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.


“John Carter” is Wrong

‘John Carter’ hits the screens today. It is tracking to open up at around $25 million for the weekend and may even lose out to ‘The Lorax’. “John Carter’ is a much better film than the animated kids film that tries too hard to be cute, but that won’t be the story on Monday. The story on Monday is how a $250 million film did so little money. As usual the story will be wrong.

The Andrew Stanton film is an obvious labor of love, albeit an expensive one. It is also pretty good. It’s just not great and has several problems that hurt its chances before it was even made.

The first thing wrong with ‘John Carter’ is the source material. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ popular novels are quaint to modern audiences. They almost seem like Horatio Alger stories set on another world. The modern audience is more sophisticated than that for a large epic. Although if that were the only problem, the film might be able to overcome it.

The second problem is Mars. We all know what Mars is really like. A dusty planet that may have supported life at one time, it is essentially lifeless now. This is known and understood. The ability to enter the world of Barsoom (Rice’s name for Mars) is hampered by known facts.

The third problem with the film has nothing to do with the film itself. It has to do with the laziness of the audiences. Since it is not a well known comic book or has immediate tie-ins to a fast food restaurant, awareness is limited. The marketing folks over at Disney, the distributor, made several key mistakes in raising awareness of the film.

The result, ‘John Carter’ will be considered an ill-conceived flop. John Carter’ starts off with three strikes against it.

But it is not a flop.

It has lots going for it. Taylor Kitsch works well as John Carter, Lynn Collins as the Princess will remind many of a Frank Frazzetta warrior queen. The special effects are solid. The plot doesn’t carve out new territory, but is solid. If you push aside all the strikes, ‘John Carter’ is a pleasant, matinee-type diversion, far more deserving of a kinder fate than it will receive.

The 10 Worst Mars Films

‘John Carter’ opens tomorrow. The $250 million epic is an Edgar Rice Burroughs book adapted for the screen and directed by Pixar’s talented Andrew Stanton. As a result, there is a lot of talk about great Martian films. I’m taking the opposite tack, the 10 worst films about Mars.

The very first film about Mars was in 1910 when some guy named Edison. He made ‘A Trip to Mars’. Since then there have been serious and trashy. The themes usually revolve around Mars needing some natural resource from us, usually as breeding stock. It seems they are jealous of our blue planet. It makes then red with anger.

Here are 10 films that have little going for them except their ‘badness’, and I mean that in the most complimentary of ways, in order of release date.

1) Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952)
Martians plan to blast Earth out of its orbit and replace it with Mars! This 50s serial is fun to watch for its very campy nature but also for a very young Leonard Nimoy (as a zombie). Equally interesting is Tom Steele, noted stuntman, in a role simply stated as “Thug in Launch”

2) Devil Girl From Mars (1954)
Pouty lipped Martian Babe dressed in leather, has a ray gun and a killer robot. Her needs Earth hunks for breeding purposes. Apparently Martian men lack the right stuff. David MacDonald directs this opus while Patricia Laffa looks great in leather.

3) Angry Red Planet (1959)
The first manned flight to Mars returns. Of the two survivors one has a green growth on his arm, and the other, under hypnosis, tells of their escape. Mars is inhabited with man-eating plants, giant Bat-Rat-Spider-Crab monsters and a one-eyed monster with dissolving super-powers. Sounds like wonderful a vacation spot. Orbitz can get your a deal.

4) Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Santa is captured by Martians to stop Earth kids from being cheery. But Santa teaches those little green brats the real meaning of Christmas. The silliest movie ever made, directed by Nicholas Webster and starring John Call, Pia Zadora, Jamie Farr.

5) The Maid and the Martians (Pajama Party) (1964)
Martian teenager, Gogo, comes to Earth in preparation of a Martian invasion lead by Big Bang (Don Rickles).  Tommy Kirk and Annette Funicello play the titular stars who find love knows planetary bounds. Great to see legends Buster Keaton, Dorothy Lamour, and Elsa Lanchester. Look for a very young Teri Garr as one of the many Pajama Girls.

6) Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965)
An atomic war on Mars destroys the planet’s women (again?). Martian Princess Marcuzan travels to earth seeking new breeding stock. Landing in Puerto Rico, a brain damaged android terrorizes the island while Martians raid pool parties. Respected actor James Karen probably changed agents after starring in this.

7) Planet of Blood (also called Queen of Blood) (1966)
In 1990, an Earth vessel is sent to rescue an alien ship which has crashed on Mars. A team of astronauts discover a lone survivor, a green-skinned female with a horny taste for human blood and some eggs in need of delivery. John Saxon, Basil Rathbone and Dennis Hopper star

8) Mars Needs Women (1967)
A dying race (who else, Martians) need nubile Earthlings for hanky panky. They gravitate towards strippers, co-eds and flight attendants, just like any normal hormonally deranged teenage boy would do. Will the friendly Martians manage to succeed on their mission? Will the evil human scientists stop them? Oh, the tension. The tag line says it all: “They were looking for chicks… to go all the way!”

9) Bad Girls from Mars (1990)
Sexy spoof about a director making a soft-porn scifi flick. The movie within a movie cost a paltry $52,000 to make and every penny is seen on the screen. Starring Edy Williams, she of hubby Russ Meyer’s ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’ infamy, the film has more to do with boobs than Mars.

10) Mars Needs Moms (2011)
The reason ‘John Carter’ is not named ‘John Carter of Mars’ is because this baby sank a company and hurt the bottom line of another. It cost $200 million and yielded less than $30. Once again, the Martians need Earthling bodies, moms, to help them survive. My aren’t we egotists to imagine how important we are to the universe?

Over the past several years, Mars has tailed off as film subject matter. Most likely because science has shown it devoid of advanced life forms. And as these films have shown, Hollywood could be accused of the same.

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.