Alas John Carter

It’s been a long time since a movie’s had worse buzz than John Carter, to the point where you’d think it was the Heaven’s Gate of science fiction.

Yes, the buzz has indeed been bad, and when it flopped at the box office opening weekend, it was a terrible prophecy that came true. No one ever bats a thousand, and Pixar’s had a hell of a run, but once they finally had a flop, it was a big one.

Much like the disaster of Heaven’s Gate in 1980, the press smelled blood for months, and once it was official that the movie was a dud, it was compared to Ishtar in the New York Times, which of course is a film synonymous with disaster. 

“Ishtar Lands on Mars,” read the headline, and reporter Brooks Barnes reported the film cost “an estimated” $350 million, including marketing costs, and it took in about $30 million at the box office this weekend.

As many predicted from the get-go, it could end up being the biggest write down in movie history, with the NYT estimating it in the neighborhood of $100 – 165 million.


It was a big risk, the movie has to make $600 million world wide to break even, and admitting defeat, the chairman of Walt Disney, Rich Ross, put out a statement saying, “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.”


Of  course, the armchair quarterbacking will continue for some time, although as you’ve read on TG, many were predicting doom for months. Probably the most shocking report I read on the film was in the Hollywood Reporter, which dissecting the numbers claimed that “younger fanboys [were] largely AWOL.” If THEY weren’t coming to see it, who on earth would?! (The Reporter noted that about 70% of the people coming to see it were over 25, 30% of the audience was over 50).


Andrew Stanton is indeed a talented filmmaker, and as much as John Carter laid an egg, I don’t think he’ll be in bad movie jail over this, bad movie probation sure, and his next movie he’ll probably be kept on a tighter leash budget wise. Again, Disney was bound to have a flop sooner or later, some pundits felt they went over to the dark side with Cars 2, which many felt was just about pimping the toys, similar to how critics of Lucas feel about Star Wars.


But it’s always important to remember that without failure there’s no success, and without failure you don’t learn. Look at Steven Spielberg. After the mega success of Jaws and Close Encounters, many were rooting for him to fail, and they got their wish with 1941, which went way over schedule, way over budget, and for a two hour comedy, there was scarcely a laugh to be had.


Instead of letting it destroy his morale, the big Spiel learned his lesson, brought Raiders of the Lost Ark in fast and furious budget and schedule wise. Then he did another little low budget movie, E.T., which cemented his power as the biggest director in Hollywood. So considering the Pixar/Disney guys are pretty smart, I don’t see where they won’t similarly lick their wounds, start over again, and come back stronger from the abyss.


And always remember, it could always be worse. Unlike the latest Eddie Murphy stink bomb, which could draw flies opening weekend, at least John Carter didn’t get a 0% at Rotten Tomatoes.