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John Carter: flop or victim?


Well, it’s official, JOHN CARTER is being labeled a disaster, a flop, an “ISHTAR“, and anything else that signifies profit-and-loss ratio infamy. The media decided a while ago that this movie was going to be a disaster for Disney, and after finishing #2 for the weekend with barely $30 million—despite making over $100 million worldwide—every ill omen has been seen as sagacious.

And the hate is baffling. Although it has only 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, if you read the reviews, the good ones read about the same as the bad ones. Critics weren’t wildly enthusiastic about the movie, but it didn’t suck.

In fact, the word of mouth is good. People who went in with an open mind seem to have been entertained.

I saw JOHN CARTER Thursday at an IMAX 3D and I loved it. It was no THE DESCENDANTS, but it was a well-made yarn, filled with wonder. Yeah, I said it. WONDER. The John Carter books are hardly The Lord of the Rings—I didn’t need every klunky archaic line used. And screenwriter Michael Chabon and Andrew Stanton knew that. So they weren’t afraid to tinker and modernize many things.

What they did keep intact was the unbridled imagination of the original, a vision unencumbered by anything that reeks of marketing or focus groups. Here is a passage from the second book, The Gods of Mars, that sums up everything I like about Barsoom:

Its hairless body was a strange and ghoulish blue, except for a broad band of white which encircled its protruding, single eye: an eye that was all dead white–pupil, iris, and ball.

Its nose was a ragged, inflamed, circular hole in the centre of its blank face; a hole that resembled more closely nothing that I could think of other than a fresh bullet wound which has not yet commenced to bleed.

Below this repulsive orifice the face was quite blank to the chin, for the thing had no mouth that I could discover.

The head, with the exception of the face, was covered by a tangled mass of jet-black hair some eight or ten inches in length. Each hair was about the bigness of a large angleworm, and as the thing moved the muscles of its scalp this awful head-covering seemed to writhe and wriggle and crawl about the fearsome face as though indeed each separate hair was endowed with independent life.

I mean COME ON, how can you not want to see that brought to life? The Carter books were so original when written…now, having been ripped off for a hundred years, they seem like pale imitations.

But then, this has been a story that people have been trying—and failing—to bring to the screen since at least 1936. Nearly 80 years. In that year, animator Bob Clampett worked on a proposed animated version for…Walt Disney.

As others have written here, had this film actually been made—instead of SNOW WHITE—what a different world we would live in. John Carter would have had to be an animated movie. What has stymied people for years was the technology to make it.

The more recent attempts at making a movie—from Robert Rodriguez, to Kerry Conlan, to Jon Favreau and so on—all faltered for probably the same reasons the movie that did get made has been vilified: too weird and yet too familiar at the same time.

But let’s piece together a bit of what is being said as the handfuls of dirt hit the coffin. If you’re a veteran of Hollywood backstabbing, it’s interesting to see who is aiming what knives at whom.

Nikki Finke has some brutal fingerpointing aimed at director Andrew Stanton:

To summarize: this flop is the result of a studio trying to indulge Pixar… Of an arrogant director who ignored everybody’s warnings that he was making a film too faithful to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s first novel in the Barsoom series “A Princess of Mars”… Of the failure of Dick Cook, and Rich Ross, and Bob Iger to rein in Stanton’s excessive ego or pull the plug on the movie’s bloated budget … Of really rotten marketing that failed to explain the significant or scope of the film’s Civil War-to-Mars story and character arcs and instead made the 3D movie look way as generic as its eventual title… Disagree all you want, but Hollywood is telling me that competent marketing could have drawn in women with the love story, or attracted younger males who weren’t fanboys of the source material. Instead the campaign was as rigid and confusing as the movie itself, not to mention that ’Before Star Wars, Before Avatar‘ tag line should have come at the start and not at the finish. But even more I think John Carter is a product of mogul wuss-ism as much as it is misplaced talent worship. More detail to come.

Andrew Stanton’s ego, eh? God forbid that the director of FINDING NEMO and WALL*E have confidence in his filmmaking skills. In the Hollywood glossary “ego” is the brush to tar both runaway executives headed for disaster and filmmakers who think they actually know what they are doing. While it seems that as a first-time live-action director Stanton needed a stronger producing partner, based on his track record his thinking he could make a good movie is a rather forgivable sin.

The New York Times has yet more anonymous insider candor, including Disney head Bob Iger’s call to say the serenity prayer over and over again as the money flows out and out:

In recent weeks, as a weak marketing campaign failed to generate audience excitement for “John Carter,” Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, made it clear in conversations with senior managers that he would not tolerate finger-pointing; this may be a colossal miss, he told them, according to people who were present, but it’s the company’s miss and no individuals would be blamed — including Mr. Stanton. Learn from it, was Mr. Iger’s message. On Sunday, Rich Ross, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, said in a statement, “Moviemaking does not come without risk.  It’s still an art, not a science, and there is no proven formula for success. Andrew Stanton is an incredibly talented and successful filmmaker who with his team put their hard work and vision into the making of ‘John Carter.’ Unfortunately, it failed to connect with audiences as much as we had all hoped.”

