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Disney In Depth: Revisiting Jerry Bruckheimer’s Disney Film Library
Brett Nachman   |  @   |  

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22 years and 27 films later, The Walt Disney Company will end its partnership with Jerry Bruckheimer, long renowned as one of Hollywood’s most prolific, profitable, and esteemed producers. This announcement comes in light of some massive financial failures for Bruckheimer and Disney – most regrettably The Lone Ranger‘s disappointing box office figures – and the integration of Marvel and Lucasfilm into the Studio’s lineup.

But though this partnership may conclude in 2014 – essentially finishing a few years down the line with the release of the recently delayed fifth Pirates of the Caribbean film and potentially another National Treasure entry – we cannot overlook the numerous successes they shared, too. Let us review the Disney/Bruckheimer movie timeline. Buckle your seat belts, watch out for car chases and explosions at every turn, and take a ride on the roller coaster that Bruckheimer and Disney built.

The Lone Ranger characters John Reid and Tonto

Touchstone Pictures’ The Ref, a crime comedy starring Denis Leary and Kevin Spacey, was the first to be released out of this partnership in 1994, but bombed in theaters with just over $11 million. While well reviewed for its dark tones and performances, it would be overlooked. 1995 would change the picture completely with the releases of Denzel Washington vehicle Crimson Tide and Michelle Pfeiffer’s school-set Dangerous Minds. Each grossed over $80 million and helped Disney’s now-defunct Hollywood Pictures label. The Rock, featuring Bruckheimer staple Nicolas Cage, served as one of Disney’s top-grossing films in 1996.

Bruckheimer continued to deliver adult-oriented pictures via Touchstone Pictures-released action pics Con Air and Armageddon, which debuted in theaters during summer 1997 and summer 1998, respectively. Each year it seemed you could count on Bruckheimer delivering a massive and mostly positively-received picture. 1998 also brought Enemy of the State with Will Smith and Gene Hackman, another coup for the studio. He took a break in 1999 (no Bruckheimer films that year), but came back strong in 2000 with three releases.

His successes in 2000 proved mixed, as a racing pic remake of Gone in 60 Seconds was panned and dramedy Coyote Ugly too was maligned, but both performed respectably in theaters. When September 2000 rolled around, Bruckheimer would once again gain respect, this time for producing Remember the Titans. Here Washington starred in one of his most respected roles as a football coach. Titans proved a financial and critical success, leading Bruckheimer to make another sports film for Walt Disney Pictures. 2006 saw the release of Glory Road (one of my favorite overlooked Bruckheimer movies), a 1960s-set basketball movie with many of the same compelling themes as Titans.

Jerry Bruckheimer’s 2001 behemoth Pearl Harbor would involve more than just planes blowing up on screen – it also hurt his reputation to some extent. Critics tarnished the war-themed movie, and despite Harbor earning over $400 million worldwide, this would further substantiate the producer’s image as a guy who enjoys making movies with too many blasts and drawn-out action sequences. Nevertheless, moviegoers helped make Harbor one of Jerry Bruckheimer Films’ biggest fiscal successes.

Come 2002, Anthony Hopkins’ Bad Company, a much slandered movie in the Bruckheimer library, did not help his status. But 2003 was a game changer, where four Bruckheimer-produced movies entered theaters (two from Disney and two from other studios). Outside of the Mouse House, Bruckheimer found a minor triumph with Bad Boys II for Sony and a huge flop with Australian-set comedy Kangaroo Jack for Warner Bros. During this stretch he had only worked on two other movies outside the studio (the first Bad Boys and the critically-adored Black Hawk Down). Yet we must trail back to 2003, as that saw Veronica Guerin with a highly-praised performance by Cate Blanchett, and the ride-turned-movie phenomenon Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.

Pirates would instantly alter Bruckheimer’s perception by the industry and moviegoers. He showed he could produce family-friendly fare – well, if you consider pirates stabbing one another as valuable entertainment for the kiddos – and make tons of cash in the process. This film earned over $650 million worldwide and led to subsequent sequels that performed even better at the box office. 2006’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was only the third film to make more than $1 billion worldwide, 2007’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End made almost as much dough, and 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides once again reached that $1 billion feat. Bruckheimer contributed to Pirates‘ franchise mayhem, but at the same time not everyone has loved the brand.

Building franchises became Disney’s goal after Pirates, and with Bruckheimer’s assistance, they worked their best to accomplish that – but to mostly poor results. 2004’s National Treasure and its 2007 sequel never reached Pirates‘ heights, but it sure proved popular. The Cage vehicle, once to be distributed under the Touchstone Pictures label, was wisely switched to be a Disney Thanksgiving release, earning close to $350 million worldwide. National Treasure: Book of Secrets grossed over $450 million. A third entry has been in development for years, but has not seen production yet. We Treasure fans can only hope it comes sooner than never.

Bruckheimer returned to more adult fare with the Touchstone Pictures releases King Arthur (2004), Déjà Vu (2006), and Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009). Arthur and Vu failed to earn as much as his hits some ten years earlier, and Shopaholic was poorly released during the economic meltdown. Why would audiences want to watch a spoiled character addicted to shopping?

More recently, Bruckheimer’s Disney movies – all intended to become franchises – underperformed at the box office. 2009 found superspy guinea pigs in the slandered G-Force, budgeted at $150 million and grossing just under $300 million. Not sequel material. Bruckheimer pulled double duty in 2010 with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (a Jake Gyllenhaal pic based on a video game) and Cage-starring The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Each cost upward of $150 million both flopped domestically (though they cashed in a bit more internationally). These could not warrant sequels either, especially considering how critics and audiences did not respond well to Persia, a film with a plot more static than video game graphics of the ’80s, and Apprentice, which would have Mickey Mouse covering his face with the sorcerer’s hat.

And that leaves The Lone Ranger, a production marred so harshly for its inflated budget that it caused an initial cancellation of the entire project. When it returned to production, Johnny Depp and Bruckheimer made some compromises, but the budget still skyrocketed. Come July 2013, and faced by unfairly-harsh reviews from critics and general apathy by moviegoers more interested in Despicable Me minions than Depp channeling a Native American version of Jack Sparrow, and Lone Ranger crashed. And burned. Badly. Sure, the film grossed about $250 million worldwide, performing better than Apprentice‘s $215 worldwide grossing, but Lone Ranger cost north of $250 million to make – excluding marketing costs. I thoroughly enjoyed Ranger, but money talks, and that was one more hit that Bruckheimer and Disney took.

How much or a role did Ranger account into Disney concluding its partnership with Bruckheimer, we do not know. We must understand Walt Disney Studios has evolved since the early days of the producer’s action-packed hits. Now Disney targets family audiences only, and with Marvel and Lucasfilm pictures entering the studio line-up, it seems to make more sense to keep the pics internal. In other words, take fewer risks with films not made by these branches. Good or bad, this is Disney in 2013. We must appreciate Bruckheimer’s longstanding contributions to Disney and even his own film library. Luckily Bruckheimer will continue to influence the evolution of the next Jack Sparrow and Benjamin Gates adventures.

What is your favorite Jerry Bruckheimer film for the studio? Share your thoughts!

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom!

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