John Carter is a pretty serious piece of fiction that cost about $250m (£157m) to make, making it one of the top five most expensive films ever made – and that’s before anyone mentions the marketing budget, which came in at another $100m.
The film is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel John Carter of Mars, and charts protagonist John Carter’s interplanetary adventures in a bonanza of 3D effects and digital rendering. The studio even got rain-maker Andrew Stanton, who had smash hits with Finding Nemo and WALL-E, to direct it.
It was hoped that it would become Disney’s next big franchise, but gone are the heady days when the movie industry could trot out a few cash-cow blockbusters a year and use the mountain of bunce to finance a whole batch of less bankable films.
The film has actually taken more than $170m at the box office, but it is thought that about half of this will go to cinema owners, meaning that the film-makers will get back barely a quarter of their total investment. Thankfully, Walt Disney is buttressed quite substantially by its TV business as well as all the theme parks and merchandise that it flogs to the parents of enthusiastic children worldwide. The company brought in a massive $40.8bn (£25.74bn) revenue in 2011 according to its latest figures.
But this won’t be much consolation to the big-wigs at Disney HQ, who spent more on this than James Cameron did on Avatar (according to the official record), except the latter went on to make about $2.8bn (£1.76bn) at the box office, smashing records left, right and centre. Rupert Murdoch, no stranger to bad news himself, will doubtless be enjoying Disney’s plight - his studio, 20th Century Fox, made Avatar.
Not only that, but just as Disney has been making millions from film-related merchandise all these years, so it was probably hoping to cash in on a computer game spin-off and maybe a couple of movie sequels over the next few years. This no longer looks likely. So it’s back to the drawing board for this children’s entertainment behemoth. Perhaps they over-estimated how much interest there could possibly be in yet another Martian epic. It just goes to show that however much the film industry suits might wish it otherwise, creative endeavour is always uncertain.
- Picture: Chordboard via Wikimedia Commons