The Times piece does lay the blame for the weak marketing on Stanton’s door, not the departed MT Carney—he had final say over all of it. And he is definitely NOT a marketer: using Led Zeppelin for the first trailer, and generally not making the movie look very exciting. IF this is all true, then he does have some humble pie to eat.

Other culprits, from the Times, include the turnover from former studio head Dick Cook, ousted by Iger, to new guy Rich Ross, which led to the lack of strong oversight—or support—for Stanton.

The LA Times reveals that it was the old farts who liked the movie, a sure recipe for disaster:

Based on a century-old character created by author Edgar Rice Burroughs, “John Carter” was meant to appeal to young males. But a surprisingly older crowd turned up to see the movie this weekend, as 59% of the audience was over age 25. Those who saw the film — a 64% male contingent — assigned it an average grade of B+, according to market research firm CinemaScore. 

In this, its outline kind of resembles GREEN LANTERN, a film that no one remembers or has compared it to, even though they are very similar—a cult chaacter that intrigues enough filmmakers for it to finally get made. But a Variety preview mentions a different film that had a cult audience but should perhaps never be filmed:

Having dealt with rumors of cost overruns on a tentpole with no major stars, marketing stumbles (including a controversial title change and DayGlo materials) and 100-year-old source material unknown to most moviegoers, Disney and a team of Pixar vets are either about to launch a new franchise or write off the next failed labor of love, like "Watchmen."


It’s left to Mark Hughes at Forbes to actually defend the movie, based on its merits:

While most media reports are focusing on the pre-established narrative that the film is a flop and critical failure, audiences are rating the film with a very healthy B+, some key film reviewers have enthusiastically embraced the movie, and the strong foreign receipt numbers indicate it will have a much better total box office run than many of the detractors seem to be giddily hoping for.

And there’s the rub: this movie is actually likable. Here’s my distillation of what went wrong, aside from whatever filmmaking stumbles Stanton had in going over budget: this was Cook’s movie, and when he got booted, it got orphaned. It had to keep going, but no one at the studio wanted to take responsibility for it. Disney’s lack of enthusiasm for the project was more and more obvious. All the backstory and backstabbing didn’t allow people to see that this was actually a pretty good movie. Believe me, plenty of worse pieces of shit have made $500 million worldwide.

But it was all so obvious. For instance, it’s a real shame that Disney’s fear of alienating male viewers didn’t allow for some marketing of Dejah Thoris to the female geek audience. Lynn Collins was spot on in the role, Dejah was both smart—she discovered the ninth ray!—and an ass kicker. And almost alone of major studio pictures, there were female characters EVERYwhere in the film, from the green sidekick Sola, to various random foot soldiers of Zodanga(!), to the goddess Issus. Unlike the dismal STAR TREK remake which jettisoned all the original’s ideas about sexual diversity in the universe, JOHN CARTER stuck with the idea of priestesses and an integrated society. (The books were so egalitarian, but Burroughs also knew that the more girls who were around, the more that could potentially be kidnapped and rescued to kick off a plot.) In a time when female genre fans are demanding more engaged and proactive roles for women, JOHN CARTER is a standout. Too bad no one thought to tell that story.

I predict that on home viewing, little kids will adore it. And maybe even Disney will come around. Dejah Thoris is a Disney Princess now! Woola plush toys! John Carter sword and loincloth play set! It could all happen.

A surprisingly wide variety of cartoonists liked it, too, as shown by a few random tweets (Not shown, Renee French.):

So that’s it then. If JOHN CARTER is a huge huge hit worldwide, we may see the already-written sequel. But that’s kind of a long shot. More likely: 20 years from now, an originality-bereft Hollywood exec looks around and says, “Hey if they could remake Starsky and Hutch maybe we should remake John Carter!”

Just you watch. In Carter’s own catchphrase from the books: “I still live.”


  1. I took my 8 year old daughter to see it ( yea it’s a PG13, which is silly ), she loved it. Especially the badass Princess.
    I was quite taken with the badass Princess too.
    I think a bit more star power in the John Carter roll might have helped, but it’s a fun movie.

  2. I enjoyed John Carter of Mars as if I were a teenager seeing the first Star Wars film. In the theater I was in, we cheered, cringed, gasped, and applauded. I’d say the crowd I shared the the theater with thouroghly enjoyed themselves for over two hours. How was Avatar a hit and this is not? Who are these idiots that make the decision a film has tanked before it opens? Disney had a huge hit on their hands and they killed it — damn those smug bastards.

  3. Victim… all the way. As a younger woman, I can say that the only reason the movie attracted an older crowd is because they were more familiar with the content. If JOHN CARTER had been marketed correctly, which could have been easily done for both young female and male audiences, I would have never even questioned going to see the film in the first place. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and I feel it really suffered from bad advertisement.
    I also feel that one of the reasons I did enjoy it is because Stanton did much to be faithful to Edgar Rice Burrough’s story.

