Why Did John Carter Flop?


Last week Walt Disney Co. released the major motion picture “John Carter”, a film they hoped to be the studios next big franchise.

Unfortunately the film is not making headlines for breaking any box office records but is going down as one of the worst flops in movie history.

CEO Robert Iger’s dream of having “John Carter” be the box office success that spawns sequels, merchandise, and theme park rides has turned out to be a nightmare.

The movie has cost Disney an approximate $350 million to produce has so far brought in a measly $30 million in the US box office in 3,749 screens. The projections for Disney to break even set the minimum they had to bring in the first week was double that. Disney’s analysts have already forecasted a $170 million loss for the movie.

What caused this flop? It seemed like the movie had all the components of a guaranteed huge box office hit, world famous director, big budget action, and a story created by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Disney missed a major component to a successful movie, good marketing. Disney appointed MT Carney as Marketing Chief; meanwhile Carney has never worked in a studio, and Carney resigned in early January being replaced by Ricky Strauss.

It is a crushing blow when a films marketing team changes just as the advertisements for the movie are about to kick into high gear. The focus of the movies marketing was in billboard and TV commercial, both, which had very poor imagery and didn’t highlight the films great action sequences.

Disney also fell flat on delivering a great ad during the Super Bowl, the commercial seemed to focus on people already knowing who the character John Carter of Mars is. Although the story of John Carter has been around for a very long time the character is not as well known as other’s like Batman and Sherlock Holmes, whose ads don’t have to explain background because of their worldwide fame.

A former Disney distribution executive is quoted, “You only get one shot at making a first impression … and that first trailer, it never jumped off, never did anything to catch that wave of anticipation that all new movies crave. That’s what so critical for a movie like this.”

It is reported that the director Andrew Stanton demanded creative control of the movies trailers and advertisement, virtually disconnecting the marketing team from doing any work.

Maybe that explains all those posters around New York City of some shirtless character and the letters “JC”, and the trailer that explained absolutely nothing of plot of the movie.

The marketing of “John Carter” was awful and will serve Walt Disney as a lesson; pouring money into a motion picture will not always bring huge returns. Like any product, no steps can be skipped and good marketing will always be a crucial step that cannot be bypassed.