Movie flops: A decade later, Disney’s ‘John Carter’ is still remembered for one of the worst marketing campaigns in movie history | Culture


If you were to ask someone where they were on March 11, 2012, the answer is unlikely to be “at the cinema watching John Carter.” Had they said they were, they would have been one of the few viewers to give Disney something to smile about. The studio’s success on the film was estimated at $200 million by CNN, turning what would be the box office hit of the year into one of Disney’s biggest flops.

The funny thing is that the reasons for his failure were not the usual reasons. It wasn’t a production plagued by financial troubles and filming setbacks like water world in 1995; nor was there a clash of egos like between Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer on the 1996 The Island of Dr. Moreau, nor the heaps of whiskey and cocaine that sank Robert Altman’s house popeye in 1980. On the contrary: the problem with John Carter was the excessive leeway left to its director and the laxity of inexperienced executives. But then, who was going to hold back director Andrew Stanton, one of Disney’s most valuable assets after the smash hits? WALL-E and The world of Nemo? Nobody wanted to ruffle the feathers of Pixar’s goose.

The problems started with the concept. What Disney saw as a blockbuster intended to launch a new galactic saga – two sequels were already planned – was for Stanton the culmination of a lifelong dream. He approached the project as if it were Batman disregarding the fact that the vast majority of moviegoers had never heard of John Carter. “He couldn’t see any idea in which someone didn’t know who John Carter from Mars was. But it’s not Frankenstein; it’s not Sherlock Holmes. Nobody cares. People don’t say, “I know what I’ll be for Halloween!” I will be John Carter! ‘” said one of the film’s marketing executives. Vulture magazine.

Kitsch and Andrew Stanton on the set of “John Carter”.Frank Connor (©Walt Disney Co./courtesy Everett/Everett Collection/Cordon Press)

John Carter’s character was created by Edgar Rice Burroughs as an American Confederate Army captain who dies and is reborn on Mars (portrayed by Burroughs as Barsoom) where two warring cities vie for control of the planet and where Carter falls in love with a Martian princess. The film is based on Burroughs’ novel A princess from Marsreleased in 1912, and the John Carter series has influenced nearly every sci-fi franchise since then. star wars would be inconceivable without John Carter – a desert planet, a gunslinger and a princess he falls in love with: does that sound familiar? Swap a desert planet for a verdant one and you have Avatar. Neither George Lucas nor James Cameron ever denied that Burroughs’ work was essential to their films. Which begs the question: how could the novel that inspired two of the biggest box office hits of all time not inspire itself?

An 80 year wait

The Adventures of John Carter had been bouncing around the offices of Hollywood executives since the 1930s. looney tunes director Bob Clampett pitched the idea for an animated film to Burroughs, but it never materialized. Nor is it a later idea from the hand of animation maestro Ray Harryhausen. It wasn’t until the 1990s that it came closer to becoming a reality with John McTiernan, who directed die hardTom Cruise and Julia Roberts lined up, but the technical difficulty of the project saw McTiernan abandon it in favor of Last Action Hero, which didn’t really set the box office on fire either. Roberts also forgot about the idea, but Cruise retained his interest.

After McTiernan, the project was taken up and abandoned first by Robert Rodríguez and then by Jon Favreau, who instead opted for Iron Man. Eventually he reached Andrew Stanton. “It’s something I’ve spent my whole life wishing someone would do, and when I’ve been in the industry since maybe the 90s, if I ever hear any rumors about it , I’ll be all excited like a fanboy and come on, I’ll be the first to go see it,'” Stanton said The envelope. “I never had the pride to think it was something I would want to do or could do.”

With Stanton on board to direct, the focus turned to the lead roles, a part of the process that can often be the most difficult but for Stanton was simple: he was convinced that Canadian model and actor Taylor Kitsch, who had starred as football player Tim Riggins in Friday night lights and played Gambit on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was the physical embodiment of John Carter. But the shadow of Tom Cruise still hung over the project. It’s easy to imagine Disney rubbing its hands at the prospect of a franchise with Cruise in the lead, but Stanton was in total control. “I already had Taylor in mind by the time Tom made his interest known. Tom had a long history with the material, so it wasn’t too surprising to find out he was still interested in it,” Stanton said. . The envelope. “We agreed to talk more if I was to pass Taylor, but obviously I didn’t. It was as simple and uncontroversial as that.

Willem Dafoe and Kitsch at the premiere
Willem Dafoe and Kitsch at the premiereDavid Livingston (Getty Images)

Lynn Collins, who had worked with Kitsch on x-men, was chosen to play the princess, Dejah Thoris. Neither lead was a big star in their own right, but they were backed up by a stellar cast that included Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, and Bryan Cranston. And Pulitzer Prize-winning Michael Chabon, a fan of Burroughs’ novels just like Stanton, was brought in to write the screenplay.

With the cast settled and production underway, issues began to emerge, starting with the title of the film. The logical choice would have been A princess from Mars, but Stanton thought that with this title “not a single boy” would go to the cinema. He favored John Carter of Mars – the last book in the Burroughs seriesbut Disney marketing manager MT Carney, who was new to the industry and had no previous film experience, decided that there had been too many recent films with Mars in the title that had failed (Mission to Mars and red planet in 2000 and Mars needs moms in 2011). As such, Carney decided the film would simply be called John Carter. “It was the first moment, I was like, ‘Oh fuck. This is not right. We may have some issues here,'” Chabon said. The envelope. “From that meeting until he got out, it wasn’t good after that.”

The next bad move came from Stanton, who decided not to include references to his Pixar hit in the trailer, so people wouldn’t associate the film with younger audiences. Neither Burroughs nor Chabon, who was at the height of his popularity at the time, were mentioned. No powerful footage was included, and neither was Woola, Carter’s Martian dog, “the film’s most distinctive visual element”, according to Vulture, a potential Baby Yoda for the production.

Stanton still believed the film would be a hit based on the name alone, but no one knew who John Carter was, at least not the millions of moviegoers that would have been needed to justify the production budget. “This is one of the worst marketing campaigns in movie history,” said a former Disney executive. Vulture. “It’s almost like they’re going out of their way to do not pay attention to us.

“The way the cookie crumbles”

When the film premiered in February 2012, its stars were the only ones unaware that it had already failed. It wasn’t their fault, it wasn’t even that the public didn’t like the movie. Simply put, no one could be bothered to go watch it. Recalling her walk on the red carpet, Collins said The envelope Kitsch whispered to him, “It’s gonna be a fucking disaster. Collins’ agent told her she would be blamed. “You’re just going to have to disappear because you’re the one who’s going to have the heat for this.” It’s just the way the cookie crumbles. This is usually what happens. Luckily for Collins, that wasn’t the case. All criticism was directed at the marketing campaign, carried out by inexperienced executives who quickly disappeared from Disney.

The film had a budget of $250 million but only took $30 million in its opening weekend, less than half of what would have been considered a minimally acceptable result. Stanton was largely unscathed by John Carter: his next production, Finding Dory, has grossed over $1 billion worldwide. Kitsch would still suffer with his next big project, Battleship. Collins, whose performance received warm reviews, found refuge on television and she fired her agent.

Ten years after its release, John Carter is still considered a monumental failure, but not a terrible film. “John Carter may not be a perfect movie, but it’s a movie where you can safely deposit your money, grab your box of popcorn, and walk away reasonably satisfied when the end credits roll,” the reviewer wrote. Charlie McCollum after leaving. Time has proven him right to some extent: the film’s inclusion in Netflix’s catalog a few years ago revived interest in Carter’s adventures, and a first video game based on the character is on the way. production. Maybe one day these sequels will be made after all.


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