  4. Loved it as well — esp. how they did not take time to explain everything, just dropped you in with the Tharklings. And kept the same breathless melodrama. And this Dejah has rendered every other Artist Alley version obsolete.

    However, I would place the blame squarely on Disney. They not only set the release in March but also did not support it at ALL. I may be getting older, but when I see a movie like this I want to play a John Carter video game and buy a Woola action figure. There was/is NONE of that. The fact, as you say, that we could buy those things someday might be too late — kids should have been able to buy them now.

  5. I am amazed by the staggering amount of bad press about the film. I spoke a bit about it here (http://www.filmbuffonline.com/FBOLNewsreel/wordpress/2012/03/08/new-releases-march-9/) but it seemed like the film journalists all got together and said “Disney’s investing $250 million in property we never heard of? We can’t have that. No, we can’t have that.”

    And it continues today. John Carter made 40% of it’s gross back on the first weekend. It’s first weekend grosses are almost the same as the most recent Mission Impossible film, and that flick has made $688 million worldwide. And that film was a sequel starring international superstar Tom Cruise.

    But the film press still tries to kill it by calling it a flop. My prediction: It will do fairly well next weekend due to all the good word of mouth, and make it’s budget back with room to spare.

  6. Disney’s JOHN CARTER spectacle is a victim of its own high budget hubris. The movie itself shoould be more accurately deemed an ambitious failure at best. Sure, Lynn Collins displayed enormous presence as the butt-kicking Dejah Thoris, but almost all of that was tempered by dialogue that was embarrassing exposition gibberish at best. However, that’s more than can be said about Taylor Kitsch, who came off mostly as a generic slab of beefcake who stumbles around from one convoluted scene to the next.

    Andrew Stanton’s shapeless direction seemed to jumble STAR WARS, FLASH GORDON and other more recognizable concepts with the general public into a stylistic blender. A puree of stuff already pilfered from previous sci-fi flicks isn’t going to resonate with the public unless it’s culturally relevant to today’s audiences. That’s why the older folks are going; they still remember the books.

  7. In fairness to the public, they’ve seen a lot of CGI spectacles in the last decade that were quite terrible films, so you can understand their reluctance when it came to John Carter. Which only puts the blame even more heavily on the marketing, because this is a pretty good flick. And The Beat has it dead on, Lynn Collins is one of the highlights even though she is wearing far too many clothes for Dejah Thoris.


  8. No movie is a victim. Lots and lots of movies don’t find their audience. Tinker Tailor Soldie Spy was a phenomenal movie based on an even better book and nobody saw it. Was it a victim, too? Or did it simply not tap into the public’s movie watching pulse?

    John Carter is no different than Water World. Decent movies that went way over budget; over budget to the degree they’re interesting stories. Egos got in the way of reasonable decisions and movies became money pits without good reason.

  9. BTW – Anyone claiming the media can decide whether or not to kill a movie sounds naive. The media isn’t some organized collective working together; it’s a generic name for a large assortment of people trying to find interesting angles in any story.

  10. I have to admit the marketing sucked. It looked very generic. Only since hearing Brubaker, Faiman, et al rave about it did I give it a second look. Now I see Stanton and Chabon are attached. Sold. I’m going to see it tonight

  11. To add to the celebrity endorsements, here’s what Chris Claremont had to say on his FB page:

    “Fun evening. Took the lads + a friend out to the local cinema to see “John Carter.” (Moment of reminiscence to my year writing the series back in the (proverbial) day, and to writing my short story for the new Barsoom anthology.) Re the movie — very nice. Actually, a whole lot more (in a very good way) than one might expect (on the other hand, with Michael Chabon as one of the screenwriters, that hardly seems a surprise.) Great evocation of Barsoom, cooleo Tharks, despicable villains. Witty (in the best way) casting. Not so sold on the 3D but the film itself was worth the time. Best of all, the lads loved it, too.”

    That’s a multi-generational hit.

  12. Another telling sign of Disney’s corporate ambivalence towards the film (for whatever reason) was the lack of significant promotional brand partnerships, relative to the likes of a “The Lorax” which had over 70 (and to whom great credit was given for contributing to that film’s overwhelming box office success).

    At last June’s annual Licensing Show in Las Vegas, while Disney was pitching the film left and right, they were doing so by the numbers, without any real effort to connect the film’s so easily exploitable ideas, themes and equities to the interests of even the most easiest to land potential partners (e.g., Visa, Energizer, Red Bull).

    All of which is a damn shame, because it truly is a wonderful and wonder-filled movie.

  13. Anyone claiming the media can decide whether or not to kill a movie sounds naive. The media isn’t some organized collective working together..


    Gee, they seemed very well organized around “Saddam has weapons of mass destruction” and “housing prices only go up.”

  14. “The media isn’t some organized collective working together; it’s a generic name for a large assortment of people trying to find interesting angles in any story.”

    And as previously referred to, that large assortment is frequently caught up in a groupthink that dictates the sort of media coverage given to any event or occurance.


