Director Andrew Stanton Reflects on the Poor ‘John Carter’ Box Office

Published 3 years ago by , Updated October 8th, 2013 at 6:12 am,

john carter andrew stanton Director Andrew Stanton Reflects on the Poor John Carter Box Office

Like Brad Bird before him, Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton was looking to step out from the Pixar “academy” of animated films and into the world of live-action directing. Unfortunately, unlike Bird, Stanton’s first film John Carter was not a success – considered among this year’s colossal box office failures.

Now that he’s gearing up to return to the franchise that made him a household name, Stanton reflects back on his John Carter work, but doesn’t try too hard to figure out where it went wrong. In his mind there were difficult elements to “crack” about the property, and unfortunately the production was unsuccessful in that endeavor.

From the start, signs of trouble reared their head, but fans of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and Stanton’s animated films remained steadfast in their hope that the film would be good. Eventually, though, when able to judge the final product, it just didn’t hit the mark for a lot of folks.

Some critics point to the film’s marketing as a major reason behind its failure, as evidenced by Disney’s decision to cut the “of Mars” part of the title in favor of the simplified John Carter. Unfortunately, that decision undercut the whole purpose of the movie: to take audiences on a journey to a new planet, as seen through the eyes of this Civil War veteran.

But, as we said, Stanton doesn’t blame the marketing for John Carter‘s failure – he and the studio worked diligently to find the perfect way to market the movie. He tells the LA Times:

“We didn’t always agree on which direction to take every step of the way, but there was never serious contention. The truth was everyone tried their very best to crack how to sell what we had, but the answer proved elusive.”

Amidst Burroughs fans lambasting the production, Stanton tried to remain optimistic about the title change – proclaiming that it isn’t until the end that John Carter becomes “of Mars” – but even that seemed like a stretch. In retrospect, the decision to change the title didn’t lead to Disney taking nearly a $200 million loss on the film, but it couldn’t have helped.

John Carter fails to top the box office 570x306 Director Andrew Stanton Reflects on the Poor John Carter Box Office

Other astute fans pointed towards John Carter‘s reshoots as a major sign that trouble was brewing, but Stanton remains steadfast in his claims that those were simply a necessary part of the filmmaking process. The director had always planned to use additional days of shooting to fine-tune the project, but in light of the title change it looked like he was restructuring the film.

The Wall-E director hopes that one day John Carter will find a cult sci-fi/fantasy following like Blade Runner or Wizard of Oz, but for now he’s thinking about his future projects. Next up Stanton has Finding Nemo 2, a follow-up to (what else) his Oscar-winning Pixar film. Some fans might be questioning Stanton’s decision to return to Nemo – saying it’s a reaction to the poor John Carter reception – but the director reveals it was always part of the plan.

Yes, if John Carter had been a success Disney would have requested two more films from Taylor Kitsch and co., but since that is no longer in the cards, Finding Nemo 2, was bumped up several places on the docket.

“What was immediately on the list was writing a second ‘Carter’ movie. When that went away, everything slid up…I know I’ll be accused by more sarcastic people that it’s a reaction to ‘Carter’ not doing well, but only in its timing, but not in its conceit.”

Andrew Stanton may have struggled with his first attempt at live-action directing, but that shouldn’t deter him from giving it another shot. Despite a disappointing box office return, John Carter still received a healthy portion of positive reviews (our Kofi Outlaw gave it 3.5 stars). Perhaps after Finding Nemo 2 makes a big splash (pun intended) for Pixar, he’ll get another chance.

Source: LA Times

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  1. Speaking of Brad Bird, there’s a certain OTHER Pixar franchise that merits a sequel…

    • Seriously, incredibles sequel when?

      • Yeah, ironic how one of the more sequel-worthy of the Pixar movies (and in a genre particularly prone to sequels, no less) hasn’t gotten a number two yet when Monsters is getting one. I understand the merchandising behind Cars 2 but why Monsters University?

        • Agreed…I did not like the first Cars, and I’m not bothering to see the second, nor attend Cars Land or whatever it’s called. The Incredibles was such a breath of fresh air for that genre of movies, and it was incredibly smart and funny. Monsters Inc. was OK, but it’s not in my top 3 favorite Pixar movies. Incredibles begs for a sequel!

