Has Jerry Bruckheimer lost his touch?


Jerry Bruckheimer, of all people, shouldn't have to worry about maintaining a production deal.

And Disney says he doesn't have to, with execs labeling Bruckheimer's lucrative arrangement with the studio as secure despite a recent string of theatrical misfires. Yet whispers of a growing breach between the multibillion-dollar producer and his studio partner circulated in the aftermath of a disappointing $17.6 million first weekend for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."

"No producer can have four flops and have there be no repercussions," one Disney insider mused.

Greenlighted by since-departed film boss Oren Aviv and studio chairman Dick Cook, "Sorcerer's Apprentice" cost at least $160 million to produce what was supposed to launch a franchise of the four-pic "Pirates of the Caribbean" variety. The film's marketing came with a price tag of upward of $50 million, and though M.T. Carney wasn't installed as marketing topper on the Burbank lot until after the launch of its pricey campaign, she contributed to promos.

The film looks likely to register just $60 million-$70 million domestically, suggesting a possible corporate write-off of up to $100 million unless the release dramatically overperforms overseas.

Its biggest problem: The presumed core audience isn't showing up.

"Sorcerer's" seems unable to lure younger moviegoers, perhaps because of their preoccupation with "Despicable Me" and other recently released family films. About 55% of the Disney pic's first-frame patrons were ages 25 or older, with date-movie couples making up more than half of "Sorcerer's" audiences.

That latter stat normally would represent a bonus for a big PG-rated pic, as it would suggest the movie was appealing broadly among prospective moviegoers. But when such a film opens poorly, the older skew highlights inadequate family support.

Bruckheimer always will be beloved in the Magic Kingdom for producing three "Pirates" pics that have rung up a mind-bending $2.75 billion in global boxoffice, and a 3D fourquel is set to hit theaters in May. Bruckheimer is now lensing "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" in Hawaii.

But the "Sorcerer's" misfire follows poor theatrical runs by May opener "The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," July 2009 release "G-Force" and February 2009's "Confessions of a Shopaholic." Some wonder if Bruckheimer's development projects on the Disney lot will get produced.

A third installment in the "National Treasure" franchise has been in development, but another Nicolas Cage-Bruckheimer pairing is the last thing studio marketeers need in the near future. Disney plunked down $3.5 million to pick up sci-fi/action script "LightSpeed" in May but a few weeks later put Bruckheimer's military actioner "Killing Rommel" into turnaround. His "The Lone Ranger" remains on the distant back burner as a possible 2012 vehicle for "Pirates" topliner Johnny Depp.

"We have an incredible relationship with one of Hollywood's most prolific producers in Jerry Bruckheimer," Disney film production president Sean Bailey said Monday. "Together, we've created some of the most recognizable and successful live-action titles in recent years."



Bruckheimer's development work isn't limited to Disney. For instance, he remains in development at Sony with a second "Bad Boys" sequel. The narco-cops action franchise dates to 1995, when Bruckheimer was producing with the late Don Simpson.

If Bruckheimer were to bolt Disney for another lot -- and nobody is suggesting there is evidence of overt pushing or jumping at this point -- some suggest his next home could be at Warner Bros., where the versatile producer has a big television deal. But whether he stays at Disney or tries his luck elsewhere, Bruckheimer likely would have to settle for a bit less than his cushy arrangement at Disney.

That's what happened to Warners prolific producer Joel Silver after a string of theatrical disappointments. Bruckheimer also might find less latitude in his script development, drawing notes from Disney production execs on projects in which he may have wielded freer rein in the past.

"A lot of these guys get too caught up in formulas, and they just keep making the same film over and over again," a highly placed industryite said.

Meantime, Bruckheimer's record on the TV side also has been a bit checkered of late.

His "CSI" forensics juggernaut on CBS is the most lucrative TV property in history, "The Amazing Race" leads the reality pack among adventure-competition series, and "Without a Trace" and "Cold Case" have mounted healthy syndie afterlives after their network runs. But several series fell short of qualifying for reruns, and a couple others were axed in their first seasons.

"E-Ring," "Close to Home" and "Justice" all bit the dust before they could take hold. More recently, CBS canceled "Eleventh Hour" and pulled the plug on "Miami Medical," while ABC passed on a second season of "The Forgotten."

An undercover police series called "Dark Blue" with Dylan McDermott has been renewed by cabler TNT.

"When you consider that overall, nine out of 10 TV series each season get canceled, it's hard to argue that Bruckheimer's track record on the small screen isn't stellar," a network exec said. "It may not be Pixar stellar, but it's still hard to beat."

Whether Bruckheimer, like Pixar, ever again approaches a 1,000 batting average on the film side will be a well-watched drama in Hollywood for some time.

Elizabeth Guider and Borys Kit contributed to this report.
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