  15. Man, I think the sell-line could have been as easy as emphasizing “from the director that brought you Finding Nemo and Wall-E.” I think an audience can trust that the man who slam-dunked those two unusual premises could deliver on an old pulp adventure format.

    And I agree with Simon– this is a film you can take your whole family to. Barely one iota of cursing, low gore (not counting the blue stuff), and aside from Dejah’s “too vulgar for my tastes” wedding gown, not even that much to worry about in the way of sex. Sons can learn to reject apathy and embrace a cause, and daughters can learn that being smart, tough, beautiful, and vulnerable can all be part of the same package.

    Honestly, it’s a Pixar movie with real skin on it. I think it’s this year’s “Scott Pilgrim” in terms of under-ratedness. And that said, I’m hoping Bill’s prediction proves correct.

  16. I saw it Friday in 3-D and enjoyed it enough that I’ll probably go see it somewhere else in 2-D.

    I think Disney shot itself in the foot by naming it simply “John Carter” — which gives the casual filmgoer absolutely no idea what the film is about. I understand that after the debacle “Mars Needs Moms,” Disney executives were scared of any title with the word “Mars” in it — but that was a silly, irrational fear. I’d have titled it “Warlord of Mars” or somesuch.

    As far as the dismissal by some here that the news media was not at all complicit in the weak opening of the film, all I can say is you’re kidding yourself. The media sharks were in a veritable feeding frenzy about “John Carter,” and if one was paying attention at all to film news and industry-related social media during the past three weeks, one could not help being tainted by all of the “warnings” — warnings which were almost entirely the fuel for the film’s strong negative buzz.

    But some at Disney were also at fault here — leaking out “concerns” regarding the film’s appeal to certain demographics, and leaking out concerns about the film’s ability to generate enough revenue to cover its costs. Here’s an idea for Disney and any other studio: If you’re worried that a film may not make X dollars in the box office, how about lowering the budget so that it has a reasonable chance at meeting expectations? “Green Lantern” is a great example. If that film about a second-tier (and arguable third-tier) DC character had only cost, say, $80 million to make, no one would have been grousing about a “poor box office showing.” Its $219 million world-wide box-office take would have been considered a hit.

    About the merits of “John Carter,” the film, there’s a lot of truth to the tweet above stating that the film was better than the last four Star Wars films.

    The good news for “John Carter” is that it took in a strong $70 million overseas, so it will not be the bomb so many in the media warned us of.

  17. And as previously referred to, that large assortment is frequently caught up in a groupthink that dictates the sort of media coverage given to any event or occurance.


    A few years ago Bill Moyers had a PBS program where the producers of Oprah admitted, on camera, that they had stacked the show with experts claiming that Saddam had WOMD — because, as the Oprah producers stated, on camera, they believed if they did otherwise they might loose their jobs.

    That is not “groupthink.”

  18. I woke up Friday and told the family we were going to see John Carter. My wife and five kids had no idea what the movie was. (Bad marketing – okay one of them is only four months old and couldn’t be expected to know). But we went anyway and had a great time. (Fun movie). Nobody, even my wife who isn’t into the geeky stuff like me, left disappointed.

  19. Add mine to the voices saying that this is a fun, enjoyable film with some great ideas on display.

    I’ve no love for Disney, but I hate to see this film fail due to bad press and, as more than one person said above, “groupthink” on the part of journalists and reviewers.

    The media does not need to be a cohesive, organized group to suffer from that. And it frequently does … I’m amazed at times how it almost seems like someone has set the “big story” for the week, and all the outlets follow along. The latest was the gas price “pain at the pump” story. Sure, it was a story, but it seems like coverage of it was out of control (until the next “big story of the week” came along).

    Anyhow, I don’t recall if I ever read a John Carter book and I’ve never read the comics, so I didn’t go see it for that reason (even though I fall into the “old fart” group, i.e. “over 25”). But I like Flash Gordon- and Buck Rogers-type adventure, so I figured it might be fun. I did catch in in 2D. I sure enjoyed this one more than the preachier “Avatar!” And yeah, the last few Star Wars movies blew chunks compared with this!

    As a result of seeing this, I now want to read the books, and I’ve got the Jesse Marsh comics compilation coming in the mail.

  20. This is Iron Giant on much larger scale — if your own studio isn’t behind you, how can your film succeed?

    As with Iron Giant, the idiots at the studio didn’t know a classic when it was right in their hands.

  21. As someone who’s published a volume of ERB’s works, I have to say right off that a) I am a fan of his work, and b) this was not the movie to launch a John Carter franchise…

    While the press made up their mind long before actual screenings took place, this was due to the abysmal marketing job Disney attempted with this movie. This was their attempt to try and make something they didn’t quite understand into something they thought would appeal to a modern audience. They failed.

    But beyond that, JOHN CARTER is a movie with characters we care very little about. Yes, there were moments, but I felt no connection to JC or Dejah the same way someone might have felt for the characters in the first HARRY POTTER movie (to use the novel series to movie analogy).