      • YES! Incredibles needs a sequel. That is one non comic superhero film i just love with a passion. The whole no cape thing just made me laugh my *## off.

      • we have been teased by this for a long time: until they sign the principles and begin dialogue recording, it is just smoke. I HOPE they do it, as Incredibles is one of mine and my kids favorites of all time!! So, so please let it be a “yes”.

      • Thank You! WHen the hell am I going to get an “Incredibles” sequel. It seems like every other pixar movie is getting their sequels, I mean seriously “Cars” gets a sequel but we still can’t get an “Incredibles” sequel. Granted I know it was said that they were waiting for the right story instead of just rushing it which I understand, but how many years has it been since the first one. I ready for an “Incredibles 2″…

  2. I enjoyed the movie. Some of my family members I dragged along to see it liked it better than Thor (we watched it on Blu-ray the same weekend.) So that tells me it wasn’t a total bomb entertainment wise.

    I think part of the problem (among several) was the lackluster score. It simply didn’t draw you into the movie.

    They also screwed the marketing by not showing how the novels, on which the movie was based, were a big influence on some of our favorite franchises such as Star Wars and Superman.

    • You are so right: the modern blockbuster needs all the “external” stimuli to get ME [the paying audience] to buy into the movie/franchise. Well put.

  3. The problem with this film was that nobody really wanted to go see it, i didn’t watch the film until it came out on DVD and I watch most crap that comes out at the cinema 😀

    • That no one wanted to see it is fairly obvious. But in your opinion why? Didn’t look good? Poor plot? Didn’t make sense? Something else?

      • I actually really liked the film and read the short novel when i was younger, but the trailers and advertisements just didn’t interest me and i just kept forgetting about it, I talked a lot about it on my review of it 😀

        • Ahh, the crappy marketing.

          • Guys, to be honest I think it’s sad, but I must admit that the quality of a movie is not usually reflected by its box office, look at the Transformers films; they say enough. Besides, usually apart from with word of mouth, if someone doesnt like a movie its too late, they’ve already paid for a ticket! So what difference does the view of preconceived fans really make, they are already reeled in to see it no matter what they’ve heard, they need to know what it would be like to see it! The problem was this was a long forgotten franchise in the public eye. The flux of remakes, spin-offs, prequels, interquals, sequels and adaptations in cinema today shows how attached audiences feel to the familiarity of the well known “intellectual” properties and even if this was the first of the space operas and whatnot, what value does originality really have in the eyes of the mainstream these days, we’ve been fed on too little of it. But I agree, both me and my girlfriend feel like it needed to be publicised as the original trend setter and father of sci-fi fantasy that it was. Maybe then at least one of us would have watched it 😛 But personally even though i’ve had no rush or pent up desire to see the film due to a lack of knowledge of the franchise (another reason why people probs havent filled the cinema seats and dvd sales), I still really want to see it eventually, so maybe the film will have better luck on the TV box, and beyond! I can imagine it happening quite easily.

    • Marketing had little to nothing to do with this flop. Had it been a good movie, word would have spread, and the masses would have seen it. The plot was lacking, the dialogue was atrocious, and many of the characters, including the main character himself, were uncharismatic and uninteresting. Those who liked it, thinking themselves right and everyone else wrong, rationalize its failure by blaming it on the marketing. Please.

      • Don’t get me wrong I understand the mixed bag of reviews, the film was cheesy and a little on the unstructured side, but some people found it fun and some didn’t plus it didn’t seem to have a target audience but also didn’t appeal to the mass market which is probably its biggest down fall 😀

      • ^^^

        • ^^^
          This meaning “what Jeff said”

      • I agree with you the film suffered from a lot of problems but do think Marketing did play a part in it. Maybe not a large part but more like, “final nail in the coffin” type of way.

      • I liked the movie a lot and I do not blame the marketing !
        Film is and was no Failure,just some Topics and retro style movies do not fit the masses,means…it has a TARGET Audience its Aiming at,and is not watered aim at all..the masses,thats all !

        People who like pulp stories and adventure movies loved it mostly.
        People who..masses,follow the trend and the critics and have no own opinion mostly did not ! But then again..u can’t put it this way !

        So we could ask what makes a GOOD movie,and i think…everybody feels different about that !

