John Carter – A $200m Hit In The Back Pocket For Disney

Its hard yards this movie game, especially when you invest around $250m in production costs and another $100m in marketing on a new possible franchise. Well that’s the gamble Disney took when they spent around $350m on producing and promoting JOHN CARTER – and my hat goes off to them for it. They took a massive risk on a first entry, first time live action director (Andrew Stanton), releasing out of holidays blockbuster tentpole. And the risk didn’t pay off.

Joshua L Weinstein over at THE WRAP reports:

“John Carter,” based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs character, was made for about a quarter-billion dollars; marketing costs were another $100 million on top of that. But the movie grossed only $30.2 million domestically during its first weekend of release, taking in a measly $13.5 million its second.” 

Though saying a $30m opening weekend gross is under performing is a bit harsh, in comparison 21 JUMP STREET did $35m in its opening weekend just gone and it has a stronger female audience attached to it than JOHN CARTER, but the near 60% drop off week on week is a savage blow. It tells you the hardcore fans came out to see it and that’s about it. The film will finish its U.S. run at around $52m domestically.

Disney released this statement yesterday:

“In light of the theatrical performance of John Carter ($184 million global box office), we expect the film to generate an operating loss of approximately $200 million during our second fiscal quarter ending March 31. As a result, our current expectation is that the Studio segment will have an operating loss of between $80 and $120 million for the second quarter. As we look forward to the second half of the year, we are excited about the upcoming releases of The Avengers and Brave, which we believe have tremendous potential to drive value for the Studio and the rest of the company.”

So what happened? Why didn’t the film work? Hindsight allows you to make any theory you want but here are some facts that are known:

  • TRACKING – The film wasn’t getting any cut through into its core audience of teen boys, and of those that registered the film only 25% showed any interest in seeing the film
Nikki Finke at Deadline reports
“Not good. 2 unaided, 53 aware, 27 definitely interested, 3 first choice,” a senior exec at a rival studio emails me. Another writes me, ”It just came out. Women of all ages have flat out rejected the film. The tracking for John Carter is shocking for a film that cost over $250 million. This could be the biggest writeoff of all time.”
  • EXPENSIVE RESHOOTS – Sending the budget to new heights, the film went through several reshoots – and man they come at a price tag!
  • REVIEWS – General thoughts were that the film was muddled and boring. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 51%.
This from rotten tomatoes:
While John Carter looks terrific and delivers its share of pulpy thrills, it also suffers from uneven pacing and occasionally incomprehensible plotting and characterization.
  • MULTIPLE TRAILER VERSIONS – Always a good sign if your marketing crews are releasing different versions of trailers to attract different demographics. There were 3 main trailers and several online sequences of the film released, even a 10 minute sequence the week prior to opening. There’s actually a fan made JOHN CARTER trailer that is wildly more impressive than the official ones. All of the versions and the clips are here on the lowdown in the trailer park.

AUSTRALIA is faring stronger with the film, currently just under $6m at the domestic box office for 2 weeks (The film has performed better internationally than in the U.S.) and should see itself tap out at around that $8m mark here. That will place the film at around 15.4% pro rata for Australia – big win against the U.S.!

Even though the company has ceded that JOHN CARTER has failed – all points go to them for taking the gamble and trying something on!