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

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

6 min read

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


  1. Justin Hess

    March 16, 2012 at 14:40

    2 points

    1) I’d only noticed it when this article brought it up, but how in the bleeding hell DID Disney miss the marketing opportunity that was the Tarzan angle. Given the images Tarzan immediately brings to mind coupled with the images of action from John Carter, you most certainly would’ve added something more to the marketing with that. And while John Carter might not be a widely recognised property, Tarzan certainly is and it was an angle sitting and waiting for Disney to use it, which they then duly wasted.

    2) I remember another film that came out about 15 years ago. Directed by James Cameron, Fox threw millions at it and the press were eagerly licking the chops at the anticipation of another bomb. And of course it would bomb. Set in the early part of the century, costumes, and an ending which everyone in all of creation was already aware. Who would possibly want to this film. James Cameron was having sleepless nights and envisioned his head on the chopping block while Rupert Murdoch promised him that  he’d better deliver or his his head WOULD be on the chopping block

    When it came out, Titanic made nearly 2 billion dollars by the end of its theatrical run


    • Kervyn Cloete

      March 16, 2012 at 15:37

      And you know what? Titanic actually had a crap opening weekend! It earned all that money because it just kept playing and playing in the cinemas, but it’s financial start was horrible.


      • Justin Hess

        March 16, 2012 at 16:29

        True, but the only reason it was allowed to keep playing and playing was because of the reception it was getting from the public. Cinema owners are capitalist bastards. If a three hour film, (which doesn’t allow as many shows per day as your average two hour film) isn’t making money, they’ll stop showing it. But Titanic did a helluva lot of business, even for a film which had a length that limited its daily showings. 

        According to Wikipedia “The normal repeat viewing rate for a blockbuster theatrical film is about 5%. The repeat rate for Titanic was over 20%.”

        That is phenomenal. Credit where credit is due, Titanic might not be as deserving of its many accolades, but Holy Crap, James Cameron knows how to take a risk


        • Kervyn Cloete

          March 16, 2012 at 19:23

          Don’t forget the fact that it was re-released thrice!


  2. Noelle Adams

    March 16, 2012 at 14:58

    My concern about the plot for a John Carter sequel?

    That one night was enough to knock up the princess, and John returns to a war-torn Mars where he has to rescue a 10 year old brat totally resistant to his AWOL Dad.



    • Kervyn Cloete

      March 16, 2012 at 15:59

      I have faith in Stanton. He’s shown that he is a capable enough film maker to take a cliched story point (like the fate of Carter’s family) and turn it into great cinema. And yes, this particular plot point in the Gods of Mars may have pitfalls, but the rest of is terribly epic and has lots of potential.

      Also, I wonder if the sequel will be a straight-up adaptation of Gods though. Since they only ever planned for 3 movies, I wonder if they weren’t planning on using elements from all the remaining 9 books.


    • D Massa

      March 16, 2012 at 23:21

      LOL  You already know that Burroughs’  second book is based on Carter having a family and specifically a son to come home to afrer his 10-year exile on Earth, right? 

      Fortunately, that story is not the contemporary cliche of a reunion-with-alienated-brat story.


      • Kervyn Cloete

        March 17, 2012 at 00:06

        I meant the “family” angle of why Carter was so angry all the time in the film. It’s a cliched motivation since we’ve seen it so many times, but Stanton handled it very well.

        And I only read Princess of Mars, more than 20 years ago I might add, so while I loved the movie, I am no Burroughs expert.


  3. James Francis

    March 20, 2012 at 16:46

    You overlook two things:

    First, John Carter is a tent pole feature. It was destined to fill the coffers and ensure funding for future, smaller films. Think of what Lord Of The Rings did for New Line. Thus it needs to make at least half a billion (twice its cost) to be considered a true hit. 

    Second, overseas takings sound impressive, but they involve a lot more fingers in pies. Also, if John Carter showed in ten foreign countries, it only took in around $10 million per country. That is low, especially when quoted budgets don’t cover international campaigns and other things like distributor cuts.   

    If a big budget movie like this doesn’t hit the ground running, it’s toast. Some rare exceptions have reversed that, but not often. 


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