        In the end..John Carter was a good movie,for many people who actually watched it ! Box office never reflects on what is good or bad !

  4. Box office aside, John Carter was a better movie than Mission Impossible 4. C’est la vie!

  5. Think the major problem here was people are far more educated to buy the whole life on mars thing, it’s a little too close to home. Also the source material has been raped to death by multiple film makers especially George Lucas, so we have seen it all before.

    You know i kinda liked it, a little bit, but i was only interested in seeing it after it became a massive flop. Before that i had no intention of seeing it.

    • Yeah I think people missed the idea that John not only traveled to Mars but into the distant past of the planet.

      • It was not the distant past of the planet it was the same time that he was in (the end of the civil war). The don’t go into it too much but mars was once like earth lush and green.

  6. Three things, Badly done action scenes, completely uninteresting trailers, Taylor Kitsch!

  7. I liked the movie.Don’t understand why it floped.

  8. I really liked John Carter. I watched it twice in one month and liked it even better the second time around. But did I watch it in the theater? No, sir. The answer why I didn’t go see it and waited for the Blu-ray instead is as easy as it is common these days: it was only available in 3D.

  9. Maybe a jumping man on Mars with aliens doesn’t appeal to kids… wait, that isn’t right. XD
    I don’t know why this film didn’t do well, maybe they didn’t promote it good enough? I don’t remember the films that came out the same time as this but could it have had serious competition? I thought it was really good and I hope the franchise that they wanted is still going to happen.
    They picked the main guy so now they gotta stick with him.

  10. to those who are saying that John Carter was “cheesy” or “poorly structured”, or had bad dialogs… all I can say is “really”??

    Have any of you watched the original Star Wars? In retrospect, the film is just awful! IT was cheesy, IT was poorly structured, IT had bad dialogs, IT had bad actors, and IT was FAR from original.. had there never been John Carter of Mars, there would never have been a Star Wars.

    John Carter was a far better film in every respect.

    • Ill have to disagree the dialogue in the original 3 star wars was pretty good and great in some aspects. I Will agree not all the acting was that great. On the other hand the characters in star wars were far more interesting

    • Are you SERIOUSLY saying that John Carter is better in any aspect than any Star Wars movie, let alone the original trilogy?? Stunning.

      • Having been a huge Star Wars fan since I first saw it in a drive-in back in 1977, I will state unequivocally that John Carter is a better movie than the Star Wars prequels.

        And I don’t hate the Star Wars prequels.

        • John Carter had the exact swashbuckling high adventure vibe that the prequels was attempting. When I saw it, I remember coming out and saying ‘that’s what the prequels should’ve been,’ and then I took my family again the next day. I think the marketing and title change robbed it of its entire identity as a pulp space opera and it got the perception of Prince of Persia in space as a result. I really liked the movie and am sad that it won’t get a sequel. I’d put it at a 7/10, and it could’ve easily been an 8 if some fixes in the editing room had been made, and a 9 if it’d been cast a bit better. But yeah…way better than the SW prequels. Imagine Stanton directing Star Wars…

  11. John carter was bad…
    But better than Star wars…i think if i was younger in eighties then i would’ve liked it…so cheesy…it was ahead of its time…that’s why people like it so much.

  12. the marketing for me, i enjoyed it, but i didnt know almost anything about it, i had to actually look it up to see what it was. And jeff is talking crap that marketing didnt have anything to do with it, if you didnt like it fine but dont just discount what is obvious either. it did need more polish, but on the whole i also liked it better than i did thor, (Branagh should stay away from action) also would have loved it to have opened up some more space opera type movies dammit.

  13. grat as a movie, But a tribal adaption of the books (princess of mars and gods of mars.I know a lot of fans of the books that did not go to see it, just because they did such a horrible adaption of the book. I think the movie would have done a lot better if they had done there one thing and not tidied it to the books or if they had did a more faithful adoption of the books.

  14. I dunno, I thought the movie was very bland. The depiction of Mars was boring and the CGI was really iffy at times. I don’t think the movie had any drawing factor that made people want to see it. It probably deserved to make a little more money than it did but I don’t think it ever would have been a huge blockbuster. I think Disney could’ve made the movie for a lot less money either way. Hopefully they learn huge budgets won’t always equal success.

