Tuesday, March 20, 2012

John Carter flop to cost Walt Disney $200m

The Movie John Carter has recorded one of the biggest losses in cinema history

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Walt Disney has said it expects to lose $200m (£126m) on its movie John Carter, making it one of the biggest flops in cinema history. The film, about a military captain transported to Mars, could result in an $80-120m loss for Disney's movie business during the current quarter. Disney shares fell 1% in after hours trading after the announcement. The firm is still likely to make a substantial quarterly profit, though, thanks to its TV businesses. It is estimated that John Carter cost $250m to make and it is likely that Disney spent another $100m on marketing.

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  1. That's really a shame. I thought it was pretty well done for a Burroughs adaptation.

    1. I agree. I liked it and plan on getting the DVD when it comes out.

  2. It falls squarely on the shoulders of marketing. Everything they did for that film was wrong right down to the title. Ok, change it to John Carter and a Princess of Mars...something...throw out ERBs name...mention Tarzan...something...

    Instead, if it hadn't been for me knowing the material, I would have wondered what the hell it was about myself.

    They'll make it up in the after-market but it was stupid from the word go that they didn't promote a legacy piece of Science Fantasy (including mentioning its influence on so many things) for what it is.


    I'll buy it on release day...just a rule I have learned ever since Blade Runner. When the general public hates it I tend to love it. This is why I have never seen Titanic or Avatar and never will :)

    1. I tend to stay away from dogmatic a-priori opinions about movies, especially from people who didn't actually watch it. I prefer checking things out myself. I don't pay much attention to advertising or the contents of titles simply because they reflect marketing strategies, something with which I often disagree. Ultimately, I enjoyed the movie.

    2. I like a good trailer as much as the next guy (I enjoy them as mini-movies) but the average film goer sees a trailer at the theater or on television. For those unfamiliar with a 100 year old novel (my first ever novel read when I was a child)they only know what they see. Then they show up and have no idea what is going on which leads to the second form of advertising-word of mouth. These folks tell their 5 friends and a film begins to slip.

      I agree with you Bruce. The proof is in the pudding and all I have seen in the community is praise. It's like trying to make HPL films. He is very difficult to translate to the screen and it shows in the poor material made with his titles and name on them.

      I am looking forward to the DVD release. I don't do theaters anymore (for many reasons)so I expect it to do well in the aftermarket (I'm not the only one that avoids modern theaters I'm certain :).

  3. This "flop" thing is an anti-Disney media meme that started even before the film came out. It's actually been the #1 movie in THE WORLD for the last 2 weeks, and is in "danger" of actually breaking even within 3 weeks of release. I haven't talked to anybody who didn't like it. Not one person! Everybody likes or loves it!

    This is a very good film, teetering in the brink of greatness.

    So, what all of us need to do is to tell our friends it's good and get them to go see it, and go see it again ourselves, and maybe that way the media will start to tell the _truth_ rather than jumping on their pre-determined (before the movie came out) negative bandwagon.

    John Carter rocks!

    1. Steve, I have no idea what you are talking about -- if Disney predicts a commercial loss, that's not media guff. I would think that Disney would sue for defamation a journalist or a news agency for making such claims if they were false -- just my guess here. Steve, do you have any documentation or verifiable basis about the commercial success of the movie, as regards P&L issues? Other than than, sure, I think JCM's terrific.

    2. Given how often it's Disney itself that's coming out and saying the movie's a flop (despite $100,000,000 its first weekend) AND how pitiful the marketing was on this, I almost want to float the conspiracy theory that Disney doesn't want it to turn a profit because they don't want to have to pay out anything to the creators of the film. Does make one wonder, though....

    3. Their budget was more than $200 million. Yowzah! Even with $100 million on its first weekend, it's a steep slope to climb. I think it's just that so many people are hurting financially that fewer want to spend money on something with which they may not be familiar. This isn't the first time someone blames the advertising campaign. To be honest, I did not pay much attention, other than the release date. What was so blasted wrong with it?

