Let's talk John Carter. Is it really bombing at the box office and what could the future hold?

6 min read
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Let’s face it, as much as I really liked John Carter, it has not exactly been setting the Box Office alight. You could not visit an entertainment publication on Monday, without being smacked full in the face with stories about how Disney is going to be making it’s biggest loss ever. There was much frantic rubbing of palms and twirling of moustaches, while words such as “flop” and “disaster” abounded. There may even have been a “turkey” or two.

The problem is that this was simply not true. Well, at least not yet. And I’m not the only one that thought so, as now counter articles are springing up everywhere about how it’s far too premature to count John Carter out completely.

But where did all these doomsayers come from?

Well if you were to do a bit of digging to find the first few articles that proclaimed it a failure, you’ll notice something startling: They actually surfaced a good few weeks BEFORE the film was actually released. They were already declaring that Disney was going to make a loss of approximately $150 million. This figure was based on how exceptionally poor the film was tracking, due to an abortive marketing campaign (how the hell did Disney not think to lead with the tagline “From the creator of Tarzan” or “The film that inspired every geeky thing the world has ever seen”?) and bloated budget (part of the film’s troubled path to release was a number of lengthy and costly reshoots).

And when John Carter‘s opening weekend takings turned out be a measly $30 million, which is a far cry from the film’s reported $250 million budget (you can probably add another $50 million for advertising), these sour faced critics were shaking their fists in affirmation and slapping any back within reach. But here’s the problem: that widely reported $30 million is merely the US box office, while internationally it actually made $101 million. It was the 5th biggest opening ever in Russia, was no.1 at the UK box office and has not yet even opened in China and Japan, the two biggest Asian markets.

Yet that’s not the headline that a number of major press publications chose to go with. The reason for that is twofold: 1) Bad press sells. Having a headline declaring a highly anticipated film to be just doing okay at the box office, doesn’t sell papers or produce hits. And 2) Americans think that the box office revolves around only them.

I can’t help but snigger every time a sporting tournament gets held in the United States, featuring nothing but American teams playing American sports, and the winner gets proclaimed as World Champions.It’s this trend of “We are the World” that has unfortunately carried through to movies, specifically in the case of films being labelled as Box Office failures when in actual fact they just didn’t do that well in the States, while actually being pretty successful everywhere else. John Carter is merely the latest in a long line of films that were thrown under the geographically skewed bus

Want an example of what I’m talking about? Well, Pajiba recently drew up a list of 10 movies that are popularly considered to be gigantic box office failures, yet in actual fact they were just being promoted that way by US press and turned out to be pretty profitable on the global stage:

Hands up all of you going “But but but Waterworld… ?” Yeah, I was just as shocked at that one as you were.

The problem is that the Hollywood press are by far the most vocal about these things and they make so much noise about a film’s failure at the “domestic box-office” – a term I have about as much affection for as mouth ulcers – that it just becomes the accepted mindset.

And while I’m under no delusion that John Carter is suddenly going to have millions of people showing up for viewings this weekend and end up being a box office smash, (especially since rival Wrath of the Titan‘s opening is just around the corner) it is certainly not as grim a picture as some would have you believe. Based on current numbers, it will most likely end up breaking even and possibly even be slightly profitable, which is not quite the same as flopping.

That’s what happened to Green Lantern – a stinker of a film that was the strongest evidence for why most studio executive’s filmmaking by committee style is such a horrible idea – and its sequel has already been greenlit, purely off the back of how much the first film grew its fanbase. Edgar Rice Burrough’s pulp science fiction stories may not have been that widely known except for hardcore sci-fi geeks, but neither was the adventures of a green ring-slinging space cop outside of comic book circles. Just like in Green Lantern‘s case, there are now a huge amount of fans discovering and loving the original tales for the first time after seeing the film, and they are being very vocal about it.

Quite a few John Carter fan groups have sprung up and they have begun taking to various social media platforms to petition Disney for a sequel. A sequel which has reportedly already been written by director Andrew Stanton. According to Stanton, Disney had always envisioned this as a trilogy, and he and co-writer Michael Chabon had already worked out most of the rest of the story. And there’s tons that can be done with it, Burroughs wrote 10 Barsoom novels for Krom’s sake! Disney should be turning this into the next monetary bovine franchise (why have I not seen a Woola toy in my happy meal?).

So, here’s hoping the plea from fans sway Disney, because if John Carter – the type of unbridled jolt to the imagination science fiction film that true geeks have been asking for for years – gets to live on, it will only give hope for more filmmakers and studios to take a risk with more creative properties, instead of just churning out the next formaliac, explosion fest that passes for sci-fi nowadays.

Also, I kind of want to know how this epic tale ends. So I’m off to sign my name on every petition I can find, as well as telling as many people as I can about John Carter. I mean, hey, it worked for Firefly, didn’t it?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.

Last Updated: March 16, 2012

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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