‘Despicable Me 2’ outguns ‘Lone Ranger’ at theaters

LOS ANGELES — The minions have overtaken “The Lone Ranger.”

“Despicable Me 2” is trampling the Johnny Depp Western at the holiday box office, according to studio estimates released Friday. The animated Universal sequel has collected three times more than the Disney cowboy caper since both films debuted Wednesday (plus limited Tuesday-night showings).

“Despicable Me 2” has earned $59.5 million in ticket sales to $19.5 million for “The Lone Ranger.” On Independence Day, the margin tightened somewhat, but the animated film still dominated with $24.5 million, compared to the “Ranger’s” $9.86 million.

“This was a family weekend,” said Gene Del Vecchio, author of “Creating Blockbusters” and a marketing professor at the University of Southern California. “Kids vote with their requests, parents vote with their dollars, and when those things were combined, they voted for ‘Despicable Me 2.”’

The budget for the Universal film was a fraction of that of the Disney Western, which saw production stall because of soaring costs that ended up in the $250 million-range.

“This just shows it’s not about the amount of money you spend. It’s about the quality of the script and the production itself,” Del Vecchio said.

Poor reviews for “The Lone Ranger” may have contributed to sluggish ticket sales. Chicago Sun-Times critic Richard Roeper called it “slick trash,” while the AP’s Jake Coyle said the two-and-a-half hour spectacle “finally, exhaustingly collapses in a scrap heap of train wreckage.”

“”The Lone Ranger’ is, alas, a runaway train,” Coyle writes.

It’s a serious misstep for blockbuster producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Gore Verbinski and megastar Depp, who partnered profitably on the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. Depp’s take on Tonto has been compared unfavorably to Captain Jack Sparrow in face paint.

“(The studio thought) if we have Johnny Depp and we transfer him over to another funny hat and call him Tonto, we’re going to be OK,” Del Vecchio said, “but it’s not OK.”

Part of the problem, he said, is that children aren’t nearly as familiar with the Lone Ranger as they are with the animated characters in “Despicable Me 2” and last week’s first-place film, “Monsters University.”

“Kids really need to be reintroduced to the Lone Ranger,” he said. “Instead, they were introduced to Tonto in the marketing.”

Paul Dergarabedian of box-office tracker Hollywood.com said “The Lone Ranger” could still benefit from what he described as a “solid” Fourth of July weekend at theaters.

“There still may be some life in this movie,” he said, noting that it benefited from a small uptick from Wednesday to Thursday. “It could actually help ‘The Lone Ranger’ that the overall marketplace is strong.”

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