LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co's big-budget Western "The Lone Ranger," starring Johnny Depp as Native American sidekick Tonto, rode off with $2 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales during its first shows on Tuesday night, trotting well behind animated "Despicable Me 2."
Both films are fighting for audiences heading into the U.S. Independence Day holiday on Thursday, one of the biggest movie going periods of the year. "Despicable Me 2" took in $4.7 million in its Tuesday night preview shows, according to distributor Universal Pictures, a unit of Comcast Corp.
The animated movie, featuring the voice of Steve Carell, is expected to rule the box office through Sunday, with domestic ticket sales of more than $110 million, industry forecasters said.
"The Lone Ranger" is projected to capture $60 million to $70 million during the same period.
With Tuesday night sales, "both films are solid enough to make the projected numbers, pretty much on the money," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com's box office division.
"The Lone Ranger" would ultimately generate $180 million in domestic ticket sales, according to Tony Wible, managing director of Janney Montgomery Scott, who follows Disney. He estimated that at those levels, the movie would generate $370 million for Disney in revenues from foreign, video and other sales.
That total would give Disney a modest profit, based on estimated production costs of $225 million and more than $100 million for marketing. Wible's numbers don't include merchandise sales, he said.
The film is the latest entry in Disney's strategy of spending more on fewer films and trying to build franchises 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," but wrote down $200 million when sci-fi epic "John Carter" flopped last year.
"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.
Critics have not embraced the movie. Among 110 reviews compiled on the Rotten Tomatoes website on Wednesday, just 25 percent recommended the film.
Big-budget Westerns have failed to grab mass audiences, which could hurt "The Lone Ranger," said Jeff Bock, box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co. But, he added, that pirate movies were also a tough sell in Hollywood before Depp made "Pirates of Caribbean" a global hit.
"I don't think that many people remember 'The Lone Ranger,'" Bock said, "But they know Johnny Depp. He connects with audiences."
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Chris Reese and Jeffrey Benkoe)