From the Atlantic: Disney’s epic John Carter arrived in theaters billed as a flop in the making, a gargantuan $350 million endeavor (including extensive marketing costs) with some of the softest box office tracking experts had seen in years. The movie opened with a domestic take of $30.6 million, far below the $70 million or so it needed to earn in its debut weekend for a shot at profitability, meaning the Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation seems to have lived up to its bad hype. It’s now being grouped with infamous disasters such as Heaven’s Gate, the 1980 western that helped put United Artists out of business, and Eddie Murphy’s putrid sci-fi comedy The Adventures of Pluto Nash. “Ishtar Lands on Mars,” is how a New York Times headline puts it, a reference to the expensive, Dustin Hoffman- and Warren Beatty-starring 1987 comedy that didn’t even make back half of its production budget. Others predicted a $100 million-plus write-off for Disney and deemed the film a “debacle.”
Indeed, in the realm of gleefully anticipated pre-release flops, John Carter is hardly Titanic, which saw its opening date delayed amid disastrous rumors but wound up setting box office records and winning Oscars. But the film is no Ishtar, either. The movie hasn’t really earned its place in classic turkey lore, for several key reasons.First, from a financial standpoint, the film did far better internationally than it did domestically, adding some $70 million to its gross. Outside of the U.S. and Canada, it could be poised for some more quality weekends ahead. John Carter posted the fourth-biggest Russian opening of all time and it’s performed strongly in Asia, without even opening in China or Japan, the continent’s two biggest markets. Box Office Mojo expects the film to ultimately take about $300 million globally. Add to that perhaps $60 or $70 million domestically and you don’t have a profit-maker, but losses would be drastically reduced. Post-release revenue (DVD sales, TV etc.) could conceivably push the film closer toward the black, though it’s unlikely to get there. Whatever the case, there’s no comparison between what should turn out to be a mild flop and, say, Pluto Nash, which cost around $100 million and wound up earning about $7 million total.