Disney, Bruckheimer part ways following box office flops

By Daniel Miller
Los Angeles Times via McClatchy-Tribune

LOS ANGELES — The spectacular 22-year partnership of Walt Disney Co. and producer Jerry Bruckheimer will come to an end next year, signaling the Burbank company’s changing priorities and how the shifting sands of the movie business are affecting A-list producers.

The producer’s first-look deal with Walt Disney Studios will not be renewed when it expires in 2014, ending a run that resulted in 27 movies, from early hits like “The Rock” and “Armageddon” to the long-running “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, and almost $9 billion in box-office receipts.

But Bruckheimer’s most recent picture, “The Lone Ranger,” released July 3, was a costly disappointment for Disney and led to speculation among Hollywood observers that Bruckheimer’s relationship with the studio would soon end.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Bruckheimer acknowledged the picture’s poor performance, but said the separation from Disney was set in motion long before “The Lone Ranger” grossed just $245 million against a production budget estimated at $250 million.

“It’s never about one movie,” said Bruckheimer, who turned 70 on Saturday. “This was something that was coming long before ‘Lone Ranger’ was made.”

The filmmaker said rather that he and Disney don’t want to make the same kinds of movies anymore, and he lamented Disney’s decision in 2010 to stop releasing in-house productions under its Touchstone Pictures label, which was home to many of the producer’s biggest hits.

“We wanted to make the kind of movies we made in the past with Touchstone,” he said. “But unfortunately they have a business plan that doesn’t include the kind of movies we made in the past.”

Bruckheimer and producing partner Don Simpson, who had been enormously successful on the Paramount lot with “Flashdance,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Top Gun” and other movies, signed a deal with Disney in 1991. The duo’s first movie for the studio was 1994’s “The Ref,” a disappointment that was followed in 1995 by successes “Dangerous Minds,” “Crimson Tide” and “Bad Boys.” Simpson died in 1996.

“Jerry is one of those unique people with a unique set of talents that comes along every so often that you just want to be a part of,” said Dick Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios from 2002 to 2009.

However, Cook added, “Clearly everybody is watching their costs, everybody is watching how expensive these movies are, how expensive they are to market. Everybody is trying to get the biggest bang for every dollar.”

When Bruckheimer began making movies for the Burbank studio, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm and Pixar Animation Studios weren’t in the Disney fold, and the studio relied heavily on independent producers.

But with Marvel and Pixar reliably churning out hits like the “Iron Man” and “Shrek” franchises—and Disney’s 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm ensuring a steady pipeline of “Star Wars” movies—the studio has become less inclined to make the sort of riskier, more adult fare that Bruckheimer said he wants to pursue.

“Disney’s strategy with Marvel and ‘Star Wars’ played a big role in this,” said analyst Harold Vogel, who has long covered Disney. “They’ve made no secret of the direction they are going in. Their strategic direction is away from these kinds of films that (Bruckheimer) is known for.”

Vogel also noted that studios generally are “trying to prune or cut back on production deals on the lot because basically they cost too much.”

In recent years, other studios have cut ties with big-name producers. Last year, for example, “The Matrix” producer Joel Silver parted ways with Warner Bros., with which he had a 25-year relationship.

Also, “The Lone Ranger,” which will result in a loss of as much as $190 million for Disney, wasn’t Bruckheimer’s only recent disappointment.

Since 2009, the producer’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” and “G-Force” have all fallen short of expectations.

“If you look at the last five years …everything else has missed the mark to greater or lesser extent,” said Bruce Nash, head of film business analytics firm Nash Information Services. “I think that will influence the studio’s thinking. Do they really want to spend another $200 million on a film?”

Bruckheimer will remain partners with Disney on the fifth film in the “Pirates” franchise, which has generated $3.73 billion in global box-office receipts, and is developing another picture in the “National Treasure” series.