Is Johnny Depp in deep trouble? Could it be that the career of one of modern Hollywood's greatest leading men is finally running out of steam?
Unlikely as it seems, that's the question that is being asked in the wake of the disappointing response – both commercially and critically – to his latest blockbuster, The Lone Ranger.
Since opening on July 3, the western comedy, in which Depp plays Tonto to Armie Hammer's masked man, has taken just over $119 million worldwide. Not so terrible you might think, but with a production budget estimated at $215 million – those train crashes don't come cheap – and a sizeable marketing spend, the film has little chance of making money for the studio. In fact, some estimates have already chalked it up as a loss to Disney of anywhere between $150 and $200 million.
Cue the death rites for Depp's career.
''This latest cinematic failure is another entry on Depp's now-spotty resume,'' noted USA Today, under the headline ''Johnny Depp's hard times continue as 'Lone Ranger' bombs''.
Industry website Deadline chimed in with the observation that ''Johnny Depp's reps are in publicity overdrive following a week of bruising bad press when The Lone Ranger bombed and his star status was questioned''.
FoxNews claimed ''The flop of The Lone Ranger seems to be final proof that movie audiences have grown fatigued with Johnny Depp shoehorning his trademark character actor eccentricities into big budget tentpole films''.
Still, one hard-to-swallow result doesn't make a winter, and Depp's career has largely been bathed in sunshine until now. Nearly $8 billion in box office revenue over 40 movies - dating back to 1984's Nightmare On Elm Street - is a handy winning streak in anyone's language.
But look a little closer and things are a little less clear cut. What emerges with startling clarity is the degree to which his success has been inextricably tied to two factors: The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and Tim Burton.
Just under half of Depp's career box office has come from the four Pirates movies. A little under one-third has come from the films he has made with Tim Burton (there are eight, ranging from the $1 billion commercial success of 2010's Alice in Wonderland to the critically lauded but loss-making Ed Wood from 1994). Word is Burton and Depp are set to reteam on a sequel to Alice, which should make the bankers happy, if not the critics.
Depp's work with Gore Verbinski has been even more lucrative, grossing more than $2.9 billion over five films, including The Lone Ranger, three of the four Pirates movies and the animated western Rango, in which Depp voiced the lily-livered lizard lead.
Clearly, loyalty has its rewards.
But take the combined efforts of Burton, Verbinski and the Pirates out of the mix and Depp is a somewhat less bankable proposition. His remaining 27 films have grossed just under $1.7 billion. That's an average of approximately $63 million per film, which is not exactly shabby – but well short of his career average of almost $200 million.
In the end, though, the only question that matters in Hollywood is this: do Johnny Depp movies still make money?
The invisibles of marketing and the long tail of post-theatrical life make it hard to say with certainty, but based purely on published box office figures and budgets the answer is a resounding yes – with some ominous warning signs. His last 10 movies have cost a total of $1.3 billion to make and have earned a total of $3.4 billion, but two of his last three (The Lone Ranger and The Rum Diaries) have clearly lost money, while Dark Shadows must be lineball at best.
It's unlikely Johnny Depp will be popping up at a Centrelink near you any time soon. But what with that huge settlement with ex Vanessa Paradis, the two kids to look after, and a bizarre personal damages case against him due to be heard next month, Cap'n Jack could hardly be blamed for thinking Pirates 5 – set for a 2015 shoot – can't set sail soon enough.