John Carter: An Open Letter to Walt Disney Studios Chairman Richard Ross

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The following is an open letter to Rich Ross, Chairman of Walt Disney Studios,  regarding John Carter. It is a sincere request for Disney senior management to address in a public and meaningful way the many questions that remain unanswered concerning Disney’s handling of the the marketing and release of John Carter. Readers are invited to use the comment function to ask their own questions and leave comments.

Rich Ross, Chairman
Walt Disney Studios
500 South Buena Vista St.
Burbank, CA 91506

Dear Mr. Ross,
On March 20, 10 days into the theatrical run of John Carter, Walt Disney Studios issued the  following statement:

“In light of the theatrical performance of John Carter ($184 million global box office), we expect the film to generate an operating loss of approximately $200 million during our second fiscal quarter ending March 31. As a result, our current expectation is that the Studio segment will have an operating loss of between $80 and $120 million for the second quarter. As we look forward to the second half of the year, we are excited about the upcoming releases of The Avengers and Brave, which we believe have tremendous potential to drive value for the Studio and the rest of the company.”

Predictably, in the days since the statement was released, the headlines concerning John Carter have declared it a “Mega-bomb”,  effectively branding it the  “biggest flop in cinema history”.    For fans of the film who have been following developments closely, this was the final step in a series of hard-to-understand aspects of  Disney’s handling of this release.

As a fan of the movie and a Disney shareholder, I am troubled.

The Timing of the Statement
A key question concerns the timing of the statement, which was made only 10 days into the theatrical run at a point when the film had only harvested approximately 55% of its likely Box Office Gross receipts.  Clearly an official statement branding the film as the “biggest flop in cinema history” would have a chilling effect on box office receipts for the remainder of the theatrical run.  Disney offered no explanation as to why this brand-damaging statement needed to be made at such an early juncture.

My own reaction was that such an announcement made so early in a film’s theatrical run was unique .  My reaction was shared by respected film journalist Sharon Waxman, who wrote  in The Wrap:

I can’t think of a similar announcement for a single movie in recent history. In fact, most studios try to bury losses for individual pictures in their financial statements. And they always argue that long-tail revenue streams mitigate a weak box office.

Although Disney offered no explanation for the timing of the announcement, logic suggests that if questioned about it, Disney would argue that public company disclosure obligations require it.   If so, then logically one would expect to find similar statements by Disney during previous “flop” situations.  With this in mind I studied available public record documents regarding Mars Needs Moms, Prince of Persia, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice — all films which may be considered “comparables” and all of which resulted in write-downs. Mars Needs Moms in particular seems quite a bit worse than John Carter — for example, after 10 days John Carter had earned $184m and Mars Needs Moms after 10 days had earned $19M – a difference greater than the difference in budgets of the two films.    But I found no evidence of a similarly timed “bomb” announcement for Mars Needs Moms or any of the other comparables.   Can you explain this?  Specifically — why was it only John Carter that warranted such an announcement, made at such an early point when so much of the revenue was yet to be collected?  Have I missed something?  Are  there in fact equivalent announcements and I’ve just not been able to find them?

And one more point — anticipating the argument that disclosure required it, as most Wall Street analysts pointed out,  motion picture revenues account for  only 7% of Disney’s  total operating revenue, and with John Carter a subset of that 7%, the rush to announce John Carter as the “biggest flop in cinema history” becomes even harder to understand.

Why was this in the best interests of the film, its stakeholders, and Disney shareholders?

Why was this situation so different from all the others?

How would you respond to critics who say the statement unnecessarily damaged the financial interests that Disney has an obligation to protect?
Any film is a brand, and it is undeniable that by issuing a statement causing the film to be branded “Biggest Flop in Cinema History” at a point when much income remained uncollected and in play,  Disney damaged that brand and lost income for the film and the company.   This damaged the economic interests of the film, including all royalty and equity participants in the film. Given the fact that in other situations no such devastating, brand-killing, income suppressing statement was made, can you help us understand — what was the intended benefit to stakeholders in the film? How did stakeholders — particularly those who have a royalty or equity stake in the performance of the film — benefit from the announcement?

The Marketing Debacle: Why, with investment so high, was audience awareness so low?
Consider the following quote from Michael Cavna in the Washignton Post — which echoes a widely held sentiment among film journalists:

John Carter” may go down as one of Hollywood’s biggest movie flops ever. But it should rightly go down as one of the town’s biggest marketing flops ever……At least you can see some of the $250-mill on the screen. But the $100-mill should be reported to the LAPD as missing — filched clean from the company vault. It appears to have gone up in smoke as fast as honesty, loyalty and weed among the arrested-development characters on “Entourage.” How else to explain the lack of a coherent and effective promotional campaign?

What is your explanation of the spectacular failure of Disney marketing?  Disney approved an astronomically high production investment — yet the marketing was lackluster and not only failed to convince audiences to patronize the film —it failed to even create awareness at a level commensurate with the level of investment Disney had made in the film.

Let’s think about that for a second.  In marketing terms — first there is “creation of awareness”, and then  “conversion of awareness to trial”.  It is within the studio’s power  to make the first step happen — to  create awareness–while it is the public who decides whether or not they are willing to convert that awareness  to “trial” (in this case viewing of) the movie. Disney knew its first task was to achieve a very high level of awareness in order for such an expensive film to have a chance at profitability–yet the final tracking figures show that Disney fell quite short in generating awareness, achieving a level not at all commensurate with the financial model dictated by the budget that was approved by Disney management.

