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Disney loses 'John Carter' rights, what's next for the franchise?

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Taylor Kitsch
Frank Connor/Disney

John Carter was not the hit Disney hoped for at the box office. The studio reportedly lost $200 million on the film, expecting it to launch a blockbuster franchise but instead delivering a Taylor Kitsch-fronted flop. There are some admittedly interesting ideas and imagery in the film, but there’s no denying its critical and commercial failure.

Still, some left a candle burning in the hopes that the John Carter of Mars franchise was not dead. And now it seems the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs may live onjust not at Disney.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. announced on Tuesday, Oct. 21 that they have regained the rights to the John Carter franchise and “will be seeking a new partner to help develop new adventures on film as chronicled in the eleven Mars novels Burroughs wrote.”

Whether that means a sequel to Disney’s film or a complete reboot remains to be seen, but is it too soon? Instead, here are a few suggestions for alternative routes the series could take to ensure a longer second life.

1. A video game series: Sure, the Mass Effect franchise has been the premier space-set video game franchise, and the recent blockbuster Destiny used Mars as a major setting, but there’s plenty of room for a John Carter video gameand half a dozen sequels. Carter by way of Taylor Kitsch is a video game protagonist just begging for his own game, and the sprawling surface of Mars could be transformed into the setting for an action-adventure in the vein of Uncharted. Carter isn’t too far off from that franchise’s protagonist, Nathan Drake. Just trade in Drake’s guns and jungle for a sword and the alien surface of Mars and any video game publisher could have their next big cinematic franchise.

2. An animated television series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars and its spiritual successor, Star Wars: Rebels have proven that alien adventures translate well to animated form. But rather than 3D animation, a Carter animated series should keep things in a stylized two-dimensional form (is Genndy Tartakovsky free?). There is so much ground to cover in Burroughs’ series that an animated version could run for years. Free from the shackles of a beloved visual reference point, the animators could take great liberties with their designs of the franchise’s Martians while still remaining true to the written source material. An animated series would allow for an elastic tone that could be as lighthearted or serious as each adventure demands, and really the only thing holding such a show back would be the imagination of its creators.

3. A podcast/radio play series: Sure, radio plays don’t have the popularity they did when people actually listened to the radio, but podcasts have given the audio-only medium a new life. Shows like The Thrilling Adventure Hour and Welcome to Night Vale demonstrate the form’s ability to deliver quality fictional series. A John Carter podcast could be the smartest and most cost-effective option for the Burroughs estate. Any proper Carter film will be an expensive endeavor, one few studios will likely be willing to take. A podcast epic would be such a small financial risk and allow the series to live on with original adventures long after the source material has been mined. Yes, new audiobooks could just be released, but to capture a new audience, some new territory has to be charted. Attach an impressive cast of actors to a podcast, release it through a major podcast network, and who knows, a movie or live-action TV adaptation may not seem so strange a few years into a successful podcast’s run.

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