Relations between Verbinski and the Mouse House were strained following the swash-buckling threequel, after Verbinski's pathological perfectionism caused the budget to balloon to unreasonable levels.
Early word on the Lone Ranger movie was that the budget was going to be upwards of $275 million and hinge on werewolves and magic coyotes. After dropping the supernatural angle, the budget dropped to around $250 million, which was still too much for Disney. The high budget was said to be due to a massive set-piece involving a train which started to raise comparisons to Buster Keaton's The General.
Even with Johnny Depp's massive appeal, there was no way Disney could comfortably invest nearly $300 million of their money on a Western. Demands were made to drop the budget (to a more "manageable" $200 million) and there was talk of removing the contentious Verbinski from the project, until Depp put his foot down and counter-demanded that the director stay.
Eventually the budget was reduced to $215 million, which was slightly off their original request but they were willing to compromise up to $20 million extra. Shooting began this February, with Social Network star Armie Hammer starring as The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp in the role of the Ranger's Native America sidekick Tonto.
After troubled beginnings, things were looking secure for the production but it looks like trouble is riding back over the horizon.
Insiders spoke to THR that the production is now running weeks behind schedule and has far overshot its budget. Sources close to the film claim that The Lone Ranger is back at the original cost of $250 million, with one source claiming it has even surpassed that figure. Allegedly, Verbinski is once again asked to cut more scenes and mandated rewrites are underway.
On top of horrendous weather conditions damaging expensive sets, Verbinski's interest in large-scale train sets is another wallet-busting problem for the film. Period-accurate locomotives are said to be a major part of the movie and Verbinski, ever the perfectionist, decided that it would be best for the production to build their own trains from scratch.
It's understandable that things would get out of hand, Disney's former studio head Rich Ross left the company in April, leaving behind a void in leadership during the height of the movie's production. New studio head Alan Horn officially started the job on Monday, so he needs to do a bit of catching up on old business but if rumours are true, this Lone Ranger problem will be his priority for the duration of the Summer.
The Lone Ranger isn't due to wrap until August, giving the production plenty of time to right this leaky ship and meet its deadline. With the right management, the film could still meet its Summer 2013 release.
The Western is historically a low grossing genre, with the present top grosser being 1990s Dances with Wolves with a lifetime worldwide gross of $424 million, so the prospect of releasing a Western with the production budget of $250 million and up must be an intimidating one.
However, nobody thought a movie about pirates would make any money and Verbinski's Pirates movies went on to become some of the biggest movies of all time. As one insider puts it, "It's out of control but if you were going to bet on anyone, it would be on Gore, Johnny and Jerry."
Disney deny all reports of bloated budgets, but after the disastrous reception of the mega-budget John Carter, it's understandable that the studio would want to avoid any more bad press.