John Carter In Context: How Does It Compare To Other So-Called Flops?

By Katey Rich 2012-03-12 08:49:27discussion comments
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John Carter In Context: How Does It Compare To Other So-Called Flops? image
Given how few people seem to have seen it, at least in the United States, if you've heard anything about John Carter by now, it's about its box office. The big-budget Disney adventure couldn't even beat The Lorax this weekend, opening at #2 at the domestic box office and bringing in $30 million, a tiny fraction of its $250 million (and rumored to be much more) budget. The question isn't whether Disney will lose money on John Carter, but how much they'll lose, and how much the movie's disappointing performance will scare off other studios from an outer-space Western for a long time coming.

When big movies stumble at the box office like this, lots of people in the media get apocalyptic and call the movie in question an unprecedented flop, a game-changer, or go straight for the knives and compare it to Ishtar. But while we remember the hits forever, the big-budget movies that don't quite flop and don't quite hit seem to recede in memory. And as much as everyone is screaming flop right now, John Carter seems to fit much more comfortably in that middle zone, the big movie that didn't turn a profit and that nobody liked all that much, but that didn't break new ground in terms of disaster. Check out the movie's numbers compared to six other recent "flops" to see what I mean.

John Carter
Budget: $250 million
Opening (domestic): $30.6 million
Opening (international) $70.6 million
Total worldwide gross (so far): $101.2 million



Green Lantern (2011)
Budget: $200 million
Opening (domestic): $53 million
Opening (international) $16 million
Total worldwide gross: 219.8 million

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2010)
Budget: $200 million
Opening (domestic): $30 million
Opening (international): $18 million
Total worldwide gross: $335 million

Tron: Legacy (2010)
Budget: $170 million
Opening (domestic): $44 million
Opening (international): $20.3 million
Total worldwide gross: $400 million

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
Budget: $163 million
Opening (domestic): $36 million
Opening (international) $7.1 million
Total worldwide gross: $174 million

Watchmen (2009)
Budget: $130 million
Opening (domestic): $55 million
Opening (international): $27 million
Total worldwide gross: $185 million

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)
Budget: $150 million
Opening (domestic): $17 million
Opening (international): $8.9 million
Total worldwide gross: $215 million

When you factor in the international grosses this weekend, John Carter has already opened better than all of these movies, and since it's not a summer movie and doesn't have as much competition coming down the pike (until The Hunger Games at least), it should be able to cruise along another weekend and pick up eyeballs. It probably won't make Tron: Legacy money, and almost definitely not enough to merit the sequel that they're foolishly making for Tron: Legacy, but it's also not a flop on the level of the movie everyone seems to want to compare John Carter to, Mars Needs Moms. That little-loved and little-seen Disney effort was an expensive folly in the realm of motion-capture from Robert Zemeckis, and it grossed just $38 million worldwide, total, on a budget of at least $150 million. John Carter has already made nearly 3 times that, so why does Disney continue getting slapped with that stick?

To me, John Carter is a creative failure, and there is plenty of blame to be tossed around about why it wasn't a triumph on the level of Andrew Stanton's previous two films Wall-E and Finding Nemo. But obsessing over its box office and trying to turn it into a historic failure is just wrong. Disney handed over a ton of money to a director who had made them two massive, critically acclaimed hits, and put their hearts into marketing it even when the writing was on the wall. And for their efforts, they've made $100 million in a weekend-- better than most anybody can say for their own "flops."
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