Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in 'Alice in Wonderland' (Photo: Walt Disney Pictures)
It looks like Johnny Depp is finding safe harbor by returning to the world of Lewis Carroll ... whether his pal Tim Burton is coming or not.
Curiouser and curiouser! Hot on the heels of some bad press claiming he's just not the A-list star he used to be upon the failure of "The Lone Ranger" (and "Dark Shadows" before it) at the box office, Depp is in final negotiations to reprise his role as the Mad Hatter in "Alice in Wonderland 2," the sequel to Disney's 2010 mega-hit directed by Depp's frequent collaborator Burton.
The news proves that Depp and Disney are still the best of friends, despite "The Lone Ranger" to date scoring a mere $71 million at the domestic box office after 12 days of release. The would-be blockbuster, which cost around $250 million to produce, will need major international numbers to even break even — though the film has only rustled up $48 million in foreign box office so far.
On the other hand, an "Alice in Wonderland" sequel seems like a sure thing. The original film, which opened in March 2010, cost around $200 million, but managed to earn a worldwide box office take of over $1 billion, despite lukewarm reviews (it holds a 51 percent average rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Tim Burton declining to return to the director's chair will probably have little to no effect on the sequel's potential — it could be argued that audiences dig the brand, not necessarily the specific filmmakers, and it will be interesting to see what "The Muppets" director James Bobin does with such a huge (and expensive) playground as Wonderland.
That's not all that's going on with Depp and Disney. The star has signed a new multi-year first-look deal with the studio to develop projects he can produce there (though interestingly enough, Deadline reports that deal was closed this past March and not recently). And it's still full steam ahead for "Pirates of the Caribbean 5" (another safe harbor for the Depp-Disney duo), which is planned for a Summer 2015 release under the direction of "Kon-Tiki" filmmakers Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (classy!).
Johnny Depp's possibly fading star has been the subject of much scrutiny ever since "The Lone Ranger" failed to win the Fourth of July moviegoing weekend, especially as it seems like the film is going to bomb all around the world rather than just domestically (both "Dark Shadows" and "The Tourist" ended up doing well in foreign markets). Ultimately, though, audiences probably aren't blaming Depp for "The Lone Ranger" bombing ... and neither is Hollywood.
"Depp is a star as well as a rare talent, so there is no doubt he can sustain a few misfires," Exhibitor Relations box office analyst Jeff Bock recently told Yahoo! Movies. "And before anyone writes him off, remember, he'll be donning Jack Sparrow duds again for 'Pirates 5,' it will gross a billion dollars, and everyone will forget about that dead crow on his head."
Add to that: Depp is still scoring lead roles in high-profile projects, even beyond the world of Disney blockbusters. Last week he signed on to star in the crime drama "Mortdecai," director David Koepp's screen adaptation of the three-part series of books by Kyril Bonfiglioli, and he's currently filming "The Dark Knight" cinematographer Wally Pfister's highly anticipated (but predictably hush-hush) directorial debut, "Transcendence," due in theaters in April 2014.
Really, even with a few box office duds on his resume, who wouldn't want to work with Johnny Depp? "Any producer would kill to have Johnny Depp in any movie," Edward Bass, producer of 2006 biopic "Bobby" and the 2012 Jessica Chastain film "Tar," told Yahoo! "There's nothing he doesn't do great. He has the ability to be a movie star on one side and still be an artist on the other, and that's what makes him different."
[Related: The Painted Faces of Johnny Depp]
Still, it's probably a good thing that Depp has projects like "Mortdecai" and "Transcendence" on the horizon to balance out cash grabs like "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Alice in Wonderland' sequels ... because as much as the public still loves him, they arguably love him a little less than they did, say, ten years ago, at least when it comes to Jack Sparrow.
"When 'Pirates' [first] opened, Johnny Depp's portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow seemed fresh and exciting," writes Box Office Mojo analyst Ray Subers. "After a decade of playing similarly wacky characters, his portrayal of Tonto in 'The Lone Ranger' just felt like more of the same."
No release date has been set for "Alice in Wonderland 2," though we can't imagine it will hit theaters any earlier than 2016.
Watch 'The Lone Ranger' Teaser Trailer: