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Source: Jeff Bock
Date: Mar 8, 2012

Disney is betting Tomorrowland that you will want to take a trip to the stars with “John Carter” (sans Mars). The question is, will the PG-13 sci-fi adventure be akin to the new Star Wars ride or the ill-fated Rocket Rods? One of the most expensive movies ever produced, “John Carter,” arrives (again, not from Mars) to fulfill the 3-D sci-fi prophecy that James Cameron’s “Avatar” eluded to: If you make a 3-D film in the genre of sci-fi you can charge people $3-$5 dollars more per ticket and they will like it. Well, that time has come. Sort of.

With seemingly every studio in town producing a big-budget, 3-D sci-fi flick, Disney strikes first with an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars.” The Mouse House certainly has a thing for princesses don’t they?!? The princess in question here is Lynn Collins and the hero Taylor Kitsch. Who? What, you never watched “Friday Night Lights” on NBC? Or was that DircTV? It’s okay; nobody knew who Sam Worthington was before “Avatar,” either. But still, the fact remains, this wasn’t actually shot in 3-D, “John Carter” is another retrofit.  

Despite all the negative baggage that “John Carter” has been shouldering, initial reviews had been extremely positive; however those primarily came from fanboys that salivate over anything set outside earth’s stratosphere. Now that unbiased reviews have been rolling in, Rotten Tomatoes has “John Carter” at 52%, in other words: slightly fresh, mostly rotten. Slightly of earth, mostly of Mars.

While so many boisterous bloggers are rallying for the demise of this oddball space odyssey, there is still nothing else like it in theatres right now. That same sort of enigmatic presence worked relatively well for Disney’s “Tron: Legacy” which opened to a decent $44 million and ended up holding well with $172 million.  So how much will “John Carter” make? Well, technically it needs to open with at least $50 million to justify its enormous $250+ million budget, but more importantly it needs to have a long shelf life…as well as spawn sequels, Disney rides, and sell plush toys. As one of the most expensive movies ever made, just imagine what the P/A budget is for this behemoth that is already bleeding red.  It’s very likely that this film cost the studio upwards of $400 million just to get it into theatres, making it the riskiest, most expensive movie ever made that wasn’t a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel.  Where’s Johnny Depp when you need him? I smell a movie-mashup if this film somehow sequelizes.

It certainly doesn’t really help that “The Lorax” stole “John Carter’s” thunder and that next weekend’s “21 Jump Street” looks like it will be a huge success for Sony, especially with the teen audience, and then there’s “The Hunger Games” in two weeks, which will absolutely lock down the box office. And with “Wrath of the Titans” and even “Mirror, Mirror” rounding out March, spring has turned out to be more crowded than summer, when “John Carter” was originally scheduled for release. That spells doom and gloom unless “John Carter” can swing some of that “Avatar” crowd in its direction. And honestly, it makes the opening weekend that much more important.

Disney certainly did one thing right, hiring Pixar pro, Andrew Stanton (“Wall-E,” “Finding Nemo”) who makes his live-action debut with “John Carter.”  He was reportedly a huge fan as a child, having already mapped out scenes in his mind, but Edgar Rice Burroughs’ tale and imagery is certainly a bit dated as it was written in the early 1900’s.

Not as dated as Warner’s “10,000 B.C.” though, which was a wantabe blockbuster that was released in March 2008, was savagely reviewed, and still somehow managed a debut of $35 million. That said, I wouldn’t expect anything less than a $45 million debut in 3,500+ Martian outposts, however if the word “Mars” was omitted from the title earlier, and featured more little green men in the trailer, “John Carter (sans Mars)” would have probably hit $70 million. #sarcasm  As much as critics are divided on this film, it will come down to the multiplex masses: they will be the deciding factor as to whether or not “John Carter” lives to reign another day.

Let’s face the facts though, if “John Carter” does bomb, Hollywood should ban Mars as a backdrop for any future films, and place the blame squarely on the obviously cursed iron oxide-infused planet, which has seen “Mars Needs Moms,” “Mars Attacks!,” “Red Planet,” and “Mission to Mars” all crash and burn.  Poor Marvin the Martian…he may never get a chance to blow up our blue-green marble.

You might not know it, but two other films are actually opening in wide release this weekend: the horror film, “Silent House” and the Eddie Murphy morality tale, “A Thousand Words.”

Open Road’s R-rated chill pill “Silent House,” from the creators of the shark filled waters of “Open Water,” should be able to put a decent scare in audiences as it haunts 2,000+ houses: $11 million.  

And last but certainly least, Eddie Murphy stars in Paramount’s “A Thousand Words.” In just 1,500+ theatres, the PG-13 comedy/drama/dramedy/disaster is headed towards “Pluto Nash” territory. Or is it “Imagine That” territory? Or “Meet Dave” territory? Never mind, you get the idea--$4 million. At least if “John Carter” bombs, no one will have any words left over to discuss “A Thousand Words.” Well played, Paramount, well played indeed.

Top 5 Weekend Estimates

1.       JOHN CARTER - $45 mil

2.       THE LORAX - $43 mil

3.       SILENT HOUSE - $11 mil

4.       PROJECT X - $10 mil

5.       ACT OF VALOR - $8 mil


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