Movie Editor's Blog

Movie Editor's Blog

Five reasons John Carter was a huge flop

Disney sci-fi flick 'John Carter' has become one of the biggest flops in movie history. The studio have announced that the film's theatrical run will lose them $200m (£126m).

But why has this big-budget epic become such a disaster? We investigated...

[Related story: The biggest flops of 2011]

But why did we bomb?... Maybe the answer's over there in the distance

It's all been done before

The film is based on the pulp novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, written between 1911 and 1940. The 'John Carter of Mars' stories inspired pretty much all modern sci-fi in some way from 'Star Wars' to 'Avatar', but because of this much of the action has a familiar feel.

Take James Cameron's 'Avatar', which replicates 'Carter's tired fish-out-of-water story and its lanky alien race. An unfortunate shot in the trailers of Carter covered head-to-toe in blue blood really didn't help matters. It's not really fair, but 'Carter' just felt derivative.

[Related story: The biggest A-list bombs]

The title
'John Carter of Mars' tells the audience exactly what to expect; B-movie-style thrills a-plenty. However, the decision to change the name to simply 'John Carter' was just the tip of an iceberg of bad marketing decisions.

A handful of visually stark posters couldn't combat the bland trailers and the result was an insubstantial campaign that did little to help the film. The studio wasn't sure if they wanted families or sci-fi fans to see the film. In the end they got neither.

Taylor Kitsch is not a leading man
Hollywood bigwigs have seemingly decided that Kitsch is The Next Big Thing, with the star headlining 'Carter' and the upcoming 'Battleship'. On the evidence of the former, Tom Cruise shouldn't start losing his sleep just yet.

Kitsch was okay as Carter, but a film based on a series of pretty old books needed a better-known actor in the lead. The supporting cast didn't help. The biggest names attached were Willem Defoe (who voices a CG character) and Mark Strong who, surprise surprise, plays the film's bald villain.

Dr Seuss's The Lorax
The animated feature, which opened opposite 'John Carter' in the US, surprised everyone with a very strong box office showing in its opening week. It then topped charts for the second week in a row, beating the debuting Carter to the spot. The 'toon successfully captured the family audience that Disney were going for and doomed 'Carter' in the process.

The film was boring
None of this would've really mattered of course if 'John Carter' was a really, really good film. It wasn't. The general critical consensus was that it was an over-long, incoherent mess.

The Guardian said 'John Carter' was "oppressive and... interminably long", while USA Today reckoned "the characters are one-dimensional... even in 3-D". With a duff marketing campaign, this needed strong word-of-mouth, which is nigh-on impossible with such dire write-ups.