million on the film, nearly $80 million more than he'd previously projected the studio would lose.

Crockett projects the additional loss adds up to earnings of 3 cents less per share for the quarter that ends in September. Crockett writes "Many investors had been skeptical about Disney's 'The Lone Ranger' reboot. They were right." And even Crockett rates Disney a "buy."

The comparison is "John Carter," which performed worse out of the gate than "Lone Ranger." That film cost about $250 million and the studio ended up taking a $200 million write-down on it two years ago.

The big question now: what happens when "Lone Ranger" opens in the remainder of the 70 percent of international territories where it hasn't opened yet. Westerns tend to perform poorly overseas, and "The Lone Ranger" hasn't proven an exception.

A Disney studio spokesperson acknowledged that "initial opening performance in the U.S. and overseas was softer than expected," but said it was really too soon to make any announcements about write-downs.

—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin. Follow her on Twitter: @JBoorstin

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.