What if Disney hadn’t changed John Carter’s release date from June 8 to March 9?

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Ridley Scott’s Prometheus opened on Friday — the date the John Carter was originally scheduled to open until Disney decided to move the Andrew Stanton film up to March 9, where it opened with $30.1m and was quickly declared by Disney to be the biggest financial disaster in cinema history. What would have happened if Disney had stuck to the June 8 playmate?

First, keep in mind that Prometheus was originally scheduled for March 9 and only moved to June 8 when John Carter made the switch to March 9. The two films basically swapped release dates. So if John Carter had been released on June 8, it would not, in all probability, have had to go up against Prometheus, as it would have stayed put with its March 9 release date.

It’s hard to say, and hindsight is easy, but the June overall box office take is typically in the $1.5B range, whereas March overall take is more typically around $750m, so there is a much smaller pie to be shared. This weekend Madagascar 3 opened at $60.35M and Prometheus, essentially playing in John Carter’s slot, opened at $50m. Listen to what Box Office Mojo had to say about the Prometheus release:

While it had to settle for second place, Prometheus still earned an impressive $50 million in its opening weekend. That’s off from Inception’s $62.8 million, though it’s a significant improvement over Super 8’s $35.5 million from the same weekend last year. It’s the second-highest opening of director Ridley Scott’s career behind 2001’s Hannibal ($58 million), and it’s also a new record for the Alien franchise ahead of Alien Vs. Predator’s $38.3 million (though ticket sales were about on par with that entry).

Prometheus’s debut ranks 12th all-time among R-rated movies, and among action-oriented ones it was behind The Matrix Reloaded ($91.8 million), 300 ($70.9 million), Watchmen ($55.2 million) and Wanted ($50.9 million).

This may not be the monumental opening many were hoping for, but by pretty much any measure it’s an unqualified success. Dark, “original,” R-rated sci-fi movies are a tough sell, and on paper Prometheus resembled recent duds Pandorum and Sunshine (total of $10.3 million and $3.7 million, respectively). Of course, Prometheus was a big-budget Ridley Scott movie getting a nationwide release from a major studio, so it was always going to be significantly bigger than those titles, but to get this high is really a tribute to 20th Century Fox’s incredible marketing effort. When the attention-grabbing teaser trailer landed in December the movie immediately shot to the top of many must-see lists, and future material (including some cool viral videos) was equally enticing. Also, for most of the campaign there wasn’t an explicit connection made to Alien, which made the movie feel like a must-see original movie event.

It’s interesting to see that somebody in Hollywood knows how to market a film, although it’s also interesting to see the gaps in logic — how, for example, Fox avoiding reference to Alien until the very end “made the movie feel like a must-see original movie event” when failing to connect John Carter to its heritage is seen by most as the biggest single deficiency in the John Carter marketing campaign.

Well, as William Goldman famously said of Hollywood: “Nobody knows anything”.

18 comments

  • What would have been super cool is if they still paired JOhn Carter as a double feature with the Avengers in the drive-ins to create buzz, AND had the JOhn Carter trailer before the Avengers. Of course it also would have been cool if they said that Marvel also produces John Carter comics, John Carter started it all, etc, etc, etc. Why did they not think of that? I’m picturing a split screen comparing each character to John Carter. Hulk on the left, JC on the right.: SUPER STRENGTH, Captain America, JC: Brave soldiers, I’d have to think deeper for the other characters, but I’m sure I cold come up with some sort of comparison, like comparing Natasha to Dejah or something…. there were just so many things they could have done to take advantage of everything and they never did.

  • Would have Rich Ross being fired after the Avengers triumph by the way, even if John Carter made the same results?

    Good point — probably not.

    I’m not really sure John Carter suffered from a lack of awareness, it suffered from lack of interest, because the ads never once focused on the movie’s strengths

    As you know I’ve been researching these things. It was both. For a tentpole release they should have gotten awareness up into the upper 80’s and they never got near that. I don’t think it was so much that they didn’t spend the money that would normally get it there — but the title, in the end, was so forgettable that people would forget it. The way they do the tracking is ask you the unaided awareness question (are you aware of any big sci-fi movies coming out?) and then the aided awareness question (have you heard of john carter)……..the latter in particular suffered because of the blandness of the title. If the trailers all had said “John Carter of Mars” ….. the “of Mars” is what sticks in people’s minds and so if asked the question “Have you heard of “John Carter of Mars” …. the same people who would say “no” to John Carter would say “yes” to John Carter of Mars …. it’s just human nature. That doesn’t mean they would go to the movie….but awareness is the first step. If you don’t get that, you convert anybody.

  • The marketing campaign of John Carter would only have been moved in time should the movie had been released in june, I don’t see why it would have been any different. We are in june, and the marketing campaign for the dvd was not that distinctive from the one for the theatrical release. I’m not really sure John Carter suffered from a lack of awareness, it suffered from lack of interest, because the ads never once focused on the movie’s strengths. 100% of the fan trailers, made from the same material available for the official ones, were better than what the Disney “professionals” were able to show.