    4. The marketing failed in its most basic need--to get people interested.

      The bland trailers did not communicate anything about the characters or the story beyond a wild mix of genres and timeframes with no information to make people ask for more.

      It could've gone over better simply to sell it in the most crass way--"If you like sword fights, beefcake, cheesecake, aliens, or star-crossed romance, this is your movie." If nothing else, the pandering gets the point across of what's in the movie rather than avoiding it.

    5. Were there any grass-roots efforts to get people interested who weren't familiar with JCM?

  4. I found this in a CNN report on the same issue:

    'The company said its "current expectation" is that its movie studio division will incur an operating loss of between $80m and $120m for the quarter following the release of the movie.'

    It's certainly not $200 million as BBC's header claimed. Nonetheless, it's likely a loss.

    Here are a number of links on the same topic:

    CNN Big writedown for 'John Carter' 1 hr ago

    Irish Times Disney facing its biggest ever flop 1 hr ago

    MSN UK Disney declares John Carter losses 3 hrs ago

    Reuters UK Disney's "John Carter" a big bomb 4 hrs ago

    NDTV Disney says John Carter to lose $200 million 7 hrs ago


    I doubt all these major news organizations would be a party to anti-Disney activism. Why would they? Again, I think JCM is a very good movie, and I would suggest anyone out there who hasn't seen it to go watch it, for the sheer enjoyment and as a way to help curb its unfortunate trend on the market. I want to see more in that genre.

    That being said, I have yet to enjoy 3D releases. I've seen several movies in 3D and in all cases did not feel 3D added anything valuable, other than paying extra for the annoyance of wearing the viewing glasses. I saw JCM in 2D and liked it just fine that way.

  5. This movie has been out for two weeks or so, right? Isn't it a bit early to call it a flop? Also, what about any international totals? This is so strange.

    1. These are apparently Disney's projections. I guess they'd know!

  6. There may be an interesting little bit of accounting going on here as well: never take Hollywood's numbers at face value. There's a system they use in order to prevent movies from showing a profit so they never have to pay residuals to anyone.

    Essentially, each movie forms its own standalone corporation (in this case, John Carter LLC or somesuch) and the studio (in this case Disney) "rents" their space and cameras to John Carter LLC. In addition, actors wages come out of John Carter LLC's budget, etc. This leaves the corporation in the red while the studio may actually be making money in the end. After all, the costs of "renting" their cameras to the shell corporation is really not a cost at all.

    Not sure if this is the case with the carter debacle, but it's always a good fact to keep handy.

    1. I would say this is pretty accurate. I have the Deluxe Laser Disc edition of Terminator 2 with an entire feature length doc on the making of the film and Cameron says 'The first thing you do when you want to make a film is form a corporation'...wow...really...I thought maybe a script might be in order. I blame him as much as anyone with creating the 'demographic tested before filming syndrome' that plagues modern film.

      This sums it up:


      At least it's humorous :)

    2. @Josh -- I'm not getting into this debate. A $100m million shortfall seems a little large as an excuse to avoid paying rights. Let's see, we could pay $50 million in right or we could loose $100 million... Hmmm... But of course, let's loose $100 million to save $50! Seems pretty absurd to me.. In any case, we really don't know what's going on "back there" and what the rights amount to (if there were any to be paid). We'll have to wait to see if they really make a buck after all!

    3. @Grognard -- Whether the first thing you need is a company or not is neither here nor there. If "you want to make a film" you probably already have a script. So why bring that up at all as a point? Seems like people are prompt at blaming and finger-pointing for their own sakes. The truth is that we don't know really what the problem is. So why criticize? ...yet. :-)

    4. I think you have misunderstood me Bruce and if I have created confusion on that point I apologize.

      I am very excited by the film and look forward to seeing it when it is released to DVD. Theater culture is an environment I have no interest in. The Lord of the Rings was my final trip to the theater.