  15. Lol at this movie being better than star wars.

    • I have to laugh at that, too. The original Star Wars trilogy was far superior, as the characters, plot, and story were far more captivating and interesting. As much as I disliked the three prequels, even they were better, although ever so slightly, than John Carter.

      • ^^^
        Yeah for sure. Except I think the prequels were way better than John Carter—not slightly.

        But mostly I’m amused at the idea even being brought up that John Carter is in the same league as the most legendary space opera of all time. Like, why is this even put forth? What world am I in right now?

        • As I alluded to before, some of the people who liked John Carter can’t comprehend why the rest of us didn’t like it, so it appears they get overly defensive of it, in may cases blaming its failure on bad marketing, and in an absurd few cases, claiming that it is actually better than Star Wars…

          • I meant in “many” cases…

            • Yeah I agree. But it shows a lack of ability to take a step back and look at the big picture objectively.

              I mean, I can commiserate with people who have wild ideas. Everyone has to have a few “out there” opinions, that is what makes us unique…but sometimes it goes too far!

  16. I think it was just too dated and if they had tried to update it they would have been been lambasted for doing so. Heck they couldn’t even get away with shortening the name.

    The other problem was the stars. They just weren’t up to the task.

    • I will tell you as a fan of the book that the movie is not even close to the books. Most did not care about the name change of the movie. It was that the characters personalities, the way the portrayed mars, the story, none of them were even close to the way the books portrayed them (actors did not help either). If they had mad the movies more like the books I think it would have been a lot better movie (also change up the actors).

  17. I think the demise of the film had little to do with the film that we saw on the screen. I think a lot of it had to do with a combination of these five things:

    1 – Bad marketing.
    Quite a bit of this was on Stanton’s part. While it doesn’t help if the head of marketing was new to the film industry. The name change was indeed something he approved of according to several sources (including this one in the article) – however- remind me again what did that title card read at at the end of the film…? Wasn’t it….“John Carter of Mars”? That’s one heck of a smoking gun. Last spring I thought it was Stanton’s doing as a protest to Disney’s marketing. Since then I am convinced it was the other way around. They could have saved a few million in marketing. They also could have kept the original release date. Re-shoots didn’t help the film; and most of those had to be connected to the…

    2 – 3-D conversion
    Good or bad, most audiences shy away from most conversions.

    3 – The budget….and the internet pundits
    Stanton says the film didn’t go over budget. If you take his word at face value, fair enough. However, in the weeks leading up to release and during the film’s initial run, that’s ALL you heard about. That’s about all I heard, anyway. “The film needs to make 400 million” or something like that “Disney will have a 150 million to 200 million loss” to follow it. It must have drove Stanton mad. If a general movie-going audience were going to see the film and already heard it was a bomb, would THEY hesitate to see it? That might go for a few movie/SF geeks too. “Wait for video” and thoughts like that.

    4- The film was based on a series of novels which inspired other filmmakers and/or movies.

    Nothing really wrong with that. The film can be enjoyed on some levels. But even if the novels the film is based on pre-dates most other sci-fi and superhero type films… it would be seen as covering the same grounds as those films. Some argue this was also a fault of marketing, by not letting a (general) audience know this. I strongly disagree. I don’t care what pre-dates what. It is up to the filmmakers to keep a character relevant and interesting. Story too. Imagine, if you will, that JC came out before Star Wars Attack Of The Clones. Would the ‘arena’ battle between Carter and the beasts be more thrilling? The film was good, I liked it overall. That said, there wasn’t anything really “special” about the film’s lead character. Or the villains. Or the story. Everything came out ‘average’. Average isn’t making the cut.

    5 – Name an actor in this film that was the lead in another film this year that sunk like a Battleship. He was alright in a supporting role in a film that also featured his JC leading lady Lily Collins….but that role was never fully realized. And I actually am more forgiving with that X-Men film. But you got to wonder. Perhaps Taylor is better off playing a Baseball slugger named Casey.


    • Just an FYI but Stanton had total control of everything related to this movie. From marketing to creative control to directing to everything. Disney had enough confidence in him by delivering Pixar hits like Nemo and WALL-E that they just turned it ALL over to him which was the big mistake.