How does Disney explain this failure to create simple awareness of the film?   And what is the explanation as to why for this film, with its massive budget and thus massive box office requirement,  the marketing effort did not include any of the usual brand-building merchandising and cross-promotions that consumers expect from Disney.  Where were the Woola toys? The action figures? The cross-promotional tie-ins? The licensing?

As a fan of the film and Disney shareholder, I am having a hard time understanding how to reconcile the approval of a huge production investment on the one hand, and the failure to do the things necessary to achieve awareness at a level that would “give the film a chance” on the other.

As I’m sure you know, there is a substantial body of thought that by the time the film had reached its release phase, you and other senior managers had essentially given up on it.  Your  failure to even create adequate awareness lends credence to these accusations.  In other words, you had predetermined it would flop and chose not so throw ‘good money after bad’ by creating strong awareness.  If indeed this was your strategy — why now own it and admit it?  And if not, how do you explain the failure to create simple awareness?

Why was there an absence of course correction when it became apparent the marketing wasn’t working?
After the creation of awareness comes the hard part of marketing – convincing audiences to convert that awareness into interest so they will go see the movie in theaters. Disney’s performance in this regard was generally rated as extremely lackluster.  My questions do not concern the original strategy, even though I consider that strategy to have been flawed; rather I am troubled by the inflexible and monotonous nature of a campaign that seemed to be completely unresponsive to the growing body of evidence over a course of many weeks–evidence that clearly showed that the campaign was not working.

The main advertising spend for the campaign began in earnest with the release of the theatrical trailer on December 1, 2011, followed by the airing of TV spots beginning in mid-Decmeber 2011, approximately 12 weeks prior to the release of the film. As of mid December when the TV spots started, John Carter was lagging behind the March competition (Lorax, Hunger Games, Wrath of the Titans) in a wide variety of measures of audience interest: Twitter and Facebook followers and activity, movie message board activity, blog comments, etc.  Not only was the volume of “chatter” for John Carter low — but the positive/negative ratio was not good.

Clearly, then, it was critical to see what would happen when the initial salvo of nationwide TV ads began — and these began in mid December and continued steadily through the holidays.  If these ads and the other elements of the promotion were working, one would expect to see a corresponding surge in activity in the areas mentioned above –but no such surge occurred.  The activity increased, but only slightly, and by mid January it was clear that the advertising spend that was the most important part of the marketing campaign simply was not working.  Criticism of the TV spots was being heard — the “shock and awe” strategy implicit n the ape-jumping, CGI heavy (and story/character light) campaign was not generating interest and there were a wide variety of measurable statistics available to Disney that showed this.

Why did nothing change?

It is my understanding that properly managed theatrical campaigns regularly reassess and adjust based on audience reaction —  yet as observed from the outside, it seemed that Disney never adjusted the campaign in any substantial way.

Why did the all-important TV spots (which can be quickly edited and deployed)  never qualitatively change in spite of a mountain of evidence that it wasn’t working?  What would be your comment to observers who contend that Disney’s failure to react to the tepid response to the marketing strategy, and failure to at least try other themes and avenues, constitutes a  failure of professional responsibility to the film and its stakeholders to effectively market the film in which such a large investment had been made?

What will Disney do to repair the legacy of the film — a legacy which its own action damaged?
Prior to Disney’s “megaflop” announcement most analysts believed John Carter was headed for global box office receipts of approximately $300m. Now, due to the negative impact of your announcement and the subsequent negative worldwide press coverage, it seems more likely that number will be less.  Even at the reduced Global Gross,  John Carter  — Disney’s self-branded “Biggest Flop Ever” — will earn global box office receipts that are higher than many well-regarded science fiction and adventure classics of the last two decades  including  Total Recall ($267m); The Fifth Element ($263M);  A.I. ($235m);  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ($213m); Braveheart ($210m) Sleepy Hollow ($206M);  and King Arthur ($203m).  Other older sci-fi classics such as Blade Runner (opening weekend $6.1m) and 2001 Space Oddysey ($59m Gross) met with an initial critical response that is similar to that given John Carter – yet are remembered today as classics.  There are many, myself included, who feel that John Carter deserves to be remembered (and to live out its earning cycle which will last for many years) in such a pantheon of titles, and not as the part of the pantheon where your actions have placed it — alongside Ishtar, Heaven’s Gate, and Mars Needs Moms.

The question, then, is: What will you do to ensure that the legacy of the film is fairly and accurately upheld?   To the fans of the films, to the film-makers who toiled with great heart and imagination for four years; to the fans and family of Edgar Rice Burroughs, it seems that a terrible injustice has occurred and we are anxious to know what Disney will do to correct it. As a Disney shareholder I am also concerned that you take steps to rehabilitate the image of the film so that it’s longterm earnings flow is not further compromised.  What are you going to do about this?

Mr. Ross, you and Disney have been entrusted with two things that many of us consider to be quite precious:  First, you have been given stewardship of a beloved literary property that has been in print continuously for 100 years and changed the lives of scientists and storytellers from Carl Sagan to James Cameron, Ray Bradbury, Arthur Clarke, George Lucas and others. Second, you have been given responsibility for the fate of a film directed by one of our most creative and talented film-makers — a film that has clearly been made with great passion and heart and is a vibrant, luminous imagining of a strange, compelling world that has intrigued imaginations for a century.

