[UPDATE: Disney has announced that it is ending its first-look deal with Bruckheimer. Scroll down for the details.]
Jerry Bruckheimer and Walt Disney Pictures have been working together for more years than the current wave of high schoolers has been alive (how's that for another reminder about your age, Gen Y types?), dating back to when Bruckheimer served as an executive producer on the 1994 Denis Leary comedy vehicle The Ref for Disney's Touchstone Pictures banner.
Their relationship over the years since then has proven to be extremely fruitful, thanks to such Bruckheimer-produced titles as a healthy chunk of director Michael Bay's pre-Transformers filmography (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor), the National Treasure series and (above all others) the multi-billion-dollar grossing Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. However, it seems that there's now a reasonable chance that, following a 20-year reign, the Disney-Bruckheimer dynasty could be coming to an end.
Negotiations between Bruckheimer and Disney studio chief Alan Horn are slated to begin next month, well ahead of when the Mouse House's first look deal with Bruckheimer expires in Spring 2014. However, as Variety notes in its report, the relationship between the two moviemaking forces has grown rocky in recent years, following a string of under-performing tentpoles - Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, The Sorcerer's Apprentice and The Lone Ranger - which has culminated with Disney taking a big financial hit on Bruckheimer and Pirates trilogy director Gore Verbinski/star Johnny Depp's revisionist western (estimated to have cost upwards of $375 million, between production and marketing costs).
A fifth Pirates of the Caribbean cinematic installment, subtitled Dead Men Tell No Tales, has a script and director(s), but the project's been delayed from Summer 2015 to 2016 in order to allow for additional writing revisions; not to mention, there are rumors that Bruckheimer has lost final cut on Pirates 5, as a direct result of the poor turnout for Lone Ranger. Meanwhile, a team of writers are working on a National Treasure 3 script - according to Bruckheimer - but for now a third adventure with Nicolas Cage as Benjamin Gates (the Indiana Jones of American secret history fanatics) is less of a surefire bet to see the light of day.
Having said that: Bruckheimer productions are no longer a primary source of income for Disney, like they were some 10-15 years ago. The Mouse House has begun to reap increasingly large amounts of dough thank to its stake in Marvel Studios and Pixar, with its acquisition of Lucasfilm in place to payoff handsomely when Star Wars: Episode VII premieres in 2015.
Furthermore, Disney 3D animated offerings like Wreck-It Ralph and the upcoming Frozen are still important cash draws for the company, along with other family-friendly properties like The Muppets. And need we mention the success that Mickey Mouse's... er, Walt Disney's studio enjoyed by revisiting Alice in Wonderland and making Oz the Great and Powerful (with more fairy tale live-action movie retellings like Maleficent and Cinderella on the horizon)?
The short of it all: Disney has finally begun to stop lavishing nine-figure budgets on Bruckheimer productions and projects that demand big production values, yet don't fall strictly in the company's wheelhouse (see: the studio's cancellation of David Fincher's proposed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea adaptation) - for better... or for worse. That might not be enough to encourage Bruckheimer to part ways with the company, but there are already signs that he might be leaning in that direction - given his recent interest in revisiting some of his most lucrative action movie properties, by signing on to produce Beverly Hills Cop IV and keep Bad Boys III alive.
UPDATE: The Mouse House has released an email, confirming that the studio will not renew its first-look deal with Bruckheimer in 2014. Here is said email (via THR):
The Walt Disney Studios and Jerry Bruckheimer have decided not to renew their first-look deal when it expires next year. Disney will continue to focus on its branded properties including Disney, Pixar, Marvel and now Lucasfilm, while Bruckheimer is looking to produce more mature films outside the scope of the Disney brand. Disney and Bruckheimer will continue working together on various projects, including the fifth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Together Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer have produced such blockbuster hits as the Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure films under the Disney brand, as well as adult action dramas like Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Con Air, and The Rock through the Touchstone label.
"Jerry is one of the most respected and prolific producers working in the motion picture industry, and we have had an incredibly successful collaboration over the past two decades. He is a friend to many of us here at Disney," said Alan Horn, Chairman, The Walt Disney Studios. "We will continue to work together in the future, and we look forward to seeing more of the films that have made Jerry Bruckheimer a Hollywood legend."
"I am very appreciative of the wonderful collaboration and support I have had at The Walt Disney Company for over twenty years and the twenty-seven movies we have made together. The good news is we will continue working together on Pirates of the Caribbean, National Treasure and other projects we have developed together at the studio," said Jerry Bruckheimer. "I am thankful to have had the opportunity to work with these amazing people at The Walt Disney Studios, many of whom have become my good friends. As we continue to make adventure films, we look forward to returning to films like Black Hawk Down, Enemy of the State, Beverly Hills Cop, and The Rock."
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales will set sail in theaters by Summer 2016.