    I also didn’t have the same sense of wonder and awe that is so present in the JC books. My feeling is the production design and the direction kept undercutting the visual stimulation we were supposed to feel. Many angles looking down just doesn’t give the actors, the scene and the set the importance they deserve. It actually minimized their importance…

    A PRINCESS OF MARS was a novel of action, adventure and visual excitement woven together with characters we cared about. JOHN CARTER isn’t that – not by a long shot. It should have been at least as good as the first STAR WARS – I don’t think anyone can honestly say this movie reached anywhere near that height of excitement.

  22. I agree with Bill. Saw the movie Sunday in Imax 3D. The 3D added nothing to the film. Not a bad movie, but not a great movie either. As some others have stated, it did sort of remind me of the “Flash Gordon” movie from the 80’s only not as campy. I guess my biggest complaint is that the movie had no style. It looked like every other sci-fi movie of the past decade. I think everyone involved needs to go back and take another look at “Citizen Kane” for a refresher course in how to make a film.

  23. @horatio weisfeld and @mbunge

    If you guys honestly think reporters are getting together and conspiring to create stories to make people believe false things…you have been reading too many comic books. ^_^

    The media has only one bias: laziness. Most reporters are just like people at any job. They’ll copy anything that seems to be working and no one’s going to risk looking foolish by saying the emperor has no clothes. Further, it was the White House that was the source of the store Iraq had WMDs. The White House…*the* primary source for news. You can hardly fault people covering international news for believing the White House. What were the reporters going to do? Fly to Iraq and look around for themselves? Up until that point, the idea of the White House open face lying to justify a unilateral attack on a country wasn’t conceivable.

    The media doesn’t have a horse in the race with what movie makes money and which doesn’t. Quite frankly, the story of an extremely expensive movie looking to bomb is as old as movies. Titanic had similar stories written about it before it opened and look how that turned out.

    You guys crack me up – The big, bad media wants to destroy this movie!

  24. BTW – Isn’t it possible, just maybe, that most people didn’t want to see John Carter or Scott Pilgrim or whatever?

    No one has any interest in very accurate 70’s spy movies based on acclaimed books, so why would they want to run out and see a sci-fi movie about a guy fighting on Mars?

    And I say this as someone who wants to see the movie. But stop blaming everyone in sight when movies you like don’t rock the world. Niche genre stories are niche for a reason.

  25. “The big, bad media wants to destroy this movie!”

    It’s easy to always be right when you just make up both sides of the argument in your head. Nobody is saying there was some conspiracy out to destroy John Carter. We’re really just expanding on your point of media laziness. They looked at the huge budget and Disney’s poor marketing and decided the movie was going to bomb long before it came out, which became the lazy template for every single story about the film.


  26. @MBunge

    ]”They looked at the huge budget and Disney’s poor marketing and decided the movie was going to bomb long before it came out”

    The media has the power to decide which movies are going to bomb and which movies are going to succeed? I don’t see any way to read what’s written as something else than the big bad media wanting to destroy John Carter. The Beat’s headline is “Victim or Flop.”

    Was it the use of the quotes that confused you? I thought it was pretty clear I was paraphrasing. But I like your quote better.

    When asked what he thought about John Carter, the movie, being a victim, MBunge responded “They [the media]…decided the movie was going to bomb long before it came out.”

    You guys have to be pulling some sort of elaborate prank. I just can’t take this seriously anymore….

  27. Bill C.:
    >But beyond that, JOHN CARTER is a movie with characters we care very little about.I guess my biggest complaint is that the movie had no style. It looked like every other sci-fi movie of the past decade.I think everyone involved needs to go back and take another look at “Citizen Kane” for a refresher course in how to make a film.And I say this as someone who wants to see the movie. But stop blaming everyone in sight when movies you like don’t rock the world. Niche genre stories are niche for a reason.<

    Yeah, but there did seem to be a lot of laziness on the parts of reviewers, and you have to admit the marketing was poor on this one. So there is some blame, too.

  28. Okay, about 85% of my message got truncated. I’m guessing it’s because I used the “greater than” and “less than” symbols to do quotes from other posters. Not going to re-try it now, so please disregard my previous post entirely.

  29. “The media has the power to decide which movies are going to bomb and which movies are going to succeed?”

    How obtuse can you possibly be? Any clear thinking person would understand that I was referencing people in the media forming an opinion that the movie was going to bomb, not suggesting they were exercising some kind of magical power to make it so. And having forme the opinion the movie was going to bomb, that’s the underlying context of the coverage they gave it, thereby setting up a vicious circle where the more negative stories that were written about the film only increased the likelihood of it being a flop.

    This should not be a hard concept to understand. Of course, you don’t seem to appreciate the use of hyperbole in headlines, so…


  30. Cris wrote: “And I say this as someone who wants to see the movie. But stop blaming everyone in sight when movies you like don’t rock the world. Niche genre stories are niche for a reason.”

    That sounds good when you say it fast, but the logic falls apart under closer scrutiny. “John Carter” is no more “niche” than was “Avatar,” any of the Transformers films, “Thor,” “Inception,” or “Hancock.”