There is a widely held perception that Disney’s performance to date in handling these two precious properties Disney has let down all of those who have a stake in the outcome of this project.  Your answers to the questions I have posed will help us better understand the decisions you have made, and your plans for the future of the film and the literary property embodied in that film.

I sincerely hope you will offer the public answers to these questions I have asked.


A Fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Andrew Stanton, and JOHN CARTER OF MARS


  • I could not agree more with everything written here. This is a total shame, which I personally feel was brought on purposefully by a vengeful studio exec trying to make a point against the man formerly in his position.

    What a world.

  • Amazing well written letter that goes into detail and outlines many sub-categories correctly and thoroughly. Disney’s actions on John Carter marketing and the flop press release raise more eyebrows than most conspiracy theories.

    Answers are not just needed, but they are demanded by fans who’s current faith in a film 65-85% of actual viewers have loved has still proven significant even after such an announcement from Disney. I’d love to see how much they’re off on those numbers($200million) after theatre releases in Japan and India, dvd sales, and merchandise.

  • Great letter. I completely agree with everything written.

    There are many of us who waited 30 years for this movie to be made, and made right. After reading all of the John Carter books, the entire Marvel Comic series from the 70’s (Which I have kept in plastic for over 30 years), I cannot express how much I enjoyed the movie. My nephew (who is over 40) traveled 450 miles just so that we could see the movie together.

    There were things done different than the books in the movie, however, most of them worked very well in the story. For people that did not read the books it all worked great.

    I also am very disappointed in Disney for literally giving up on the movie, and doing such a poor job of properly marketing the film. I did have concerns prior to seeing the movie that Disney would not make the movie right, but they did a great job. They just should have given the movie, the Burroughs legacy and the true John Carter fans better support.

  • The one thing that enthused me about the books and is not given enough emphasis in the film is John Carter’s exploration of the planet and the various races inhabiting it.This is covered with dialogue in the film and not backgrounded nearly well enough . Also with our newfound knowledge of Mars maybe it would have been better located on a different planet,say Barsoom.Apart from these observations it is a great film.

  • Adam, all I can say is to each his own. But I have to ask, which books were you reading? the reason I ask is that i’ve others like you who expected this film to be closer to books but if that’s the case this film elevates the prose from which it was originated. Have you ever read the exposition of the books themselves out loud? …Tried to figure out the “science” of teleportation? How about rays that keep airships aloft?
    Here’s the rub, the books are a lot of fun to read and truly passionate on some levels but they cannot be compared to good prose from the Bronte sisters, Dickens or Conrad, or even Hemingway. So why you expected it to be written that well with all the magic intact is beyond me. I have very good friends in the creative arts who have ripped this movie to shreds as well and we’re all readers of Burroughs for a long time. They sound like you for the most part but not quite as venomous, but they share a desire for this film;’s story to rise high above it’s pulp origins. All I can say is go back to the source material. It WAS fun and adventurous but it’s so full of itself and not deservedly so that it makes me wonder why anyone would project it beyond what it is? I remember the grinning John Carter killing with a battlers zeal, he genuinely enjoyed battle. How would such a character fare, not just in real life, but even outside of pulpy prose?
    The answer is he wouldn’t. He would be viewed superficially as a war mongering SOB.
    Dejah was a haughty, snotty princess who spoke more than once of how she reviled Carter. It doesn’t matter that it was an act. It simply would not work very well for today’s audience. She would have only come off as a hypocritical shrew. Her real virtue was that she could fight and she genuinely would sacrifice herself for her city of Helium. And lets not forget everyone’s naked to boot. Nothing wrong with being naked but it’s hardly a selling point and more like an oddly ironic titillation.
    Now, I know this all sounds pretty disparaging for a guy who asserts that liked the prose of Burroughs. It’s not. I like the books and I take some small issues with the film but to see this raving as if a classic Shakespearian drama had been directed with all the class of an angry, drunk high school coach is more than a bit over the top.
    I can only conclude that you never saw any of the Conan films because you have died of your heart bursting after your brain seized up over the liberties taken with those films.
    I like John Carter, enough to see it 3 times. Admittedly, I saw it to rake it over the coals because I found it hard to believe it could be done with any integrity. I thought at best I could make myself tolerate it. I found myself utterly surprised that it won me over. I don’t expect you to believe that. I also don’t care, just thought I’d state it for the fact that it is.

  • This film likely will continue to gross over 300 million at this point. Likely breaking even in the box office including Prints and Advertising. There will be a sequel, and I bet you Mars will be in the title. Without question this film stands currently as the best film of the year so far. I do wish reviews where higher, I don’t understand why they have been low. This film is by far and away better than the 3 star wars prequels…frankly that fan base should be eating this film up, how they never found it I don’t know.

    I know it’s obvious but I think some people(those who don’t know it’s the other way around in reailty) might view it as a rip off of things that came after it. Creatively this is one of the concepts that started it all kind of like Lord of the Rings.

  • On present trends, with DVD and TV receipts thrown in, this movie instead of a $200 million loss could generate a surplus. This in spite of Disney wasting $100 million on poor marketing,lousy critics ratings and no mention of Edgar Rice Burroughs or Mars in the title.. What does this say about the movie? It says that the public that saw it loved it and generated word of mouth foot traffic to see it. It has all the characteristics of a classic peice of science fiction that could achieve cult status. Such a film deserves the trilogy that was planned!!!

