Credit: Frank Masi

No actor wants their first starring role to be in an underperforming movie, let alone one of the most high profile box office misfires in years. So for Taylor Kitsch, the fallout from John Carter's weak second place, $30.6 million opening weekend in the U.S. is certainly unwelcome — although perhaps not as mortally damaging to his career as one might expect. Disney's marketing campaign for the $250 million film focused far more on selling the spectacle than introducing the Next Big Movie Star, so audience disinterest in the film won't be blamed on Kitsch. "He doesn't bare the brunt of it in the way that Taylor Lautner does with Abduction, or Sam Worthington with Man on a Ledge," says a senior production exec at a rival studio. "Those are movies that are hung on those guys, and if the movies fail, the guys pay full price."

On the other hand, in just two scant months, the 30-year-old Kitsch headlines another mega-budgeted, effects-driven, sci-fi tentpole that Hollywood regards with a cocked eyebrow: Universal's Battleship. Universal chairman Adam Fogelson insists that John Carter won't affect Battleship's box office. "I would prefer for the industry that every expensive movie is a big hit," he told EW last month, before John Carter's release. "But if you're asking me whether the performance of John Carter good, bad, or indifferent impacts Battleship or Taylor in Battleship, I would tell you the answer is no."

Even if that is the case, the $200 million Battleship has its own baggage: Based on the Hasbro board game, the film has been likened (unfavorably) as a wannabe Transformers. Of course, there are far worse things than being compared to a multi-billion dollar grossing franchise. But should Battleship also sink at the box office, Kitsch will have endured a punishing one-two punch to his career before it's ever really taken off. "I think unfortunately he pays a price," says the exec. "It's going to be hard for people to want to give him yet another shot when he will be seen as having had two huge shots already." Still, another rival studio marketing exec points out that it's John Carter and Battleship's respective directors, Andrew Stanton and Peter Berg — as well as the studios that backed the films — that have the most on the line. "Yes, [Kitsch] is putting himself out there on these projects," says the insider. "But [the films] were always more about concept than star. I never saw these as Taylor Kitsch movies. Twister was not about Helen Hunt."

If Kitsch's plate wasn't already precariously full, in July, he'll star in Oliver Stone's ensemble drug thriller, Savages, opposite John Travolta and Benicio Del Toro. After screening an early cut of the film in January, Universal execs were so keen on it that they pushed its release up from the fall. Character driven and modestly budgeted — it cost less than $50 million — the movie could help remind audiences, critics, and Hollywood at large that Kitsch found himself in this situation in the first place because of his widely acclaimed performance as Tim Riggins on Friday Night Lights. "Between what he does in Battleship and what he does in Savages, added to the work that he's already done that's made people like Peter Berg a huge fan, I think it's going to give people a great sense of his range," says Fogelson.

If there's a silver lining for Kitsch with John Carter's box office performance, it's the the film's $70 million international opening gross. With foreign markets increasingly becoming vital to any big-budget studio film's bottom line, it's almost more important for Kitsch that his projects continue to play well overseas. "If these movies fail, it's not good for him," says the marketing exec. "Does he go to movie jail? Probably not. No matter what, his profile is raised because of them." The production exec put things a bit more bluntly: "I think he'll have a career. Whether he'll be allowed to be a star? It's going to be hard if John Carter and Battleship really tank huge."

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