      And no finger pointing here...the mere fact that it's not doing 2 billion dollars to me is a good sign that I will enjoy the film. I always tend to like the films that others don't care for. I don't know why. I would say I am far from an elitist when it comes to film...I love Blade Runner and I love Meatballs too.

      I think the problem with modern film is the same thing that is wrong with modern gaming. Hasbro expects to make 500 million on something like D&D and it just doesn't happen. Can you imagine how much money it did make though and tell me one smaller publisher who wouldn't be ecstatic just to have the first 6 months sales numbers for 4e when it launched for their product?

      I've noticed lately that all my recent favorites have been small budgets, like Primer ($7,000 budget), Moon (And Sam didn't even get a nod for any awards that I know of in what may be the best performance that year) where as the new Conan just seemed to have no soul.

      I think 'green screen' movies and trying to make a film appeal to everyone is a horrible trend. I'm more excited by sites like Vodo that help independent producers and with the series Pioneer One, Zenith and the film The Tunnel they have shown what can be accomplished.

      I hope I haven't come down on the wrong side of this with you because that was never my intention. But nothing I hold near and dear has ever been a success at the theater. I love John Carpenter's The Thing and it was a flop the same year as Blade Runner.

      I guess the misunderstanding comes from the word 'flop'. To me that is code for 'bet I'm going to love this movie' :)

    5. You haven't come down on anybody's wrong side. It's just your general point doesn't make a whole of sense -- I'll like because everyone doesn't, but I won't like because everyone does... except when I actually like it when everyone does too, and vice-versa. Really? Fine by me, buddy! :-)

    6. I know...most folks think it's crazy but more often than not it tends to work out. I have a few film review guides that I trust but most popular opinion things I just know to read the opposite.

      Like Leonard Maltin. I can count on him being 180 degrees around from my opinions on film.

      It started with Siskel & Ebert (God love'em). I used to watch them when they were on PBS (yeah, not a spring chicken here) and they would tear down movies and how awful they were and then they would get to the serious cinema and 'proper' films...Yeah...Friday the 13th is still around and influencing horror films today meanwhile Julia and The Turning Point, which they just gushed over, nobody seems to have heard of.

      I love film. Have since I was a child. The man-cave here proves that pretty much beyond a shadow of a doubt. And all kinds of film. Buster Keaton to Diane Keaton. SF, Fantasy, Art Films. I love movies.

      I hate for the JC film to do bad at box office but the odds are on that my gut instincts have been right about it. Now I really have to see it.

      The only other film really on my radar this year is Prometheus. This one might actually go against the logic but then again people are expecting this to be an Alien film and it's not really...soooo...anything can happen :)

    7. I don't know the exact numbers in this situation, but what I'm trying to get across is that sometimes what appears to be a shortfall is not actually an expenditure at all. Not that Disney is lying necessarily, or that these numbers are a misrepresentation, but you have to be careful.

      A $100 million shortfall could be projected from $100 million dollars in rental fees for sound stages and cameras (which aren't real fees; this doesn't cost the studio anything, they simply "bill" the corporation named after the film in order to help report losses).

      Again, not saying that's the case here in John Carter... but I almost hope it is, since that might actually mean Gods of Mars gets made.

    8. Josh, this sounds like an awful lot of pointless ifs and maybes. These aren't facts, just suspicions and beliefs. Why don't we leave it at that then?

  7. Fair enough, didn't mean any offense by it.

  8. Subtract $100 million for the disastrous marketing budget and subtract another $100 million for the box office that the bad marketing directly impacted then subtract say another $25 to $50 million that you now have to add to your marketing budget to try and save the rental and to-own business and the film is in the black.

    JC was a pretty damn good movie that was truer to the spirit of the books than I expected and still open and entertaining to those who never heard of John Carter before. Marketing never got out ahead of the iWhiners forum douches saying things like "Hated the design. In the books they are supposed to be naked...". It did a piss poor job of communicating the importance this story had to the development of every fantasy and science fiction property we know today from Superman to Star Wars.