  • Shari,
    I must agree with you, after waiting more than 30 years for this to come to the movies I was very shocked at how horrible the marketing was not to mention horrible title! I saw the trailer about 6 months before the film came out and was screaming with excitement upon seeing the very first scene! I immediately realized this was at long last my beloved John Carter of Mars! My husband, daughter and everyone else in the theater thought I was crazy or having a fit.I immediately ,upon arriving home, Googled when the movie would come out, marked the day on my calendar and counted the days. Then waited to see commercials on TV as most movies have them several months in advance of the release date…… I only began to see them one month before and only about 10 times( each time i once again squealed like a 12 year old girl)! But had i not read the books when i WAS a 12 year old girl I would have had no clue what the movie was about nor any interest in seeing it! Disney blew the chance to have a franchis that could have and most likely would have rivaled Pirates of the Caribbean!What a shame and Shame on them.

  • I have been waiting for this film for more than forty years. it did not disappoint! It bears faithful resemblance to the Burroughs Mythos. It is an epic love story that depicts JC fighting halfway across a planet for the hand of Barsoom’s most beautiful woman. I gathered eight friends to go see it together, believing in its potential. Everyone was mesmerized. The women in the group were “amazed that it was a love story’! That’s how bad the Disney marketing effort was.

    As all Mars Series fans know, the first book is just a warmup. I really hope to Heaven that there will be the two necessary sequels. The Gods of Mars ramps things up way more. And Warlord of Mars will take movie making over the top!! I pray that we’ll live to see them, and that this tragic state of affairs (wherein a really good movie has been created, but critics and execs decree that it is no good because it didn’t make a ton of money in the first month) will not prevent the sequels from being made.

    Dotar Sojat, you have made a brilliant case! I whole heartedly agree!

  • Disney’s “flop” statement is truly one of the most bizarre reactions I’ve ever seen from a studio.

    Most studios try to do everything they can to spin low opening weekends into a positive. They certainly don’t come out- completely unprompted after only 10 days- and proclaim the film to be the biggest money-loser of all time!

    I had hoped the film would’ve been able to hang around long enough to top $300 million worldwide. No, it still wouldn’t have recouped the studio’s investment, but it would have shown how viable the property could’ve been in better hands.

    Unfortunately, the front-loaded nature of today’s Hollywood means that John Carter will likely be gone from theaters after only three weeks. It’s already losing so many screens to Hunger Games that any further gains to its domestic gross will be insignificant.

  • When you go off on a diatribe like that you must remember to preface it (or end it with) “in my opinion” instead of trying to make it sound like you alone know what makes a film good or bad.

  • I loved the movie, but nobody I knew wanted to watch it. The people who were with me in the theaters were bored because they were expecting a different film. The marketing was absolutely garish, and whoever did it should be fired. And thank you for killing one of my favorite franchises ever, Disney.

  • @MCR — not quite sure why you think your view would provoke angry villager reactions. It’s pretty much the same thing we put forward in a separate post.

  • Well I’ll give my two cents and probably have the villagers chasing me with torches and pitch forks.

    I think your piece is a well written and impassioned plea. Unfortunately I doubt it will have much effect on Rich Ross. This wasn’t his film, he had no personal stake in it. Honestly he probably would have pulled the plug on John Carter when he came in if it was any other director but since it was one of the “Gods of Pixar” directing he didn’t want to infuriate Stanton or Lassiter. At this point Ross has washed his hands of the film and moved on to other projects and I doubt he really cares what you or I or anyone else thinks concerning John Carter.

    So I sympathize but I think we need to accept the hard truth that John Carter is dead as a franchise. But as an ERB fan I still have the books and no one-not Rich Ross, not the naysaying journalists or trolls, not even Andrew “Shape Shifting Therns” Stanton-can take that away.

  • 1. If Disney is trying to distance themselves from this, I’d like to know which studio they will sell the rights to. If it’s so ‘insignificant’ in the long run to their overall profits, why would that be a problem, and why wouldn’t the Burroughs family press for that at this point?

    2. Where are the happy meal toys is a given question. The ships, the Tharks, obvious coolness…

    3. Most importantly, why didn’t Disney promote and run an hour long ERB bio-documentary, to educate a younger audience of his influence on everything they’ve ever seen in the genre and to his (how many, close to 100) other titles? They’ve already had success with the animated Tarzan (for what _that_ was worth) so kids think they know about that character, but probably that’s it. History of the failed attempts to bring his stories to the screen “and now Disney is finally doing it like Burroughs deserves”, introduction to Venus, Pellucidar, the lot, and intersperse it with interviews and ‘the making of’ to promote the movie.

    The only advertising I heard about word of mouth was what others had seen on the Disney channel. I saw ONE commercial on network the morning of release. That was it. Fan made trailers were much better than their own. The list goes on. Disney has, in effect, committed suicide.

    It brings the over-used term “epic fail” into real meaning for me.

  • I went to go see John Carter today ( 3rd Saturday since its release) at AMC Newport, which has about 20 screens. They had cancelled all remaining showing of John Carter due to slow sales to open up more screens for The Hunger Games ( which was playing on most of the screens). John Carter was still listed as playing but when I got there I was informed of the last minute cancellation. Talk about a colossal marketing failure.

    I had no desire to see John Carter based on ads I had seen but then everyone I have heard of who had actually seen it loved the movie so I decided to see it too based on word of mouth. But 2 weeks after it opened it is out of my theater.

