2012 has no shortage of major titles lined up to lure movie lovers to the nearest multiplex, but there’s perhaps no bigger question mark this year than how audiences will react to the upcoming John Carter, Disney’s $250 million dollar adaptation of a series of Edgar Rice Burroughs books few remember. Will audiences get sucked into the sci-fi epic set on Mars or are the stars aligning for the year’s first major box office bomb? The answer remains unclear.
If we had to guess, we suspect Disney and John Carter are headed for disappointment. After a lackluster response to the debut trailer, the gigantic budget, reports of cost overruns and required reshoots, and now the departure of Disney Marketing President MT Carney, things aren’t looking particularly rosy for Andrew Stanton’s film.
While we haven’t seen John Carter, we can look at the math and see what the film is up against in terms of being successful. With a $250 million budget and another $100 million or so in advertising costs, Stanton has acknowledged that John Carter will have to take in $700 million in box office to justify a sequel. That number is huge – and as The Wrap points out, only one March opener in history has done it: Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. That film came with Burton and Johnny Depp’s names attached. Carter comes with Stanton (who has done fantastic work for Pixar but is not a household name) and Taylor Kitsch.
While the film’s first trailer didn’t exactly blow anyone away, subsequent marketing materials have been better received and it appeared as though John Carter might be turning a corner. However, with Carney now out at Disney, and no replacement in sight, the film looks to be stuck in neutral just two months before it opens. The Carney loss can’t be understated – she was personally overseeing the film’s marketing campaign. With her gone, there’s no one really sailing the ship.
Then there are the rumors of budget overruns and reshoots – rarely a good sign in the business. One of the last big films that required extensive reshoots was The Wolfman – which also wound up being a colossal flop. Granted, running over budget and having to go back and re-film footage isn’t always a kiss of death – Cameron’s Titanic was reportedly in trouble through most of the production and went on to become the highest grossing film of all time until Avatar earned more in 2009, but the general rule is, if a film is over budget and requiring extensive reshoots, it’s in trouble.
Finally, there’s the material itself. Burroughs’ books are loved in the sci-fi community, but don’t have a great deal of traction with the general public. This isn’t like Peter Jackson adapting Lord of the Rings – wherein people who hadn’t read the books at least knew of their existence. Instead, this is a bit more niche material – sure to appeal to geeks (who will have to flock to the film if it has any chance of succeeding), but a largely unknown commodity to the general population. There’s a reason they’ve been trying to adapt this material for decades – it’s not an automatic slam dunk with audiences.
This makes it puzzling as to why Disney would take such a huge gamble on the property. It’s a risky move that could pay off big time if they can spin this into a franchise, but is the risk really worth it?
Disney execs seem to think so, citing that a recent test screening saw audience surveys with 75% of the results rating Carter as good or excellent. Stanton does have a track record of taking films that seem like a tough sell and making them work (Wall-E being the prime example), and the film has started to generate some buzz in the fan communities. What’s hard to reconcile is this: if the film is great, and it’s such a huge potential franchise, why is Disney releasing it in March and not in the summer blockbuster season?
We won’t know the answers for sure until the film invades theaters in a few months. As lovers of big sci-fi spectacle films and Andrew Stanton, we hope John Carter surprises us all and has a healthy showing at the box office – but if we were gamblers, we’d have to think the deck looks a little stacked against this film being the kind of runaway success Disney needs in order to justify its expenditure.
What do you guys think? Is John Carter something you’re excited to see or have the trailers left you feeling indifferent? What could Disney do to convince you to plunk down your hard-earned cash to see this movie?