The budget for the potential franchise based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian novels is enormous, somewhere around $250 million (with 18 days of reshoots)–before any marketing costs. Stanton may regret revealing that in order to justify a sequel the movie must bring in $700 million at the global box office. This is what movie writers instantly seized on–and they were already skeptical from the tepid response to Stanton's Disney 23 John Carter presentation. (Here's TOH's coverage.)
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It's a bit like Tintin, a venerable comic book that is better-known overseas, where the film is opening first to build some momentum before it hits the U.S, where audiences are unfamiliar with the adventurous boy and his dog. Burroughs' Martian novels are not as well known as his Tarzan series, which fueled countless film iterations over the decades. But as great a writer/director/visualist as Stanton has been at Team Pixar, he's unproven in live action and he's no Spielberg, whose brand name does bring audiences to a movie. Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe aren't marquee movie stars who put butts in seats as do Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie.
John Carter is introducing audiences to an alien world–and creatures–they've never seen before, via enhanced performance capture techniques. Remember all the negativity that met Avatar before it opened? Sometimes seeing is believing. Clearly, this is a HUGE bet for Disney (which pulled back the reins before going ahead on Depp's Lone Ranger), but if the movie doesn't deliver sizable numbers, John Carter seems destined to be the first and last of its breed.
The New Yorker reports: "At a recent John Carter test screening, a robust seventy-five per cent of the audience rated the film as excellent or very good. The film had scope and humor and gusto, and you could feel a bounding imagination at work."
/Film points out that the Disney marketing machine is a powerful beast: "We also know that Stanton is a stickler for story and visuals, so you’ve got to be pretty confident the film will at least be good."
John Carter is a risk worth taking that could pay off. But it is hard to imagine that the film could possibly bank as much as Transformers ($709 million) or The Twilight Saga: New Moon ($709 million)– that's the home run they're trying to hit.