    I doubt that would have happened if the marketing had been better. If you remember back to when Titanic opened every article was about it being the most expensive flop ever made. Then it went on to be the biggest grossing movie of all time due to word of mouth and even won the Oscar for best picture.

  • This is one very, very special, beautifully crafted, heart-rending film.

    It is not going to just die and wither away. It’s too good. It will over-come Disney’s frustrating marketing incompetence.

    It’s going to surprise a lot of people who had buried it prematurely, just like its under-estimated hero John Carter who rose again on the battlefield from under a huge mound of dead Tharks.

  • Excellent letter and insight! For months I’ve been dreading seeing the entire movie based on what I saw in the trailers. All I could hope for was it would be better (as some movies are) and that it would be given a chance by the Disney Suits and Bean Counters. Well, I saw the movie and was relieved that it didn’t suck and was pretty darn good! From a Burroughs-phile point of view the rewriting by Chabon was a bit sucky (Burroughs Carter wasn’t the second-guessing, run from your troubles the Chabon Carter is, and why did he make the Therns into FaceDancers (ala Herbert from Dune)? And make the Ninth Ray into nanotech??!!), the casting was great (Lynn Collins IS Dejah Thoris!!) except for Taylor Kitsch who I thought portrayed a veritable wuss of a John Carter …

    All that aside I just hope what Disney has done hasn’t nailed the lid down on the Barsoom coffin leaving us with no “Gods of Mars”, “Warlord of Mars” etc

  • I really liked this movie. It was not marketed very well. It is too bad when no one was talking it up before it came out. Where were the stars on talk shows?

  • The only thing Disney has effectively accomplished, is make me look in scorn every time I see their logo now. Thanks Mickey!

  • I’m gonna respond to the first post. Your right its not a conspiracy. But you wouldn’t know that because you don’t know what a conspiracy is. And I am sure you won’t bother looking it up and I am not gonna tell you.

    Any way…I do think the Execs have some agenda. Like many corporations that try to predict the future in their company. For whatever reason they didn’t even try to make this film successful beyond the budget and the making of the film…which is the most puzzling.

    Any Trailer which including the following would have created a buzz that no one can deny would have put this movie in front of the public eye like no other film:

    “Before Star Wars, Before SuperMan, before Avatar, there was the story that inspired ALL these great stories and films, after 100 years this story is finally put on film.”

    HOW COULD IT POSSIBLY fail?????!!!!! HOW!!!! Disney needs to hire me!

  • I just saw John Carter for the third time. The last movie I saw 3 times in the theater was the admittedly campy but fun Flash Gordon and before that the first Star Wars in ’77. What I like is this film won me over. That’s a lot harder than it sounds because I was prepared at worst to hate and best to tolerate it. Pulp adapted for the big screen has been a remarkable disappointment starting will pretty much the entire Tarzan franchise and I like the early Weismueller films. Conan- after the first 2, a complete pass on the third. Solomon Kane- no chance after it was made known that Kane was a murderous brigand looking for redemption, a concept not even remotely close to the stories. Anyway, you get the point. I’m not happy going into this film, which I talk myself into based on the early teaser. I absolutely hate the marketing campaign that was used in the run up and had I counted on those spots I would have given it a pass. It was the reaction of skeptical viewers (including, especially that of a fellow Burroughs enthusiast) to the advance screening that gave me hope and a bit of clarity.
    Now it’s like betting on my favorite team all over again. No matter who well they play they seem cursed to lose.
    I’m sick of Disney and I’ll buy this on DVD when it comes out in spite of them. Let me be clear- this is not a great film but neither are the original stories. they’re classic pot boilers, albeit with an exotic setting a storytellers knack for writing interesting stories that hold little logic but a lot of spirit. This film succeeds in ways i never thought possible. And the special FX alone should win them an Oscar. For Disney to essentially cut the chord this early is tantamount to a broad failure on their part to support their project. That being the case I see no reason to support them any further. They’ve been quietly doing the same those phenomenal little gems from Studio Ghibli as well but without such overt hatred.
    Disney is dead as far as I’m concerned and Pixar should find a new home.

  • Marketing/Advertising?….Terrible! All I can say is ever since I was a kid I remember my dad having paperbacks of John Carter and the times I would grab one for a few hours then return it to it’s spot without my dad knowing I took it. I remember the stories vividly. When the trailers and commercials started for JC the first thing I noticed missing was an explanation of who John Carter is and who created him. Would it have been to much to ask for them to say something like John Carter created by Edgar Rice Burroughs the famous author that introduced us all to Tarzan of the Apes. My wife seen the commercial and actually thought John Carter was a movie about American Indians fighting aliens because she had no clue who John Carter was and she thought it had something to do with Pocahontas…lol…seriously. Unless you are a man over the age over 45 I find it hard to believe that you would know who John Carter was unless you was already a Burroughs/Tarzan fan or a Sci-Fi buff. One more thing…Where was the McDonalds or Burger King Toys that generally come out when a production of this size is introduced by Disney?

  • I am also amazed that Disney would brand any film a flop 10 days after its release. This would automaticly cause interest to drop further and ensure more losses at the theatres. Disney’s handling of this film will clearly affect my support of them in the future. As others have mentioned I hope that someone else is allowed to pick up the sequels and complete the trilogy.

