Disney, Bruckheimer ending their long-running partnership

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LOS ANGELES — The spectacular 22-year partnership of Walt Disney Co. and producer Jerry Bruckheimer will come to an end next year, signaling the Burbank company's changing priorities and how the shifting sands of the movie business are affecting A-list producers.

The producer's first-look deal with Walt Disney Studios will not be renewed when it expires in 2014, ending a run that resulted in 27 movies — from early hits like "The Rock" and "Armageddon" to the long-running "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise — and almost $9 billion in box-office receipts.

But Bruckheimer's most recent picture, "The Lone Ranger," released July 3, was a costly disappointment for Disney and led to speculation among Hollywood observers that Bruckheimer's relationship with the studio would soon end.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Bruckheimer acknowledged the picture's poor performance but said the separation from Disney was set in motion long before "The Lone Ranger" grossed just $245 million against a production budget estimated at $250 million.

"It's never about one movie," said Bruckheimer, who turned 70 on Saturday. "This was something that was coming long before 'Lone Ranger' was made."

The filmmaker said rather that he and Disney don't want to make the same kinds of movies anymore, and he lamented Disney's decision in 2010 to stop releasing in-house productions under its Touchstone Pictures label, which was home to many of the producer's biggest hits.

"We wanted to make the kind of movies we made in the past with Touchstone," he said. "But unfortunately they have a business plan that doesn't include the kind of movies we made in the past."

Bruckheimer and producing partner Don Simpson — who had been enormously successful on the Paramount lot with "Flashdance," "Beverly Hills Cop," "Top Gun" and other movies -- signed a deal with Disney in 1991. The duo's first movie for the studio was 1994's "The Ref," a disappointment that was followed in 1995 by successes "Dangerous Minds," "Crimson Tide" and "Bad Boys." Simpson died in 1996.

"Jerry is one of those unique people with a unique set of talents that comes along every so often that you just want to be a part of," said Dick Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios from 2002 to 2009.

However, Cook added, "Clearly everybody is watching their costs, everybody is watching how expensive these movies are, how expensive they are to market. Everybody is trying to get the biggest bang for every dollar."

When Bruckheimer began making movies for the Burbank studio, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm and Pixar Animation Studios weren't in the Disney fold, and the studio relied heavily on independent producers.

But with Marvel and Pixar reliably churning out hits like the "Iron Man" and "Shrek" franchises -- and Disney's 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm ensuring a pipeline of "Star Wars" movies -- the studio has become less inclined to make the sort of riskier, more adult fare Bruckheimer said he wants to pursue.