Well, one week has passed since Disney‘s “John Carter” hit theaters with a wave of bad press and lukewarm reviews, with the estimated $250 million film opening to an underperforming $37 million at home, while doubling that figure overseas for a total debut of $108 million. And while it’s not a flat out bomb, it’s hardly a success either, a film that will likely leave Disney in the red considering some estimates have said that the film would need to do at least $600 million to be considered a winner. That’s not going to happen. In the aftermath, a couple of interesting stories have emerged, from defenders who claim the film has been unfairly maligned and industry folks who want to blame somebody for Disney’s disaster.
So let’s start with the first one. Undoubtedly, “John Carter” got its fair share of positive reviews and has a core of defenders, but it’s hard to deny the general consensus is that it’s a flop, and the reality of a sequel happening (it’s clearly not going to match the $400 million worldwide take of “Tron: Legacy” nor come near the $172 million domestic that film did) is dwindling if not extinguished entirely. But don’t tell that to members of the Facebook group “Take me back to Barsoom! I want John Carter to have a sequel!” (via MTV) which now has 3700 members and growing. And while last month, the filmmakers involved confirmed “The Gods Of Mars” was in the works, we’re betting those plans have been put on hold, perhaps permanently. But who knows, maybe those Facebook folks will make a fan sequel or something.
Meanwhile, at Disney HQ, the battle is growing over who to blame and it has spilled out messily in the press, and the number one target right now is director Andrew Stanton. Both Vulture and the New York Times report that the director was the architect of the movie’s downfall, refusing to take advice or word from anyone in the Disney chain of command, and calling the shots on everything from the production to the film’s roundly criticized marketing campaign. His lack of experience is largely cited as a major reason behind the extensive reshoots for the movie, but that said, the studio also bears responsbility for letting a first time, live action filmmaker have such unfettered rein, on such a risky and expensive movie.
And as THR notes, it was former Disney honcho Dick Cook who initially greenlit the movie, so current exec Rich Ross will likely escape any fallout (especially if 2013 gambles “The Lone Ranger” and “Oz The Great And Powerful” pay off big time). But what about Bob Iger, the man at the very top of the Disney food chain? Well, the failure of “John Carter” is not expected to make even the feeblest mark on Disney stock prices (which is all shareholders actually care about), but that’s not to rule out that he make make management changes down the line, even as a gesture to indicate he’s aware of the failures. As for MT Carney, the chief of marketing? She actually resigned in January so is pretty much clear of any blowback (especially considering Stanton is largely said to be responsible for that anyway).
In the trade’s piece, they also cite some sources who blame Disney’s tentpole only approach as being too risky (their only other inhouse movie this year is the relatively cheap drama “The Odd Life Of Timothy Green“) but the flipside to that is that their deal to distribute Marvel movies is likely to pay off in a big way (though they paid $4 billion to purchase the comic house, and another $115 million to Paramount who were under the original deal to distribute “The Avengers“).
So, will “John Carter” change how Disney does business? If it’s not affecting their stock prices and only their reputation (for the moment), not likely. The only real effect will be on budgets, and they have already flexed their muscle on “The Lone Ranger” last year (and that movie is still over $200 million). But you can bet Stanton will be the last guy for a while who will be allowed to unilaterally lead a studio and a movie by his whims and desires, as “John Carter” — for better or worse — will remain an example of what happens when you let a passion project run out of control.