  • @redonefifty — I agree. And when you read it — pay attention to the sourcing. As near as I can tell, the entire article is sourced to one “Disney marketing mole” who is not a mole at all because the entire thrust of the comments are to portray Disney marketing as being helpless in the grip of Andrew Stanton — i.e. the comments are completely self-serving and there is no presence of the “other side of the story”. So this article is basically one “data point”. Let me offer you some other data points for your consideration.

    First of all, I’ve never heard of a director having the kind of control over marketing that the Vulture article claims Stanton had. It would be unprecedented for a studio–particularly Disney, the “control freak” of studios–to hand over such authority, even informally, to the director. Studios talk about a film having two completely different aspects — “marketability” and “playability”. The director is completely consumed with the making the film “play” well. The marketing people often attack the selling of the film from a completely different perspective and so the director is almost always considered to be “not the right one” to have more than “meaningful consultation” on the marketing. The marketers always feel they know best — and indeed, they are working from audience research, historical knowledge of what has worked and not worked, etc — all things that the director doesn’t have. I do think Stanton would have contributed ideas, and his ideas would have been respected and given weight, including his suggestion about the music for teaser trailer. But that’s consultation, not control. At the end of the day, the head of marketing answers to Rich Ross and Disney shareholders, not Stanton, and that’ the direction the power, and accountability, would flow.

    Aside from that, I did have some personal interaction via email and one personal meeting with Stanton regarding the fan trailer we made. He never came across as being in any way in control of the marketing–rather he seemed to be in the grip of it and unable to affect things. He used the term “this is the DNA of the movie” to describe the fan trailer in my personal meeting, and again in an interview.: He was too professional to blast Disney, but if he had been the one in charge of marketing, and he felt that way about the fan trailer (which was out a month before the opening), don’t you think he would have gotten that trailer or one similar to it into official circulation? And of course that never happened, so I just don’t think it passes the smell test that the guy going around saying this about some trailer from ERB fans would be the same guy who was actually controlling the marketing.

  • @Noir,
    Well, let’s see.
    Awareness was there, but not at the high 80 low 90 percent level that was called for and it was called for at that level precisely because Disney approved the budget where they did. In ended up on the low sixties — and yes, the “definitely interested” went down, presumably because the promotion never resonated and so became annoying.

    Meaning that the more people knew about the movie, the less they wanted to see it.
    Arguably, at that point (not long before opening) the movie had already suffered from bad WOM. It had been compounding for a time by then, and you can’t deny that some people (including myself) noticed. People have been making fun of the trailers and the film on twitter for a good long while before its release – it looked (and frankly was) dated, and not in a good way.

    Well…yeah! But you seemed to be confusing “bad WOM” for the trailers with “bad WOM” for the movie. I would agree 1000% there was bad WOM for the trailers and if there is any doubt about that, just go to youtube and read the comments about the fan trailer, most of which address how the trailers weren’t working for the view, while the fan trailer — which is just a mashup of the Disney trailers, put together in a way that reveals the story — did work better for them.

    Also, your assumption that Disney’s 200mil flop statement had effect on foreign markets is based on the underlying assumption that people over there actually noticed and cared. Speaking only for my own piece of middle-of-Europe-nowhere I can tell you that they did not. Barely anybody here noticed the movie, in fact.

    Somewhere else on the site is a guy from somewhere else in Europe who wrote that in his country the announcement made national news and was getting a lot of attention — he likened it to people becoming interested in a “big dead whale on the beach”. So …your notes about how it has been in your country are noted — and so are his.

    Bottom line, yeah I’m taking it pretty hard. It was mishandled, but rather than spout off about conspiracy theories I have just tried to pose reasonable questions and hope I get a reply. I don’t personally think there is any conspiracy and I would like to see Rich Ross makes some comments to tamp down that kind of wild speculation. I do think that there was just no real champion for the project at Disney after Cook left, and MT Carney didn’t help matters—then she left, and Ricky Strauss was brand new ….. and s–t just happened. But there should be accountability.

  • Firstly a note to Jan Austin: Agree absolutely! I was a little worried about what to expect from the film, given the slow burn publicity and the title (I knew who John Carter was, but today’s public? He could have been a politician!) So I saw the movie and was blown away. I left the cinema feeling I’d been on another planet; I wanted it to be 30 minutes longer! I had no problems with the plot – it was coherent enough so that I didn’t get lost. The flashbacks served to advance the story not inhibit it, as a number of critics have suggested. The acting and casting was good enough given the nature of the medium – action/adventure. I have observed before, and still maintain, that John Carter is way better than the last three Star Wars movies put together!
    To Dotar: Excellent letter! Don’t hold your breath waiting for a reply. That’s not how corporations work! I have noticed that negative press for his film began even before it was released. I believe critics should also be taken to task over the film’s “failure”.
    It is a mystery to me why Disney would want to scuttle their own film, unless it’s to somehow promote the successes of other upcoming films they deem more “family-friendly”.
    The film – as of today – is still number one for box office returns in my country (New Zealand). Overall, it’s about third, which isn’t doing too bad, I would have thought. It has a 70% positive audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes (51% average rating). Hardly the biggest flop of all time! Something’s rotten in the state of Disney!
    Note to ERB Inc. Next time you want a movie made, try Studio Ghibli!

  • Thank you, Michael for giving clear voice to the thoughts many of us have had, and being so eloquent in the bargain. I too have some questions:

    1. While I don’t agree, I understand the logic behind removing “of Mars” from the title and just going with JOHN CARTER. I would think the obvious next step then would be to tell people who John Carter is in the advertising. Surely, a no brainer. Advertising 101. Ask a question: “Who is John Carter?” and then answer it satisfactorily. Why then was this not done?

