A collective shock rippled through Hollywood last week and the town is still feeling the aftershocks.  In a major surprise Disney seemingly pulled the plug on Gore Verbinski's long in the works big screen adaptation of "The Lone Ranger" which was in pre-production for a fall shoot.  Budget concerns were the cause (what's the difference between $250 million or $200 million among friends?), but the surprise was that "Ranger" wasn't just any movie, it was set to star global superstar and box office powerhouse Johnny Depp.

If anyone thinks Depp's audience appeal is overrated, just take a look at the $1.03 billion gross of "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (a movie the studio claims still isn't in the black). With Disney wanting two more "Pirates" features, the idea of rattling Depp's reunion with good buddy Verbinski is a major poker play by studio head Rich Ross. Word is Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer are trying to bring the budget down to the studio's liking, but Depp and Verbinski are willing to cut their substantial back end gross points only so far.  

Disney isn't the only studio willing to take a stand over risky projects with major talent. Universal dropped the Guillermo del Toro and James Cameron backed "Mountains of Madness" as well as Ron Howard's attempt to bring Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" to theaters. But considering the importance of the "Pirates" franchise, does Disney really think Depp has no ego to bruise?  He was already upset at former studio chairman Dick Cook's ouster, Verbinski's departure from "Pirates 4" and lord knows he couldn't have been happy with Rob Marshall's directing gig on the critically panned "On Stranger Tides."  Again, Ross and Disney are making a major bet that Depp, who has been attached to "Ranger" since 2008, will continue with the project even if Verbinski departs from the current incarnation.  Personally, I'm not sure I'd take those odds.

One thing is for sure.  All of Hollywood is watching who blinks first.

As for the rest of this week's rankings...

Thursday, Aug. 19, 2011

1. "The Lone Ranger" (not ranked)
Will Johnny Depp call Disney's bluff?

2. "The Avengers" (not ranked)
Hello Cleveland!  Captain America and the Avengers are here to save your city from, um, motion-capture actors?

3. "The Dark Knight Rises" (last week no. 1)

After this paparazzi revelation is Chris Nolan pulling his hair out?  Perhaps J.J. Abrams is for him.

4. "Blade Runner" (not ranked)
He doesn't need the money, so why is Ridley Scott returning to fashion a prequel or sequel to his indisputable classic?

5. Academy Awards (last week no. 3)
Already worried about your decision to hire Brett Ratner to co-produce Academy? Have no fear, Billy Crystal is willing to save the day.

6. "Austin Powers 4" (not ranked)
Shag like it's 1997 baby.

7. "The Help" (last week no. 11)

Surprising box office, but lots of controversy about the book's author and whether the movie's subject matter is truly offensive in 2011.

8. "The Twilight Saga" (last week no. 5)
Some would argue the franchise's soundtracks are are better than the movies.  The fourth film's album has a release date.  Oh, and more new pretty pics from "Breaking Dawn."

9. "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" (last week no. 7)
Your first official photo of Roadblock thanks to Dwayne "publicity machine" Johnson.

10. "Magic Mike" (not ranked)
The male stripper movie all of Hollywood's abs are signing up for.  First Alex Pettyfer and Channing Tatum (based on his early years) and now Matthew McConaughey, Matt Boomer and "True Blood's" Joe Manganiello are ready to hit the stage.

11. "The Woman in Black" (not ranked)
Daniel Radcliffe's first post-"Potter" flick creates some buzz.  Who knew?

12. "Hunger Games" (last week no. 12)

The industry is increasingly buzzing that there still isn't a preview trailer and the movie's debut is only seven months away.  That better be one massive fanbase out there.

13. "J. Edgar" (not ranked)
Clint Eastwood promises the "was he or wasn't he?" won't be answered in the new biopic.

14. "Trespass" (not ranked)

Oh, Nicole.  Never make a movie where both Nic Cage and Joel Schumacher are involved.

15. "Bridget Jones 3" (not ranked)
Renee Zellweger's career may be saved with this threequel no one has really been clamoring for.

What do you think of this week's power rankings? Share your thoughts below.


For year-round entertainment commentary follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory.