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Can positive word-of-mouth now help "John Carter" overcome its poisonous advance buzz?

Can positive word-of-mouth now help "John Carter" overcome its poisonous advance buzz?

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It's the story that entertainment reporters has been flogging since last Fall. How terrible the advance tracking on "John Carter" reportedly was. Which is why it was rumored that Walt Disney Studios was getting ready to take a $100 - $165 million write-off on this new Andrew Stanton film.

But then a curious thing happened. "John Carter" finally opens this past Friday on 3,746 screens and only sells $9.8 million worth of tickets. But then comes Saturday, during which "Carter" actually saw a 26% uptick in business.

"So what's so significant about that? Well, let's take a look at what happened to "TRON: Legacy" over its opening weekend back in December of 2010. That Joseph Kosinski film sold $17.5 million worth of tickets over its first day in domestic release, but then saw its box office fall off by 14% as Friday gave way to Saturday.


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You get what's going on here yet? Business fell off for "TRON: Legacy" because -- thanks to social media -- people were able to quickly get the word out that this long-awaited sequel was kind of a disappointment.  Whereas with "John Carter" this past weekend, moviegoers actually used Facebook & Twitter to tell friends & family that this epic sci-fi film was a lot better than they had expected.

Don't get me wrong. "John Carter" is far from out of the woods. With estimated production costs of $250 million and an additional $50 - $75 million spent on promotion, this Walt Disney Pictures release will have to earn over a half billion dollars worldwide before this set-on-the-Red-Planet adventure then officially makes it into the black. More to the point, there's no guarantee that this past Saturday's uptick in domestic ticket sales will be more than a one time thing.

But given how well "Carter" has been doing overseas (Opening day-and-date with the North American version of this Andrew Stanton movie, "John Carter" has earned $70.6 million so far in Europe, Asia and Latin America), Mouse House managers are now somewhat hopeful that this Walt Disney Pictures may actually be able to overcome its earlier poisonous advance buzz and eventually eek out a profit.


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That said, after both "Mars Needs Moms" and "John Carter" under-performed when they were released in early March, don't expect Disney to schedule any more sci-fi-themed projects to be released in this particular slot. From here on in, look for the Mouse to reserve this time of year for big fantasy films more in the style of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland." With "Oz the Great and Powerful" scheduled to be released to theaters on March 8, 2013, while "Maleficent" (i.e. that "Wicked" -like reimagining of Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" which will supposedly star Angelina Jolie as the Mistress of All Evil while Elle Fanning is now allegedly in talks to play Briar Rose / Princess Aurora) tentatively slated for this exact same slot in March of 2014.

Mind you, there are those at Disney who say that the Studio is never going to see another billion dollar earner released in this particular window. That "Alice in Wonderland" did as well as it did back in March of 2010 thanks -- in large part -- to the fact that this Tim Burton film was the very first major studio release in 3D to follow "Avatar" into theaters. And given that moviegoers had so enjoyed the cinematic experience of visiting Pandora in three dimensions ... Well, that's why audience then turned out in droves three months later to journey down Disney' s CG rabbit hole and meet Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter.

And speaking of "Avatar" ...  If you've been visiting various Disney discussion boards over the past week, you've probably already read the rumors that the "James Cameron's World of Avatar" project is in trouble. Or -- worse yet -- that this proposed DAK addition has imploded / been cancelled entirely.


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Well, don't believe the rumors, folks. I reached out this past Thursday night to (Sorry. I'm not allowed to give you this person's name), a VP of Communications for Disney Parks and Resorts, and flat-out asked him/her about these "World of Avatar" cancellation stories. What I was told was that this rumor-that's-currently-making-the-rounds is untrue. "It's a bad story, Jim," my source told me. "Don't believe it."

Of course, if that's really the case ... Then the next question is why would someone be putting a false story like this out there? What is there to be gained by floating the rumor that Disney & James Cameron might now be on the outs?

When I learn more about these Pandora-is-kaput rumors, I'll be sure and share that info here. But in the meantime  ... What are your thoughts on "John Carter" ? Did you get to see this Andrew Stanton film over its opening weekend? If so, how do you think this cinematic version of Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic tale  will fare at the box office long term? Do you think that this past weekend's positive word-of-mouth will actually be enough to overcome the past 12 weeks of poisonous buzz?


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  • I don't think you can draw a correlation between the box office patterns of TRON: LEGACY and JOHN CARTER, or between web chatter and box office. It's likely that TRON's Friday-to-Saturday drop happened because the vast majority of people who were excited to see TRON saw it on opening day. It had a somewhat small built-in audience, but that audience was very enthusiastic.

    So far, Facebook and Twitter haven't proven to be bellwethers of box office, positive or negative. If positive buzz via social media mattered to moviegoing, SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD would have been a smash. It wasn't. it was probably the worst-marketed "event" movie of modern times -- until JOHN CARTER.

    Box office notwithstanding, I enjoyed JOHN CARTER, particularly Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris and the framing device of putting Edgar Rice Burroughs himself in the story. The final scenes were wonderful, as was the scene of Carter laying waste to the Thark army intercut with scenes of his family's fate, all accompanied by Michael Giacchino's magical score.

  • I absolutely loved John Carter. Read the books and everything.  It was all I expect of an Andrew Stanton fil

    , funny, endearing, actio packed, and Michael Chabon is an incredible writer. my wife, who hates sci fi movies loved it as well, and so did my four year old daughter. We've been taking about it all weekend and hopefully will see it again. It would be a real shame to not let Stanton develop more visits to Barsoom. I'd go to the red planet over horribly boring Pandora any day.

  • I think you're reading too much into the Saturday  bump. I think the film is more comparable to Prince of Persia which opened to $30 million in the US and $60 million overseas. Either way it's a failure.

