By Ronald Grover and Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "The Lone Ranger," Walt Disney Co's big-budget western starring Johnny Depp, performed below expectations on Wednesday night, raising the possibility that the movie could saddle the media giant with a loss on the film.
The film, which cost an estimated $225 million to produce, generated $9.7 million during Wednesday showings, falling well behind "Despicable Me 2" from Comcast's Universal Pictures, which sold $34.3 million at the domestic box office, according to studio estimates.
Both films opened with limited showings on Tuesday. For the two-day period, "Despicable Me 2" generated $39 million and "The Lone Ranger" saw $11.7 million.
Disney estimates "The Lone Ranger" will sell $45 million for the Wednesday through Sunday July Fourth holiday weekend, below industry experts' initial forecasts of $60 million to $70 million over the five days.
"If it does end up grossing less than $50 million over the five-day stretch, it will most certainly go down as a misfire," said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations, which tracks movie box office prospects.
The film's poor opening is a black eye for producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Gore Verbinski and star Depp, the trio behind Disney's ultra-successful "Pirates of the Caribbean" series.
Disney made their prior success a key part of marketing the current film, and Depp's international appeal still could help the film's overseas box office.
"The Lone Ranger" is an action remake of a 1930s radio show and television series in the 1950s. Armie Hammer plays John Reid, the lawman who dons a mask to fight injustice in the Old West. This time, though, it is the Lone Ranger's Native American sidekick Tonto, played by Depp, who takes center stage.
Critics have not embraced the movie. Among 110 reviews compiled on the Rotten Tomatoes website on Wednesday, just 25 percent recommended the film.
Gitesh Pandya, editor of the website Box Office Guru, estimates the film will generate $100 million in domestic ticket sales.
A $60 million opening over its first days would have generated a modest profit, according to Tony Wible, a managing director of Janney Montgomery Scott who follows Disney.
With that opening, he estimated the film would generate $180 million in domestic ticket sales and give Disney total revenues of $370 million from foreign, video and other sales.
Studios and theaters generally share box office receipts.
Disney spent $225 million to make the film and an estimated $100 million to market it.
A Disney spokesperson was not available for comment on the studio's outlook for the film's profitability.
"The Lone Ranger" is the latest entry in Disney's strategy of spending more on fewer films to build franchises from big budget movies that can generate continued revenues from sequels, merchandise and outlets like its theme parks and TV properties.
The company found such success with Marvel superhero films "The Avengers" and "Iron Man 3," and with Pixar's "Monsters University," but wrote down $200 million when sci-fi epic "John Carter" flopped last year.
The studios will update the box office results over the weekend.
(Reporting by Ronald Grover and Lisa Richwine; Editing by Eric Beech and Jackie Frank)