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Hops and Box Office Flops: ‘JOHN CARTER – A Box Office Blunder of Red Planet-Sized Proportions

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“This is one of the worst marketing campaigns in the history of movies. It’s almost as if they went out of their way to not make us care.” Those words, quoted to Vulture by a former studio marketing chief just prior to John Carter‘s 2012 release, are harsh. But, in truth, they epitomize where the problems originated for this big budget bomb.

From its initial teaser onward, Disney was never able to propel the anticipation for this film to the lofty aerial heights of its titular character. Trailers, a Super Bowl spot, and other advertisements were met with muted enthusiasm. John Carter, despite a title indicating the contrary, was a film without an identity. And the Disney executives knew it. 

The problem was they’d given first-time live-action director Andrew Stanton (Wall-EFinding Dory/Nemo, and others) creative control and a blank check. Despite their pleas, he marketed and shot his movie his way. It was a costly error. According to a 2015 Forbes article, which was written on the third anniversary of its release, the film earned $284 million worldwide (only $73 million in the U.S.) on a cost of anywhere from $250 to $307 million to produce. Walt Disney is said to have taken a $200 million loss on it. Ouch.

The marketing, though, as sterile as it was, can only partly be blamed for John Carter‘s legendary failure. The source, a series of novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, had been mined exhaustively over the years, lending inspiration to fan-favorite series and characters like SupermanAvatar, and Star Wars. After gestating in development hell for nearly 80 years, it was too late to its own party. Its place in the cultural zeitgeist had faded; and it’d been replaced by the IPs its ideas had influenced.

Its unfortunate place in cinema’s Hall of Box Office Shame is what makes it so much fun to discuss. So sit back, grab a Smithwick’s Red Ale or a Rewired IPA from Red Hare Brewery, pat your personal Woola on the head, and enjoy, as I, the Thunderous Wizard (@WriterTLK), Capt. Cash, and Chumpzilla ride off deep into Apache territory to search for the legendary cave of gold!

This Week’s Segments:

  • Introduction – What went wrong with John Carter? Turns out, a whole hell of a lot (excluding Woola!). Unless your Capt. Cash, then all is well with this movie. (00:00)
  • Rockin’ Red Planet Trivia – Capt. Cash and Chumpzilla engage in a battle of wits concerning this all-time flop. (40:18)
  • Redeeming John Carter – Five fictional sequels that would’ve fared better than this film did (1:04:08).
  • Recommendations and Six Degrees of Movie Separation – Our picks of the week, followed by a “Burroughs Bombs” themed six degrees. (1:10:43)

And, as always, hit us up on Twitter (@HopsandBOFlops) to check out all the interesting factoids—Forbes‘ three-year anniversary retrospective, the underwhelming promotional materials, and more—from this week’s episode!

You can find this episode of Hops and Box Office Flops on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherPodbean, and Spotify!

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Thomas L. Kelly

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