  • I'm not 100% saying that Avatarland will be completely canceled (tongue in cheek), but here some good points as to why this may very well happen:

    1.  Supposedly, Avatarland was thought-up by top level executives, in response to the overwhelming success of Potterland.  It was a knee-jerk panic response—let’s use a blockbuster film to make a land!  Get me Jim Cameron on the phone!

    2.  When Disney looked closer at Avatar (beyond the eco-themes), there are a lot of un-Disney-like themes—like the military violence and smoking portrayed in the film.

    3.  Avatar is not Harry Potter.  There is one Avatar film, HP has seven books and a slew of great films.  Yes, some Avatar sequels might be made, but they probably won’t draw the same numbers  as the original flick relied on violent combat scenes and the novelty of 3-D.

    4.  How in the world do you make Pandora?  You could use real plants made to look exotic, but it will still be a green background like much of Animal Kingdom.  And nything plastic would probably look bad after a while and/or cost a fortune.  One Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse costed a small fortune to make, how much would a whole land cost?  It would probably cost two times what Carsland did.  Maintaining the rockwork in Carsland will be a cake walk compared to maintenance costs for an artificial Pandora.

    5.  If it is true that Cameron nixed Soarin’ Over Pandora, and wants Disney to use all new ride systems with scores of audioanimatronics, this will increase the price tag dramatically.

    6.  Disputes over who pays what and who gets what revenues, as this is a non-Disney commercial entity, could gum up the operation.

    7.  Public reactions to Avatarland were mixed, to say the least.  Some hardcore Avatar fans will be disappointed with anything less than a faithful recreation of Pandora, which is of course impossible.

    8.  Disney/Pixar has some great films coming out over the next seven years which could easily be made into rides, plus a growing cadre of smash hits that haven’t been featured in the themeparks, going in-house makes a lot of sense as Disney won’t be promoting competitors films such as Avatar 2 . . . 3, 4?

    9.  The characters in Avatar are . . . forgetable.  You remember the general plot, but there isn’t a main character(s) than can become the star(s) of the attraction, like Harry Potter’s big three.

    10.  The blue aliens are creepy and could frighten small children.

  • I thought it was okay. Just as good as it needed to be but absolutely nothing more.

  • Saw the movie.  Not perfect but I really enjoyed it!

  • My thoughts on John Carter are that I hope Avatarland is really going to be canceled!

  • Great article...thank you for at least giving some positive hope from all the "poisonous" stuff you read on deadline.com.

    The movie was great...I posted positives on Facebook, hopefully others will too and help spread the word.  I am certainly hoping too that the amazing BOX OFFICE overseas will help bring a sequel along someday b/c I would love to see more of BARSOOM.

    Concerning the movie...excellent CGI and special effects, good art direction, amazing score from GIACCHINO as usual.  Some of the acting was a little wooden, but they have found a star in COLLINS, and I suggest to get a big name for the villian in the 2nd film.  Overall a very good effort from Pixars' amazing ANDREW STANTON.

  • I loved John Carter! Wasn't expecting much but I came out smiling.

    And please Disney, cancel Avatarland! What a complete waste of money/land/recources on a hype from years ago!

  • I really enjoyed John Carter.  I can't understand some of the reviewers.  For instance, Owen Gleiberman gave it a D while he gave the poorly done 3D Star Wars prequel a B+.   Too bad that Andrew Stanton will not be able to make the two sequels unless the film does terrific business overseas.

  • How's about we replace Avatarland with Barsoom?

  • It's a good movie, but not a great one. I can't say I'll tell people to go see, at least not with any urgency, but I'm happy to tell them it's a fun movie, and better than expected.

    For as much fun as it can be (go Woola), it's also dreadfully dense. Stanton was probably too in love with the source material to realize that making a great movie from a book means making lots of choices about what to leave out, or to simply change. It's interesting to think that his successes have all come from original stories, not from adaptations. That, more than his lack of experience in live action, seems to be the cause of the movies many problems.

    Also, agree that the O.G. review in EW was harsh. Was he just in a bad mood that day? Again, the film isn't great, but it isn't D-level awful either. I'm guessing it will do OK overseas, and they can at least minimize the write off. I don't see it ever being profitable.

  • Loved the John Carter movie. I thought the story was quite good,. (Nice addition of Edgar Rice Burroughs into the story.)  Nice job with some comedy, fighting, and intrigue/mystery. Characters and CGI were also good. I think that word of mouth will affect boxoffice as we head into spring break.

  • Let's have some fun.  Conspiracy time. I started thinking. An Avatar theme park is coming to Animal Kingdom. Construction is to being in 2013. Maybe Disney marketing was instructed not to push John Carter with better trailers and ads because it's success and sequels would distract from the future Disney theme park based on Cameron's John Carter homage or, as some might call, blatant rip-off.

    I personally thought John Carter was a really good movie and want to see it again.  My two boys (ages 10 and 12) and I saw it at the giant IMAX in downtown Raleigh.  The movie was well worth the money.

  • John Carter, I've heard from different sources, needed about $500 - $600 million to break even, or $700 million to make a sequel worthwhile.  With this known up-front, Disney did a horrible job marketing the film.  I can't remember a time when I had such an unfavorable opinion of a movie before seeing it, then being so pleasantly surprised that the film was actually palatable.  John Carter was good at being a fantasy action adventure with comedic elements, there was even a dab of romance.  

    There is a rumor that elements in Disney wanted to see the film fail as Dick Cook gave the green light before he left, some even think that there is animosity towards Pixar people doing live action films.  

    The marketing was horrible.  The posters looked bad, the trailers were awful, nobody got out there and really explained the film.

    Disney shot themselves in the foot with John Carter, does it means that the 1906 San Fran earthquake movie is finished??

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