After teaming up to give the Mouse House one of the top eight global grossers of all time this past summer, Walt Disney Studios has effectively kicked Johnny Depp and Jerry Bruckheimer to the curb.  Both the LA Times and Deadline are reporting that pre-production on Gore Verbinski's "The Lone Ranger" has been shut down.  Filming was scheduled to begin in October.

Starring Depp as Tonto and "The Social Network's" Armie Hammer as the masked Western hero, "Ranger" was expected to be one of the studio's major tentpoles for December 2012.  The film's budget, however, was said to be hovering at around $232 million and that was just too rich for Disney's tastes.  Especially considering the dubious prospects for next year's "John Carter" (a stunning $250 million plus budget) and their $200 million investment in Sam Raimi's "Oz: The Great and Powerful."  And yet, this is still bizarre considering Bruckheimer and Depp's billion dollar track record on the "Pirates" series and the $1 billion dollar gross for Depp's "Alice in Wonderland" in 2010. The fact Depp could even help the audience-unfriendly "The Tourist" hit $278 million worldwide can't be disputed either.  With Will Smith still on his personal sabbatical Depp is absolutely the biggest draw in the world.  So, why would Disney get so skittish about a Johnny Depp adventure movie?  Perhaps "Cowboys & Aliens" contributed to their thinking.

A hybrid Western and Sci-Fi picture, "Cowboys" cost over $200 million to produce and may top out at $100 million domestic if it's lucky.  Considering the hype and the perceived star-power of Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, the fact it hasn't become a blockbsuter may have been the final nail in the coffin for Disney.  And yet, considering CEO Bob Iger already had to soothe over Depp's feelings when former Studios and Depp buddy Chairman Dick Cook was let go, why would you kill a possible hit when you are looking to lock Depp up for two more "Pirates" films?  Moreover, Depp and Verbinski just teamed up on "Rango" one of the more original and delightfully bizarre pseudo animated Westerns ever and even that made $123 million domestic.

The release date may have also been a concern.  "Ranger" would have been up against "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" and Brad Pitt's "World War Z" and have to contend with "Bond 23" and the final "Twilight" film still in the marketplace.  If that was also part of the decision, why not just push "Ranger" to the summer of 2013 when it could have more time to breathe and succeed? 

Of course, what most in Hollywood are realizing is that Disney may just be using the media to send a message to Bruckheimer, Depp and Verbinski about the film's budget (not so shocking).  They supposedly want the film's costs reigned down to $200 million.  The message must be: cut something and perhaps the studio will reconsider.  The question is just how badly does the trio want to make the movie.  Do they call Disney's bluff or just move on?  The coming week should tell the tale.

Noteworthy, this is not the first highly-anticipated project to fall apart recently.  Universal killed Guillermo Del Toro's "Mountains of Madness" which Tom Cruise was set to star and James Cameron was on board to produce this Spring.  DreamWorks also said no this past week to a low-budget Eminem boxing moving which would have been the hip-hop icon's first acting role since the megahit "8 Mile" (other companies are potentially jumping on that project however).

Look for more on this story on HitFix as it develops.