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Disney digests a movie bomb with 'John Carter'

Actor Willem Dafoe arrives at the premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' "John Carter" in Los Angeles, Calif. After a lackluster opening weekend, "John Carter" is on track to be a huge money loser. Disney could be facing a loss of $100 million or more.

Kai Ryssdal: I thankfully managed to dodge having to go see "The Lorax" this weekend, so Universal Studios won't be able to count any of my money toward its No. 1 box office position for that film.

Coming in at a very distant second place was "John Carter," the Disney film about a military officer mysteriously transported to Mars. Normally, we wouldn't do a story about the No. 2 movie, but "John Carter" is one of the most expensive films ever made -- expensive as in more than $200 million.

It's also on track to be one of the biggest flops ever. What does an entertainment company do with a flop like that? Marketplace's Jennifer Collins reports.


Jennifer Collins: Disney was trying to make a star.

"John Carter" clip: "You're John Carter of Earth?" "Yes."

John Carter wasn't just meant to be one film. That huge budget was a kind of down payment on a franchise of John Carters.

Edward Jay Epstein: WhatHollywood's trying to do here is re-create an adult audience for adventure movies.

Edward Jay Epstein is the author of the "Hollywood Economist 2.0."

Epstein: But this seems to be, you know, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" set in Mars or something, so it's a science fiction, it's mixing genres.

And adults in the U.S. didn't get it, so those sequels are likely out.

The movie did bring in $100 million worldwide in its opening weekend. Not bad, says Paul Dergarabedian, who tracks box office data for Hollywood.com.

Paul Dergarabedian: All that matters is it's balanced against a $250 million budget that seems like not a strong opening.

Add even more costs for marketing and analysts estimate Disney will take a loss of more than $100 million. Tony Wible of Janney Capital Markets says the "John Carter" flop is likely to cause the company to take fewer risks on unfamiliar franchises.

Tony Wible: We'll ultimately probably be at a point where you have two Pixar movies a year and maybe two Marvel movies a year, and Disney only putting out films that they have real brand value.

Wible says Disney is hoping that the international box office, DVD sales and TV rights will help limit the damage from "John Carter."

I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

About the author

Jennifer Collins is a reporter for the Marketplace portfolio of programs. She is based in Los Angeles, where she covers media, retail, the entertainment industry and the West Coast.
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Hollywood failed to create an adult audience for adventure movies, they spent too much money for a movie that initially started as an adventure movie for kids. There are a lot of adventure movies I enjoy, even if I`m 35 years old and have two kids, but "John Carter" is not a movie I will re-watch. I would gladly watch again the http://www.squidoo.com/the-collinson-twins movie, this is what I call having fun.

Two things that Disney failed to do in marketing this movie ...

a) it needed to promote the Burroughs book(s) a year in advance, and its history in presenting the first sci-fi action hero, and find fans among the likes of George Lucas, etc. to speak on its behalf. Promote the original book(s) online (Amazon) and at stores (Barnes & Noble) with the publisher. Build buzz ...

b) the title should have remained "John Carter of Mars" (shooting title) or "John Carter and The Princess of Mars" (adapt the first book's title) in order to give a big clue on what the movie's about ...

Agreed. Similarly, the segment ought to have referred to the E. R. Burroughs series at least once. Edward Jay Epstein sounded as if he had no clue of the story's origin. That could be editing, or it could be Mr. Epstein.

An interesting business angle on this is that Burroughs' Mars novels are in the public domain, so Disney didn't have to acquire any rights to them. Part of the justification for their enormous initial investment may have been to sear their vision of John Carter and Barsoom into the public consciousness as a defense against other adaptations.

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