    The expectations (and budget) for “John Carter” were too high, and there were marketing issues, but the film far more advance negative press than was warranted.

    And as far as your “Tomatometer” theory goes, the last Transformers flick had a 35% positive rating and made a cool $1 billion.

    As I said, had “John Carter” been made for $100 million or so, none of us would be having this box-office-take conversation.

  31. Nikki Finke is pissed because it didn’t star Taylor Lautner.
    Unrelated, but because I pick up the occasional STAR WARS figure, I spent time in the local toy aisles… And I never saw a single action figure for John Carter. I can’t help but wonder if that, or what that means, might have been behind the disappointment.

  32. There’s a thing called tracking polls (as well as ticket pre-sales) that clue people in on how much the public wants to see a film and if the marketing is working. The media can see what’s hot (like “The Hunger Games”).

  33. I saw it in 2D on Sunday and had a good time. It’s a little draggy in spots but on the whole quite enjoyable. I’d see it again. I looked up the worldwide box office on The Lorax, you know the movie that every headline is saying beat John Carter so badly, and in one weekend John Carter is only 23 million less than what the Lorax made in two weeks. How is the one a success and the other a failure? At this rate, and with the good word of mouth it’s getting, it should easily turn a profit. The NYT estimates it needs to gross $600 million to do so and it made 1/6 of that in it’s first weekend. How is this a failure?

  34. I saw John Carter (of Mars) in IMAX 3-D and thought it was great. Congratulations to the Burroughs family, and our friends at Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. This film is worthy of the memories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, his son John Coleman, and grandson (our late friend) Danton Burroughs as well as all the great artist who illustrated John Carter over the decades including J. Allen St.John, Frank Schoonover, John Coleman Burroughs, Roy G. Krenkel and our late, great friend Frank Frazetta. I recommend the film and hope for sequels.

  35. Sorry, if this has already been said. I just glazed over the comments, but it’s worth pointing out, that without the Princess of Mars, we would never have Ray Bradbury, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Star Wars, Avatar, Star Trek, and pretty much all of the sci-fi we have today. Sure, there had been science fiction before, but Burros gave it a style, of the likes, no one had ever seen.

  36. i remember the critics panning “ghost” not only before it came out, but they hated it when it was released. yet, that film turned out to be a big hit (word of mouth) and has become a classic. why anyone listens to critics at all (before or after a film comes out) is beyond me. who gives a rat’s ass what they think. everything i know about “john carter” couldn’t fill a shot glass. never read the books or the comics, but because of the good “word of mouth” here and other places, i’m gonna give it a look/see next weekend. thanks for the heads up.

  37. The biggest marketing problem was sticking the Disney brand name on a sci-fi/action film aimed at Young Males. The Disney brand name equates to animated princess movies for girls. If they just hadn’t put DISNEY in big letters over the damn movie title it would have double it’s profits in the US – guaranteed.

  38. echo what David Spurlock said — they paid homage to ERB perfectly, much as the book does, but more smartly. Also a much better ending than the book. And I ended up liking the title because it changes at the end — thus explaining the journey of the title character.

  39. “John Carter” ??? what a stupid name for a movie, I wonder how much they would have made if they actually gave the movie a proper name

  40. “Sorry, if this has already been said. I just glazed over the comments, but it’s worth pointing out, that without the Princess of Mars, we would never have Ray Bradbury …”

    Um, that decision was up to his parents, no?

  41. I thought it was a good movie. I and my gf agreed that the lead was not the best choice. The effects were good. The script wasn’t bad.

    One thing, I was shocked that the Los Angeles Times had so many articles about how much money this movie was going to lose. How many times do newspapers over and over talk about how much money a movie will lose before it comes out? Then today they have a headline that the movie bombed. Like they were surprised by it.

  42. What do all of the blandly-named films below have in common?

    Michael Clayton
    Annie Hall
    Dolores Claiborne
    Barry Lyndon
    Audrey Rose
    Jerry Maguire

    Answer: None of them were in the top 200 of the all-time worldwide box office list. The closest is “Jerry Maguire,” which came in at #300.

    “John Carter” reportedly had a production budget of $250 million. And since roughly half the box office receipts go to the theaters, “John Carter” needs to make at least $500 million to break even, right? Well… not quite. There’s the marketing budget to consider, which is generally about half the production costs. In the case of “John Carter,” that would be about $125 million. So in order to really break even (not counting later DVD sales, etc.), “John Carter” needs to make about $625 million in worldwide box office receipts.

    To reach that lofty goal, “John Carter” needs to make it to about #57 on the all-time worldwide box office chart — which, believe it or not, would put it right above the blandly-named film “Hancock.”

    So, folks, it ain’t over, I guess, until the fat jeddak sings.

    And if you don’t know what a jeddak is, go see “John Carter.”

    Final note to Disney Execs: Even the well-known and highly popular Harry freakin’ Potter franchise had enough sense to beef up the titles of its films beyond the name of the main character.

