Andrew Stanton’s 3D sci-fier John Carter “will have to earn about $700 million to justify a sequel,” according to a New Yorker profile on Stanton. Why so much dough? That’s because Stanton’s first live-action movie cost a reported $250 million – not including the marketing/distribution expenses to be incurred by distributor Disney.
For comparison’s sake: Stanton’s Finding Nemo took in $867.79 million worldwide in 2003 (about $1.068 billion today*); WALL-E collected $521.31 million in 2008/09 (about $548 million today*). Could John Carter earn about as much as Finding Nemo or at least about 50 percent more than WALL-E?
Well, John Carter is chiefly taken from one of a series of lesser known early 20th-century, Mars-set novels – known as the Barsoom series – by Tarzan‘s Edgar Rice Burroughs, in which an earthling is transported to war-torn Mars. The movie adaptation features names that don’t carry much box office pull, whether in North America or elsewhere: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Bryan Cranston, Samantha Morton, Thomas Haden Church, Dominic West, Polly Walker, and James Purefoy.
But then again, however derivative, James Cameron’s Avatar screenplay was officially an “original” piece of work, while the 3D sci-fier featured the likes of Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver, none of whom could be considered major box office draws. We all know how far Avatar went even though it wasn’t based on a Marvel character. Of course, two major reasons for the film’s success was Cameron’s association with a previous worldwide blockbuster, Titanic, and Avatar‘s widely admired 3D technology.
Now, despite Finding Nemo‘s and WALL-E‘s highly impressive box office revenues, Andrew Stanton isn’t himself a box office magnet like Cameron or Steven Spielberg. In fact, Stanton’s previous two movies were Pixar hits. The Disney name and the studio’s unavoidably strong marketing campaign may help give John Carter an initial push, but even the almighty Disney is hardly infallible. Earlier this year, another Disney-distributed Mars-related movie, Mars Needs Moms, became one of the studio’s – indeed, one of Hollywood’s – biggest financial disasters ever.
Also, bear in mind that grosses of $700 million worldwide translate into about $350 million for the studio after exhibitors get their share. In other words, if Disney spends another $100 million marketing John Carter – as it inevitably will so as to further insure their $250 million investment – Stanton’s movie would merely break even. A sequel would be guaranteed only thanks to global ancillary revenues (VOD, DVDs, TV rights, toys, assorted tie-ins, etc.), which skyrocket when a movie is a major theatrical blockbuster.
We’ll find out how far John Carter will travel once the Disney release hits theaters on March 9, 2012.
* An approximation using the US inflation index. Actual updated figures might be quite different considering foreign currency exchange fluctuations.
John Carter picture: Disney Enterprises.