    2. JOHN CARTER is directed and co-written by two time Oscar winner Andrew Stanton. Why was this not mentioned in the advertising?

    Possibly you’d say it was because his previous movies were Pixar’s WALL-E, FINDING NEMO and the TOY STORY series and that this was a different project. Why should that matter though? People loved those movies, and just like many people did with following Brad Bird into seeing MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL, you can bet they’d have been interested in following Stanton to uncharted territory as well.

    3. You have a screenplay co-written by Pulitzer winning novelist Michael Chabon. Again, why was this not mentioned anywhere in the advertising? Are you trying to keep it a secret? There’s a real literary quality to the story in the movie, and people who look to a writers like Chabon to give their entertainment added story value and quality would’ve been interested in this.

    4. You have an incredibly strong cast in Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong, Samantha Morton, Thomas Haden Church, Polly Walker, Bryan Cranston and James Purefoy. Many of these actors have starred in some of the most popular and critically acclaimed movies and tv shows of the last twenty years. Why did Disney not make an effort to tell people about it?

    5. Dejah Thoris is one of the strongest female character to appear in a science fiction movie ever. She’s a beautiful princess, but is also a brilliant scientist who can hold her own in a sword fight. So far as I can tell, women and teenage girls respond very well to her –provided they’ve actually gotten to see the movie. Why did Disney not advertise the movie appropriately for this demographic?

    6. Edgar Rice Burroughs is one of the most significant American writers who ever lived. He’s as important as Mark Twain, and the influence of his imagination on modern science and science fiction cannot be underestimated. Why was none of his great heritage mentioned in advertising?

    I’ve no idea why the marketing was so botched for JOHN CARTER. I’m certain I know the reason the movie is failing though. The trailers and advertising made it look like it’s for audiences only interested in mindless action and spectacle. Audiences who expect a bit more from their sf movies see the trailer and think “Yeah, I don’t think I want to see that.”

    When the spectacle/mindless action people go to the theater, they discover the movie isn’t what *they* thought it was going to be either. They leave upset, because the advertising led them to believe it was going to be apple pie and they got peach cobbler instead.

    JOHN CARTER is a swashbuckling romantic sf adventure that focuses on the characters and the story. There’s action, but it’s excitement comes from how it springs from the characters, and how much it means for them. So, there’s less action because said action isn’t mindless, but there’s more story. More depth. A lot of people really want that in a movie. Like myself. I’ve seen JOHN CARTER seven times now, and I’m going to go back.

    The special effects are awesome… but not flashy. They go out of their way to make Burroughs’ fantastic imagination look REAL, as opposed to fantastically (and obviously) not real.

    Anyway you want to look at it, you had an amazing opportunity in promoting JOHN CARTER to the masses. It should have been an easy score for Disney. By my way of thinking, any studio executive who can’t sell a movie this strong to the public is probably in the wrong line of work.

    Thanks very much for your time.

  • You’re really taking this hard, aren’t you? I doubt I could change your mind about this whole conspiracy theory (nor do I care enough to want to) but do note that there WAS awareness. It just failed to generate desire to see the movie. In fact, (although I’m summing from memory), tracking showed that as awareness grew, the desire to see the movie actually declined. Meaning that the more people knew about the movie, the less they wanted to see it.
    Arguably, at that point (not long before opening) the movie had already suffered from bad WOM. It had been compounding for a time by then, and you can’t deny that some people (including myself) noticed. People have been making fun of the trailers and the film on twitter for a good long while before its release – it looked (and frankly was) dated, and not in a good way.
    Also, your assumption that Disney’s 200mil flop statement had effect on foreign markets is based on the underlying assumption that people over there actually noticed and cared. Speaking only for my own piece of middle-of-Europe-nowhere I can tell you that they did not. Barely anybody here noticed the movie, in fact. And not because of lacking advertising – posters were plastered everywhere, TV spots were run, most popular sci-fi/fantasy magazines featured JC, some on the cover. And yet not a single person I’ve talked to was aware of the movie. It’s like it has a cloaking device or something. Or – a wild guess here – it just didn’t connect with its target audience. Neither the marketing, nor the film itself. It just happens sometimes, no conspiracy here.

  • Michael, thank you. I doubt Ross will reply, though. If he does not care about John Carter fans and your questions, I’d suggest he sells JC rights, CGI and actor deals to Dreamworks and let professionals work the sequel.

  • The analysis was superb. I still can´t understand it myself. It looks like pure backstabbing.

  • Great letter, Dotar! Thank you so much.

    Curtis- I have been trying to think of what they should have named this movie. The simple title of “John Carter” doesnt work, obviously, and I can understand why “The Princess of Mars” would make Disney folks squeamish. While “John Carter of Mars” is not bad, it is still not a very good hook for those members of the general public unfamiliar with the ERB source material. But I love your suggestion: “John Carter and the Princess of Mars”. It fits the grand dimensions and serial nature of this wonderful flim and its deep heritage. I’m with you on this one.

    SteveG- I am not at all a conspiracy theorist, either, but it is really hard to believe that the JC failures are due only to unintended incompetence. There just seems to be so many indications of am almost willful negligence, or even worse — like someone had it in for this film. It sure seems like there’s some kind of Disney personal/political backstabbing drama playing out behind the scenes.

