Disney's new action-adventure sci-fi epic John Carter opened this weekend to a staggeringly low $30 million, earning it certified flop status and leaving many wondering if there will be some big staff shakeups at Disney HQ. With the film's budget estimated to be $250 million, plus another $100 million spent on marketing, this is indeed quite a disaster for all involved. So what happened? What did they do wrong? Well, a few things.
Bad Branding: As has been pointed out, why on Earth would Disney make such an expensive movie, based on little-known, hundred-year-old source material, and call it simply John Carter? And why would was the marketing campaign for the film so obfuscating? The previews showed little beyond a series of vague action sequences that didn't offer much information in the way of plot. An old-timey guy somehow ends up on Mars and then there's a big space dog or something and some ugly green aliens and a human princess and some sort of battle over something. There was nothing to grab onto, no implied narrative whose details we were desperate to figure out. An obvious comparison has been made between John Carter and Avatar, as both are expensive CGI-heavy alien planet pictures, but with Avatar it was pretty clear from all the promos just what kind of story we were dealing with. As it turns out, the plots of both films are rather similar — both are sort of "noble savage" type tales about a human championing the cause of a downtrodden race of aliens — but that was hard to glean from any of John Carter's trailers or TV spots. The title was vague, boring, and uninviting on its own. The film really didn't need the rest of its promotions following that same model. Had anyone had any idea what the movie was actually about, maybe they would have been more interested in going. Brief shots of pretty CGI just aren't enough these days, when so many films come loaded with eye-popping graphics. Something else needs to stand out.