    The only film that used a proper name and reached the rarified air beyond the $625 million mark? “Forrest Gump” — but not by much.

  43. In naming the film, Disney was probably scared of the word “Mars” because of the Mars Needs Moms flop last year. However, I’m pretty sure the word in that title that scared away families from taking their boys was not “Mars” but “Moms”.

  44. The only non-3D showing at my theatre is at 12:30pm (ie. when I am at work). Since I have no interest in seeing the movie in 3D (and paying more to do so), I chose not to see the movie (just like with Tintin).

  45. “John Carter is only 23 million less than what the Lorax made in two weeks. How is the one a success and the other a failure?”

    Easy, just do the math, and include the entire costs of making, marketing and distributing each picture. Oh, and box office take isn’t the sole province of the studio who makes the movie, even though they do get a handsome percentage.

    “At this rate, and with the good word of mouth its getting, it should easily turn a profit. The NYT estimates it needs to gross $600 million to do so and it made 1/6 of that in its first weekend. How is this a failure?”

    Because today’s films usually have front-loaded response patterns of impact. Each successive weekend after the premiere, a ‘blockbuster’ film’s box office take usually trends downward, making it increasingly challenging for said film to make back its initial investment.

    Also, newer films draw away a potential audience’s short attention spans for an older release with each successive weekend. Given the type of audience JOHN CARTER needs to break even, the movie’s got less than two weeks and it’s already running way short on time. Oh, and it wasn’t that THE LORAX hurt JC’s chances so much as PROJECT X had already sown up the young male demographic appeal the weekend before. And that latter movie’s initial costs were far lower, so it already turned in a nice profit on its first weekend.

  46. I think all that needs to be summed up about the marketing disaster of John Carter can be summed up in a cartoon over at Our Valued Customers:

    “Releasing ‘A Princess of Mars’ as ‘John Carter’ is like releasing ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ an’ just calling it ‘Henry Jones.’

  47. Disney and the sexist Pixar animation have a real women problem. It’s as if they are trying to alienate their core female crowd, just so they can blend in with the other boy-pandering studios who also diss the female gender with strong passion.

    And there’s no reason for people to make Andrew Stanton some innocent bystander. It’s HIS movie, HIS decisions, for god’s sake! Blame the guy, sling your figurative mud at his face. After all, if Robert Zemeckis had directed this stinker, he’d be out of Disney long before opening weekend.

  48. You guys crack me up – The big, bad media wants to destroy this movie!


    First off: I didn’t say that at all. What I (started off) saying was that the story seems to have become the films budget (and it’s potential losses), same as the story w/ Wall-E, Titanic, etc. So you are not now disagreeing with my initial point now.

    My question is why has this happened. There is no real reason to believe that the production budget of JC was 250, as the film was in development for (25?) years I would think that they might of spent as much as 75-100 on pre-prod, which of course has been reported as “production costs”. The (disingenuous) 250 figure has been spread around by studio marketing (who else) — why? – because they are too feeble to market the film some other way–or what??

    BTW – Isn’t it possible, just maybe, that most people didn’t want to see John Carter or Scott Pilgrim or whatever?


    My point is that I don’t believe this whole 250m business started with the Hollywood press/Film fan press/Comic Book press — it started with studio hacks talking to Hollywood press/Film fan press/Comic Book press, who lapped it up — spreading a story founded on stuff (250m production budget and ultimate line item/ balance sheet losses) unverifiable — and likely non-sense.

    What this story really illustrates (yet again) is that present day America is a country of “experts” who know very little.. a very dangerous flaw that we should all strive to overcome. The film industry is certainly no help.

  49. I saw JC (of Mars! OF MARS, DISNEY!) a couple of days ago and really enjoyed it (I’m in the UK btw). I thought it was engaging, epic in a David Lean does Mars kinda way and…fun. Taylor Kitsch (unfortunate name) made for a likeble, engaging lead and I think he was ably supported by a gaggle of good character actors that handle the sci-fi pulp lingo with aplomb.
    I think it’s a real shame that the pre-release sniping and horror stories might’ve done for the film before it’s had a chance. How much are these people paid to be so utterly clueless? I think “John Carter” deserves an audience and is more than worthy, entertaining, sci-fantasy romp with heart and vision and Barsoom is a great place to be for a couple of hours.
    I just hope it’s not dead in the water.

  50. … I’m just stuck on the concept that $100 million worldwide on the first weekend could be considered a flop. What? How?

    Yeah, okay, I may be prejudiced, I’m going to see it with some friends on Wednesday night…

  51. I wish Nick Denton would have read this thread before making the speech at SXSW about how internet comments are worthless. This thread is comedy gold. People are posting whatever ridiculous theories they can. Pixar is sexist! (The company about to release the movie about the Scottish princess, right?) John Carter didn’t really cost $250 million! The media made that number up! (The number Disney themselves told to reporters.)

    I’m wearing my tinfoil hat and I’m right here in the trenches with you guys. Lemme think of one…the media is lying about John Carter being a disappointment because they’re racist against red! Jerks!