      So when it came to marketing is was Stanton himself who decided what clips to turn over to the marketing dept, the tone of the previews, music, etc. The end result was Stanton didn’t give Disney what they really needed or the freedom to market it they way they thought it should have been.

  18. I think the marketing really is to blame. There are plenty of other movies of this apparent calibre and they manage to make more money – John Carter just didn’t sell itself well.

    When I saw the trailer, all I thought was: “OK, so some dude’s in Mars, doing a lot of CGI fighting – pass”.

    I think if they’d highlighted the Civil War veteran aspect a bit more I’d be more interested. As it was all I saw was a random dude fighting monsters, so obviously I didn’t get it.

  19. Did anyone else notice that the CGI dog was the most lifelike character? Not being sarcastic here. I seriously found him the most compelling character.

    • EVERYBODY loved Woola. My one disappointment with the movie was that I couldn’t buy a Woola toy. Seriously, Disney? NO John Carter toys? A movie full of alien warriors and flying battleships, and the King of All Product Tie-Ins doesn’t bother to release ANY toys???

      It’s like they *wanted* to not make money. . .

      • Yeah good point.

  20. Ultimately the fault lies with Disney for turning over total control to one man, Stanton, who took the project WAY too personally. Instead of telling the story from the books, he twisted facts, mashed together stories and changed elements that otherwise would have been great if he had just been willing to LET the original books tell the story.

    An example of this is why the White Apes were turned from semi-intelligent creatures with the ability to reason and wield primitive weapons into nocturnal, blind and mindless beasts. Having an intelligence behind those eyes would have made the White Apes much more terrifying but they were just turned into a tool to further a single action scene. What a waste and a prime example of how Stanton ruined his own movie.

    The ironic thing about all that was, he claimed this was his dream project, he loved the books and he was going to stay true to them. So much fail on so many levels.

    • He also changed the personalities of almost every character in the film. Deja Thoris started out as a very selfish character in the movie, but in the book she would do anything to save here people. She was the one that wanted to get married so that the war would stop, here people wanted to fight to the last man so she would not have to. The made the red men so weak and cowardly it was almost funny. And don’t even get me started on how they changed John Carter’s character around. If I had not been told that this movie was based on the books I would not have even know that it was. If they had changed the name of the character then there would be no tie in at all with the books.

      • Agreed on this. John Carter himself was a man of extraordinary charisma and courage, regularly described as the Virginian fighting man. Perhaps it’s American self-flagellation, but they seemed unable to portray a character who had fought for the south in the Civil War as anything other than a Negro hating psychopath, or a snivelling mass of neuroses and regrets. Since the former is unlikely in the lead character of a movie by Disney, the latter was all they were able to use.

        A more healthy depiction, of a man who had fought for the wrong side, but having lost accepted it and moved on, is not Hollywood enough.

        No mention of course of Carter’s immortality, such an important part of the story if he’s going to marry a woman of a race who live for a thousand years.

        • I think you James, myself [and others who know the books], are all on the same page. From small changes like making the Tharks only 10′ high with no bug eyes to having the Thoats be bovine based instead of equine and then turning the Thern into bald, all powerful beings that drain a planet’s resources and then planet hop to the next rich world? (while it was an interesting idea to explain Mars’ decline, had zero basis in the books)…They were powerful only because of the mystique that had built up about them and their religion over millennia. The Thern change was a real deal breaker for me and all I could keep thinking was WTF, really?!

          This movie was about as far away as you can get from the books while still looking like them.

  21. My take – John Carter was a very good film. I loved it. And I’m very picky about films. This draws oddly rare attention to the fact that box office success is not the same thing as quality. Sure, different people like different movies, and it is an odd story conceptually, but I do blame the marketing. John Carter IMO was far better than Spiderman or Brave, and honestly the only films I’ve seen this year and enjoyed as much as JC have been Moonrise Kingdom and The Dark Knight Rises.

  22. And also – John Carter was sooo much better than Star Wars Episodes I and II that it is not even funny. Yet they predictably made the big $$$ at the box office, because everyone is predisposed to going regardless of quality.

  23. I blame Taylor Kitsch, he had several BBBOF’s (big budget box office flops)

    • i agree with you, but doesn’t this and Battleship make for two? Has he flopped anything else Lol?

