What's the final fate of the Lone Ranger? Earlier this month, we learned that Disney shut down production on Johnny Depp, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Gore Verbinski's western, citing budget concerns. But during Disney's D23 Expo, Disney exec Rich Ross hinted that the project may not be dead, telling Deadline interviewers ""I'm hoping to do it. I'm certainly hoping. I think it's a compelling story and no one wants to work with Jerry [Bruckheimer, producer] and Johnny [Depp, actor] more than me, so we'll see how it works."
While this may be evidence of the film's future at Disney, it also may point to a source of some of the conflict: attached director Verbinski, who Ross did not mention. Verbinski was reportedly holding out for the larger budget which got the film cut from the Disney slate in the first place; he wanted $275 million dollars, which exceeded the $200 million Disney was willing to spend. The sudden lack of Verbinski, along with Disney's willingness to discuss the future of the project, means that they may be replacing the director with a cheaper alternative.
That move might save Disney some money in the budget, but may not lead to profit in the long run. Depp and Verbinski collaborated on one of Disney's most profitable franchises, the Pirates Of The Caribbean films, and the animated feature Rango. And on a genre as risky as a Western (just ask Cowboys and Aliens' producers), it helps to have some proven money-makers on your side.
Of course, this is still all in the speculative phase. For all we know, Ross just forgot to mention Verbinski in his interview, or Disney has definitively scrapped their Lone Ranger plans, or Ross is talking about it to stir up discussion about the project, and see if there's enough interest to consider moving forward. In the end, it comes down to Depp, and his willingness to appear in the project. If he leaves with Verbinski, the Lone Ranger is finished, but as long as he's committed, Disney will likely find some way to make money off of him.