  • I copied and pasted on ‘Pages’ and printed it out. Seven pages long. They might read half a page before filing it in bin 13.
    Not that it is bad, it is right on but I wouldn’t expect any honest response. Let’s face it, Disney FUBARED this from the beginning and now they just want it to go away as fast as possible.
    I will send in my copy just to so they know we are not amused.

  • Good letter.

    Disney’s under-cutting of the film is an enigma wrapped in a mouse’s ear.

    I hope ERB can take their IP back and gives it to a studio that will respect it.

  • Brilliant and professional letter that shines a glaring light on all of the main issues with Disney. Wonderful Michael! I do hope R. Ross responds!

  • Great letter, you included almost every mistake Disney has made in the past few months, except the printed marketing which was as bad as the TV one (insipid posters, horrible font for the title etc.).
    Many films in the past had truly inspired poster art and logo (like the first Star Wars in 1977) that helped the audience to understand what the film was about. A Frazetta-inspired image was what JC needed, not the big white apes that are actually in the film for about 5 minutes! I guess many people were afraid to see a giant monster movie.
    Anyway, hope someone at Disney will answer…

  • Great letter to Ross! He should respond since you are a stockholder, but he probably won’t as he seems spineless.

    I found “John Carter” to be a very entertaining movie! I was blown away by all the negative coverage. Somehow, I missed all the early toxic buzz. A guy I work with reviewed it and didn’t like it. He hangs in local movie critic circles. I went that night expecting to be disappointed after waiting for months and totally fell in love with the film! I really can’t find any fault and I looked for faults. I am not a big fan of most recent science fiction film attempts.

    It is also a total mystery to me why Disney is treating this intellectual property so poorly. It will be in theatres for many more weeks to come and I predict that as the share of Disney money per tickets drop, attendance will make the film a good show for thatres as the positive buzz continues to spread that will make more for the theatres than Disney, so Disney loses. The dollar theatres will win. I found it amusing that when Nikki Finke saw all the comments supporting the film, she even modified her negative wording to be less caustic. It appeared even she seemed to understand a lot of people really liked the film!

  • As a big fan of Burroughs books, I was worried how the movie version of A Princess of Mars would turn out.

    Well, John Carter was Awesome !!!

    I should have,instead worried about a studio that would trash it’s own film.

  • Fantastic movie , Bad name it should have been called John Carter and the Princess of Mars maybe then it would be a lot clearer as to what it was about . Great article and I want a Woola toy .

  • My other thought in regards to all of this is the unprecedented announcement from Disney. I’m really not a conspiracy theorist (though it might be hard to tell from a lot of my posts in regards to JC), but it seems to me the only explanation for such a bizarre announcement from Disney was intended to curtail the only revenue that the film was making from the overseas theaters.

    I still have no idea whatsoever why the film needed to be a bomb, but it seems someone needed it to be so.

  • This is a comment originally posted on Facebook by Steve Gordon. I am reposting it here because it’s substantive and makes a good point:

    Steven E Gordon Good letter. The one thing you didn’t discuss enough, which is actually the most telling, is the lack of licensing. Licensing is actually money that is paid to the studio by other companies (even if Disney creates the merchandise themselves, those ‘other’ Disney Companies have to pay licensing fees to the feature division) and can be used as a way to show how profitable a film is even if its theater run is unsatisfying.
    Licensing has to be started a loooong time (6 months to a year) before a film even starts to be marketed – that’s why there are sometimes wrong designs used on heavy CG films like this.
    Of course sometimes a film’s merchandise doesn’t sell well and that can be hurtful (though the studio has already made a lot of money in licensing fees), but studios still try to do it and hope for the best.

    So the only conclusion I could draw that a film like this (that is screaming for licensing of every sort) wasn’t licensed in any way whatsoever, is that they wanted it to not generate money.

  • The movie is amazing, but for some unknown reason, Disney has not promoted this film. Normally, you can’t turn around without seeing the Disney logo merchandise for a movie, in the store, on TV, everywhere.

    I saw one TV ad for John Carter, one. This is unheard of.

    I know I’ve been waiting nearly 30 years to see the adventures of John Carter and the people of Barsoom in film. I almost missed it due to the poor advertising.

    Disney, do not give up on this film. Give it the love and attention it deserves and give the series a chance to take off in more films.

  • Michael : Thank you for writing this letter to Mr. Ross. Jan Austin: I can’t think of anything more to add… nicely stated!

  • Thank you Jan. I hope that by shining a light on this as best we can, we can protect the legacy of the film even if we can’t save it at the near term box office. Films live forever and this one should live as the landmark it truly is, and not as the flop Disney has branded it as. I do hold out some hope that Mr. Ross would actually answer the questions and shed some light on Disney’s real, actual thinking.

  • Brilliantly written! I couldn’t agree more with this letter. Critics and Disney executives gave up on a beautifully directed and written film before it was even released. John Carter is everything it is suppose to be! A genre film that is full of adventure and romance. A film that all syfy films can pay homage to. A film one can get lost in on a Saturday afternoon without having to be on a rollercoaster that you so desperately want to get off of. The cast of this film was brilliant. Such as Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, and HBO Rome’s James Purefoy (Mark Antony) and Ciaran Hinds (Julius Caesar). Can’t get much better than that! John Carter is a great experience! A serial-style film of yesteryear. It is for people who enjoy being swept up into another world, and a place worth definitely returning to. Thank you for writing this letter from a John Carter fan! – Jan Austin

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