      • Savages

    • Kitsch has been very, very good in other things. See “The Bang Bang Club” which is on Netflix right now – he was excellent in that, and iconic on “Friday Night Lights.” Let’s be honest, if “Battleship” had starred Daniel Day Lewis, Cate Blanchett and Phillip Seymour Hoffman instead of Tim Riggins, Rihanna and Eric Northman, it still would have been an awful movie.

      • I thought Kitsch was just fine in JC. I’m not sure that I’ve seen any of his other movies.

  24. I think one of it’s biggest flaws besides marketing is when it was released. After Alice in Wonderland did well, Disney is convinced that March is now a viable time to release a big budget film. Hopefully, they realize that Alice in Wonderland was kind of just a random occurrence now (though they don’t seem to with Oz the Great and Powerful looking at a march release)

  25. Why the movie didn’t work.

    1. Changing the source material

    If you want to immediately turn off your audience especially for those who read the books change the story for the movie. That is the first thing that always makes me dislike a movie based on a book. I spend the rest of the movie thinking “thats not in the book… thats not in the book…” and in most cases the additions are not warranted.

    2. The original book isn’t that good.

    Seriously it was meant as a serial comic type story. The plot revolves around fight after fight after fight with whole chapters of fight descriptions. There isn’t much of a plot to work with.

    • I have to disagree about there being not much of a plot. There is a lot more to the books then fight after fight. If you want to see some one that did the books the right way pick up Dynamite’s warlord of mars. They are extremely faithful to the books and show what could have been done with this movie.

  26. John Carter is a great adventure film — very enjoyable, with many breath-taking scenes and top-notch special effects (for example the Tharks are amazingly realistic). Lynn Collins gave an excellent performance as Dejah Thoris. Unfortunately, a number of things contributed to its poor reception including bad press and internet gossip before anyone had even seen the film! Plus poor release timing, the name change, the lack of a heavy promotion campaign (as Disney gave the Marvel film). And of course there was the firing of Studio Chief Dick Cook and his replacement with a TV executive who had no apparent desire to see John Carter succeed. If people had simply walked into the theaters and watched this film as fun entertainment, without the prejudgements, the film would have been a success. By the way, I wish Disney would actually release bookkeeping figures on current income for this film — box office was 282 million, DVD/BluRay was approximately 60 million. If you add in TV sales and downloads, plus DVD/BluRay sales around the world then you see that this film did respectable business. It definitely did not lose as much as Disney wrote off for accounting purposes in the first quarter. This film will end up being profitable as well as just plain enjoyable.

    • Calin, it simply amazes me how you and others automatically discount the fact that myself and countless others actually saw the movie and DISLIKED it. Marketing had nothing to do with why we DISLIKED it. Attempt to rationalize its failure all you want, though, if it helps you.

      • It’s perfectly reasonable to not like the film, but that’s not an excuse to discount the utterly botched marketing campaign. It was a total mess, and the reasons have been discussed ad nauseam. They’re no secret.

        Anecdotally, almost everyone I know who’s seen the film liked it a lot. The Audience aggregate on Rotten Tomatoes is over 60%. The general consensus is positive. Obviously not everyone likes it, but that doesn’t explain the lack of box office.

        • It’s amazing that any of us knew the film was actually even out there, what with the “bad” marketing and all. I just don’t understand how anyone knew to see it…

  27. The irony is that John Carter was a very good movie (i thought it was one of the best sci-fi movies i’ve seen in a long time) and apparently didn’t do well. Ghost protocol by brad bird was a mess and is considered a success.

    Andrew Stanton has my vote for Star Wars VII director.

  28. Three things wrong with this movie.
    andrew stanton
    michael chabon
    mark andrews

  29. I enjoyed John Carter. It’s one of the few movies I don’t mind seeing on cable (whenever I’m trying to find something interesting to watch). I remember I kept catching bits and parts on cable (end/middle). So I got up my gumption to watch it all the way through and fell in love with the aliens that (look like grasshoppers) They were so cute (each had their own little personality. Well anyway, I’m glad my son bought the dvd. Its a nice old story I hear. By the way I am from DC and attended Stanton Elementary School and John Burroughs Elementary. I think this film grew on me or something. Keep up the good work.