Johnny Depp’s latest film opens in United States theaters this weekend, but what really matters to Hollywood is prerelease tracking, which has indicated that the film will fail not only to earn $10 million, but also to please its audiences. The David Koepp-directed comedy, called Mortdecai, cost the studio $60 million to make and is being panned by most reviewers. Mortdecai stars Depp alongside Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany and Gwyneth Paltrow, and was partially financed by Lionsgate. The screenplay, written by Eron Aronson, is based on the first of three novels written in the 1970s by Kyril Bonfiglioli.
This will be the third of three straight flops for movies starring the 51-year-old film star. Transcendance, which was released in 2014, made only $23 million in the U.S., although it did $103 million in worldwide sales, which helped the studio recoup the $100 million it spent to make the movie. The prior year, The Lone Ranger made only $89 million domestic against its over $250 million price tag. Worldwide sales totaled $261 million. He did appear briefly in the popular and well-reviewed Into the Woods, but his small on-screen contribution was not enough to have carried the movie into success – or failure.
The studio has (smartly, it seems) hedged its bet by pairing with OddLot Entertainment to make the film, so any financial losses incurred if the movie flops may pale in comparison to the damage a third failure would have on the eccentric star of Edward Scissorhands and The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, whose take on Captain Jack Sparrow helped him to become a leading man earning more than $20 million per role. Although his representatives will not comment on the amount of money Depp earned for Mortdecai, The Hollywood Reporter cites sources who claim that the actor agreed to do the film for much less than his usual fee, estimating his payday between $6 million and $10 million. In addition, the actor, who stars as Whitey Bulger in the Warner Bros. biopic, Black Mass, which is due in September, is said to have taken a similar pay cut to do that movie.
Perhaps in an attempt to repair the hits his Hollywood reputation has taken, Depp will reprise his successful turn as The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass, which is scheduled for release in May 2016. In addition, the fifth Pirates movie starts production in February in advance of a July 2017 release. Perhaps a sign of his waning ability to open a movie, Depp is rumored to have taken pay cuts to appear in both of these films as well.
Although Depp’s domestic numbers have begun to reflect a diminished star power, he remains highly popular overseas, where his numbers are often enough to cover the low turnout for his movies in the U.S. There has never been a doubt that the handsome actor is an extreme talent or that he takes his acting career very seriously, but it could be that his eccentricity, which seems to originate as a genuine character trait – spills into his on-screen personas and influences the roles he chooses to do – roles that may seem too “different” or “weird” for mainstream audiences, but which other countries may value or prefer more than the U.S.
For his part, Depp himself does not seem as concerned with the financial successes – or losses – of his movies as the rest of Hollywood. He is commonly referred to as a “genius” with the gift of disappearing completely into the parts he plays. At this point of his life, and having already gained the respect of his peers, Depp is probably focused on playing roles he enjoys solely for the sheer pleasure of acting. As long as studios are aware of the risk of opening a movie with the actor, and the actor is willing to take less money to do so, whether or not he can carry a movie to financial success is probably less important to him than producing what he feels to be a worthwhile film. However, if the majority of critics are to be believed, his role in Mortdecai may have failed in its attempt to do either.
By Jennifer Pfalz
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