Sunday, April 22, 2012

John Carter: $200 Million Film Without A Star


You may not have seen the film John Carter, but you probably heard about it.  This $200 Million box-office bomb has had led to Disney Studio Chief Rich Ross’ decision to resign from the company.  When a film loses money (in this case, a lot of money) people want to know what went wrong.  Was it a bad movie?  Was it poorly advertised?  Was it a great movie that audiences were just not interested in seeing?

You don’t have to see the movie to understand what went wrong.  The film has a 51% approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website, so slightly more than half of the critics liked the movie.  That does not signify whether the movie will be successful or not.  So the critics and word-of-mouth did not make John Carter bomb.  I’ll explain the biggest mistakes that occurred.

Think fast… Who is the star of the film?

John Carter is played by Taylor Kitsch.  I did not know the answer by watching the trailer because I did not recognize him.  He’s a no-name star.  I’m not just saying that because I didn’t know who he is.  If you look at the films that he has made prior to this one, he has very few film credits.  Disney invested $200 Million to make a movie, and did not spend $20 Million on an actor who audiences would be familiar with… like Will Smith or Russell Crowe.  If a studio wants to make a sci-fi action movie, Will Smith would have been the perfect choice.  He’s Mr. Fourth of July.  No actor in the last 20 years has been more successful in sci-fi films than Will Smith.  To spend $200 Million to make a movie and not to put a known star in the picture is a huge mistake.  We’ll never know if Will Smith could have made this movie profitable, but if he was the star (and if it came out on July 4th), the movie would have made a lot more money than it did without a star.

But… Avatar had an unknown star?  Didn’t it?

The main actor in Avatar was Sam Worthington, but he wasn’t the star of the film.  The actual star was the director, James Cameron.  Avatar was James Cameron’s first feature film since Titanic (the highest grossing film of all time).  People know the effort and planning that goes into films by James Cameron.  He waited 12 years to make another feature film, and that film earned more money than Titanic did.  There are very few directors who call sell a film based on his or her name.  James Cameron is one of them.

The director of John Carter is Andrew Stanton, who won two Academy Awards for Disney animated films.  Sure he won two Oscars, but people don’t watch films based on his name.  While Andrew Stanton won Oscars, he has been known as an animation director, not an action director.  Disney has been known to be successful mainly through the production of animated films, not action movies.

But didn’t Disney prove that it could be successful in making action movies with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise?

The star of Pirates of the Caribbean was Johnny Depp, who was even nominated for an Oscar for his role in the first film in the franchise.

Disney and other studios need to learn that when they invest $200 Million to make a movie, they should have a well-known star or a very well known director.  Had they hired a random, unknown actor as the lead in the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, it may have not been successful.  Small films can be successful based on the reviews.  People usually see big-budget action films because they want to see something fun and exciting.  They also want to see one of their favorite actors or actresses when they go to the theater to see that fun and exciting film.  To spend so much money on the production of a film, and to make the film without either an unknown actor or very well-known director is a bad decision that cost Disney a lot of money.
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