Battleship vs John Carter: Why Some Losers Lose More


OK, so JOHN CARTER tanked. The media had a feeding frenzy. Disney chopped some heads and a good time was had by all, sort of. The film cost more than $200 million to make. It scored a measly $73 million in the States while doing better internationally to the tune of $232 million. Remember, what the studio takes in after the theaters take their taste runs around 50%. So the film, not even counting advertising and hype, lost at least $50 million. Tack in the additional costs and that number is heading towards $200 million.

Then along comes BATTLESHIP. It cost north of $200 million. It took less than $50 million domestically, but did slightly better than CARTER by taking in over $250 million internationally. It looks to lose at least $150 million., but to hear the quietude from the media, that’s chump change and hardly worth mentioning.

So why does JOHN CARTER get blasted and BATTLESHIP gets a pass?  According to the LA Times, the reasons are as petty as the movie industry itself.

First is one of spite. The media does not like the folks over at Disney. Disney is tighter than a miser with a penny and getting something other than what the handlers hand out of Disney is nigh impossible. So when bad things happen to them, the media just loves it. They get their pound of flesh.

Now toss in the pre-opening machinations. The film’s title was changed because Disney’s marketing mavens knew they had trouble. So rather than blame the film itself and its attendant egos, and blame the name. The MARS NEEDS MOM disaster had them convinced that the Red Planet evoked ill will with audiences. A similar theory was held for years about the name of Paris in a title. All the films that had Paris in them tanked until Woody Allen’s last film. The name Mars got tainted as well, at least by the guardians at Disney.

There is also the unwritten law of Hollywood,  “the first shall always gets the biggest slice.” If there are two competing film films along similar themes, the first out of the gate will usually do much better. The same is true for bad news. The first film to cost a ton and then lose a ton will get the majority of the negative ink.

And finally, BATTLESHIP’S studio, Universal, seems to have done a much better job of mitigating the bad news by handling the flop more gracefully. The folks at Disney went into panic mode and heads started rolling. If heads are to roll at Universal, it will happen sometime in the fall, long after the disaster has become a memory.

Is there any other lessons to be learned from BATTLESHIP? Not exactly or more precisely not just yet, but if there are more mega-flops like BATTLESHIP and DARK SHADOWS, (yes, Virginia, Barnabas has bitten the big loser) we may be looking at a re-thinking of the summer tentpole. Here’s a suggestion for this omnipotent studio heads. Get better writers. Have your seen BATTLESHIP? The opening is too long and since when did poetry theirs become officers in the Navy? The film was on the shoals before it started.

Disney’s Propaganda Films


There was a time when propaganda films were known for what they were, propaganda. For example, during World War II Hollywood studios actively helped in the war effort. The most famous of these films was Frank Capra’s “WHY WE FIGHT”, a collection of informational films designed to explain what the war was about. Lesser known were Walt Disney’s animated films. For example….

When you watch this film you are struck at how good the animation is and how the simplest of societal roles are magnified for war production purpose. Watching these films is in some ways quaint. We like the animation and marvel at the technique. And because we know they are historical as well as propaganda, we can be detached. We see the manipulation. We see how they are trying to work.

Today, the role of propaganda films have been taken over by documentaries and cable TV. In essence, media makers make films that do little but preach to the choir. They aren’t documentaries in the sense that they are giving a balanced approach to the topic. On the right or the left, the films are calls to action. They are designed to inflame or evoke emotional responses. We are spending less time looking at problems and more time yelling at each other. Documentaries, like the political process itself, have coarsened.

The difference between now and then is far too many people don’t see the manipulation. Far too many people don’t see how they are being used and far too many people lack the critical thinking to discern when they are being sold a bunch of snake oil.

The next time you turn on Fox News, and to a lesser extent, MSNBC, turn up the critical eye. See how they are using images and words to manipulate the content. You will discover that things have not changed all that much from the 1940s an Disney’s propaganda films. The only real difference is back then we had a real enemy. Now, as Pogo once said, the “enemy is us.”

A Rose By Any Other Name….


Hollywood is superstitious, especially when it comes to film titles. Certain words have proven themselves to be death at the box office.

For many years, films with the word ‘Paris’ in it tanked. Exhibitors avoided them. They were doomed to be box office duds. It was if the film had a very large herpes sore on its mouth, no kissing that femme. It was shunned.

It didn’t necessarily make sense or be true. It was what the business thought and what they thought was fact. Now that Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ broke the jinx maybe we’ll see more Paris named movies. I doubt it, but it is illustrative how quirky the industry is.

Now there is a new buzz kill word in film titles – Mars, as in the planet.

Pixar’s Andrew Stanton, he who made ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘Wall-E’, is set to get his life long dream movie out to the public on March 9. It is called ‘John Carter’. It was called ‘John Carter of Mars’, but the distributor nixed the title. Why? Simple. They are the same folks who gave us one of the biggest stinkers in sometime, ‘Mars Needs Moms’.  No sense in repeating that mistake, so let’s change the name and get rid of that offensive word. They also remembered Tim Burton’s ‘Mars Attacks!’ was another bomb. It isn’t the film. It’s the title. So much like the old Kremlin which dispensed with names (and people) it did not like, this distributor has done the same.

One result is that the film ‘John Carter’ is now tracking horribly. No one knows what it is. No one is sure they want to see it. It has no name recognition, a must for the attention deficit challenqed movies going public.

If it had retained the original title, at least folks would know it was a sci-fi film. With its abbreviated name it could be anything. It could be an art house film about a mid-western farmer with a penchant for tractor parts. It could be a yak-fest where a middle aged man has a fling with a 20 year old hooker, falls in love, and murders her pimp for insurance money. It could be anything.

The distributor of ‘John Carter’, Disney, is now scrambling around trying to catch some good buzz. It will be interesting to see if they can make it. Otherwise John Carter may not be from Mars, but at the bottom of a $250 million barrel.

How about this, we change the title again to something like ‘From Paris to Mars: The John Carter Story’. Catchy, no?  Would you see a film with that title? Probably not. I wouldn’t. I was an exhibitor for years. I know films with Paris in the title never make any money.

Food for Thought


There was a time when propaganda films were known for what they were. For example, during World War II Hollywood studios actively helped in the war effort. The most famous of these films was Frank Capra’s “WHY WE FIGHT”, a collection of informational films designed to explain what the war was about. Lesser known were Walt Disney’s animated films. The following is an example.

When you watch this film you are struck at how good the animation is and how the simplest of societal roles are magnified for purpose.

Today, the role of propaganda films have been taken over by documentaries. In essence, film makers make films that do little but preach to the choir. They aren’t documentaries in the sense that they are giving a fair and balanced approach to the topic. On the right or the left, the films are usually calls to action. We are spending less time looking at problems and more time yelling at each other. Documentaries, like the political process itself, has become coarse.