  52. I wonder what would have happened if they called it “John Carter Goes to Mars” an gave it the Benny Hill soundtrack?

    Anyway the movie was bad ass and it’s a shame it was mishandled so…regardless of who mishandled it!

  53. Haha — or, “John Carter’s Excellent Adventure.”

    That would have definitely captured the “dude” demographic.

  54. @Mbunge

    Thanks, dude. I’m happy I tickled your funny bone.

    OK, my tin foil hat is back on! I heard the media shot and killed John Carter’s parents after they came out of a movie in an attempt to destroy the movie! John Carter is the biggest victim ever!

  55. ““Releasing ‘A Princess of Mars’ as ‘John Carter’ is like releasing ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ an’ just calling it ‘Henry Jones.’”


  56. One more for the epitome of class, MBunge.

    You asked how obtuse I am? Well, not very. I’m a vegetarian and a runner, so I’m in shape. Plus, people think I’m good looking, so I’m…wait for it….acute! Ha!

  57. Chris Hero
    03/13/2012 AT 3:00 PM
    John Carter didn’t really cost $250 million! The media made that number up! (The number Disney themselves told to reporters.)


    Yeah…that’s what I said: reporters repeat studio hogwash, and then every “expert” in America goes around repeating whatever hogwash some “reporters” said.

    So what damage is done? Do really need any standards? Maybe not: “Saddam is in cahoots with al-Qaeda” and “Housing prices only go up.”

  58. Nothing the media or critics have to say has any influence on what I like in a movie.
    One of the Disney execs is reported to have said that women do not like Science Fiction. I’m a woman, 60+, and I love scifi. I first read the books forty some years ago. My opinion…John Carter is a perfect movie. So what if I could see a lot of similarities in other movies? When I watched those movies, I thought of the John Carter series so it has come full circle. John Carter was first and technology has finally come to point where it can keep up with Burrough’simagination.

  59. Marketing sucked…
    No more need be said.

    The name sucked…
    But then to call it APOM would have been wrong as it was nothing more than a re-write of the book.

    Confused messages, especially when you have people saying “I’ve been a fan for…and it was great”, “I’ve been a fan for…and it sucked”, “It followed the book”, “It was nothing like the book”. At least if they’d followed the book then all of the fans would have been on board pushing it, every person I’ve spoken to, I’ve recommended not to see it.

    Stanton claimed to be a fan of the books, if that were really true why such major changes? What we ended up with was a film with stunning CGI, but nothing behind it.

    The John Carter of the books if a chivalrous man who will fight the side of what he sees as right irrespective of the odds. In the film he is a self centred depressive more concerned about his grief for his dead wife and child. If this was an attempt by Stanton to garner empathy for him, it failed with me, in fact it was probably the lowest point in the film for me, I just did not care about his lose.

    Dejah Thoris came in as a warrior princess, which might have worked, but she shrunk to the will of her grandfather (Mors Kajak was her father) without a whimper.
    etc. etc.

    Sorry for a 30 odd year fan of ERB’s John Carter, I was not impressed in the least by Andrew Stanton’s John Carter, 2 totally different entities in my opinion. As far as I’m concerned there will be no sequels.

  60. What killed me was watching a news report MATTER OF FACTLY mention that because studios have to split ticket revenues the first few weeks of a release, this movie will never recoup anywhere near it’s budget. This is when I realized there really was a concerted effort to kill the movie with lies. and in the next few days I could literally flip channels and see news report after news report explaining that movie studios DO NOT share revenue in the first few weeks of release probably in response to millions of customers flooding phones saying “you guys always said you had to charge $12 for popcorn because you don’t make money off movies?” But not in any I saw did they mention they were reporting this because of erroneous claims from a studio. Why was Disney spreading a disinformation campaign about the movie? I don’t know, but they were!

  61. I love it, and I will say this. We were ALL in love with Woola by the end. I would so buy a Woola plushie for my little sis, and maybe one for me too!!!

  62. Yes, I am a fan of Taylor Kitsch and so wanted to see this movie.
    Yes, I am over 25 and so seldom considered in demographics as regard movies.
    No, I haven’t read the books — but I will.
    All that having been said — I really like this movie. Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins – James Purefoy, Woola — what’s not to like??? It’s fun, clean, imaginative — I want yo match my metal and fight for Helium too!!!

    And lest anyone forget: there was no marketing from Disney for the first POTC either – nothing until WELL after it was out of theaters. There’s a very all or nothing vibe to Disney marketing. That’s where the problem lies. Far worse movies have made far more money…

  63. I seen this movie when i was 21 yrs old and i say it was the best. I’ve read the first book after seeing the movie, comparing the 2, in the movie a few things were different and left out, but by my opinion both the book and movie were neck and neck with each other. i’m a fan of Willem Dafoe and loved his role he played as Tars Tarkas. i haven’t seen much movies where a human becomes friends with a martian warrior leader. it is why i say John carter is the best. both Tars Tarkas and Sola were most favorite characters, but i also liked the other characters as well. i give it a 10/10 by me, but others may disagree.

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