One month ago, Andrew Stanton was optimistic about making a sequel to John Carter, his $250 million sci-fi adventure about a 19th-century outlaw (Taylor Kitsch) who is teleported to Mars in the midst of an alien war. “I’ve been spending the last six months writing the next one with Michael [Chabon],” he told EW in February.
Then John Carter opened to a middling $30.1 million last weekend, making Stanton’s goal seem about as realistic as his movie’s interplanetary premise. Even if the film manages to earn $100 million domestically plus $150 million or so more internationally, John Carter could still end up as a failure for Disney once marketing costs (reportedly $100 million) and distribution fees are factored in. “Moviemaking does not come without risk. It’s still an art, not a science, and there is no proven formula for success,” said Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross in a statement. “Andrew Stanton is an incredibly talented and successful filmmaker who with his team put their hard work and vision into the making of John Carter. Unfortunately, it failed to connect with audiences as much as we had all hoped.”
With its studio admitting defeat, is John Carter ready to join the ranks of legendary flops like Ishtar and Heaven’s Gate? Not necessarily. “Those movies lived and died on domestic box office,” says Vincent Bruzzese, president of the Worldwide Motion Picture Group, a research firm employed by many major studios. “Unless someone knows the details of John Carter’s financials, the foreign sales, the DVD, pay TV, all that, it’s very difficult to comment.” But he adds that Disney’s huge investment in John Carter placed unrealistic pressure on the movie’s box-office performance. “If you have to be Avatar or Titanic to break even, then good luck.”
International grosses might be John Carter’s saving grace: The movie has already taken in over $70 million overseas. “Visually stunning movies translate into any language. And international audiences love the 3-D component as well,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a box-office analyst at Hollywood.com. “I’m still saying wait and see. Nobody makes a $250 million movie hoping for a $30 million opening. But the $100 million worldwide was not a bad result.”
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