    Would have Rich Ross being fired after the Avengers triumph by the way, even if John Carter made the same results?

  • This says a huge amount: “to get this high is really a tribute to 20th Century Fox’s incredible marketing effort. When the attention-grabbing teaser trailer landed in December the movie immediately shot to the top of many must-see lists” !!! Before I saw the trailer I had never heard of Prometheus, but all I had to see was that microsecond bit with the ancient astronaut/navigator bit I was hooked, my first whisper was “I have to see that movie!!” They were very wise to down play the “This is an ALIEN movie” as I probably wouldn’t have been nearly as interested (yes, the Alien franchise is a bit old). Marketing marketing marketing!!!!!

  • I suspect the main difference would be between which hideous animated family ‘adventure’ it would have been defeated by. Even though ‘The Lorax’ was a sickening corporate prostitution of Dr. Seuss, it remains less embarrassing than to have been beaten by ‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’. If Sir Ridley’s (disappointing) return to science-fiction couldn’t secure the top spot, I don’t know if DJC would have had any chance at all.

  • Well, for one thing JOHN CARTER could have had a huge awareness boost thank to THE AVENGERS.

    After the release of the “Heritage” fan trailer there was a marked improvement in JOHN CARTER’s advertising. Unfortunately it was too little too late for a March 9 release, however if this change in Disney marketing still happened in February but for a June 8 release that alone would have given Disney time to improve audience awareness of JOHN CARTER.

    THE AVENGERS would have given Disney one last good chance at presenting JOHN CARTER via trailer. There was one final official trailer for JOHN CARTER that was released in February, so it is likely there would have been a similar month out final trailer accompanying THE AVENGERS.

    And with the success THE AVENGERS has had, Disney would have seen a great boost in awareness for JOHN CARTER. I think this boost might have been even more effective if Disney marketing had taken advantage of the heritage aspects of the movie; EG that it was from Edgar Rice Burroughs, mention Tarzan obviously, reference Superman and John Carter’s influence on the character and the superhero concept in general (since the trailer would be accompanying the Avengers), and of course Avatar, Star Wars, etc.

  • Yep! Spin is very important!! They could’ve said John Carter did very well for a 100 year old character and how they were happy with their overseas box office. And for gosh sakes would’ve waited for any write down comments until after the last major market opening in Japan.

  • I still think they should’ve released JC in a month other than March when most of the men I knew were tied up watching NCAA basketball… March Madness. People just don’t have that much free time to spend on more than one time consuming fun activity on a weekend. If males were truly their target audience, they should have considered that. Also, a later date may have allowed them to correct some marketing wrongs.

  • One thing I didn’t really hammer in the article but I should have mentioned — the whole Box Office Mojo handling of Prometheus’ less than hoped for results is an example of purse movie marketing department spin coming from Prometheus marketing. They cajoled Box Office Mojo into reporting the story exactly as they would want it to be reported, and all of the main points in the story were surely message points delivered by Fox marketing doing what marketing departments are supposed to do — spin things favorably for their films.

    Just like Disney did with John Carter ……..

  • My guess is they sought to present “Prometheus” more as an original film because many consider(ed) the Alien franchise to be somewhat tired. Meanwhile, virtually no one had any preconceived notions about John Carter, so it could have benefited from the link to the heritage.

    Since neither John Carter nor Battleship focused on Taylor Kitsch’s name as a selling point, and few of the post-mortem articles mentioned him as a factor, I doubt the disappointing results of Battleship would have hurt a June 8 release for John Carter. If it had kept its June date, it probably would have done a bit better, maybe enough to dodge the “worst bomb ever” narrative.

  • Thanks for clearing that up guys. I guess Taylor has one more chance with this new Oliver Stone movie Savages or it will pretty much be all over for him. He plays one of two Cali wanna be drug dealers, who get mixed up with the Mexican drug cartels, then have their girlfriend kidnapped and they decide to go after her and take on the cartel.

  • MCR wrote:

    I think Dotar forgot to mention that Prometheus was originally set to come out March 9 and then moved to June 8 after Disney put John Carter on the same date.

    Correct. That was a mistake — have corrected it. Thanks. Originally John Carter was set for June 8 and Prometheus was set for March 9. John Carter switched to March 9, announcing it on January 19, 2011. A week later Fox announced Prometheus was moving to June 8, taking the slot vacated by Disney and John Carter. So had John Carter come out on June 8, it would not have gone up against Prometheus.

  • Bob Page wrote:
    “If it had to go up against Madagascar 3 and Prometheus, with the audience awarness it had thanks to Disney’s marketing campaign, it would have gotten obliterated.”

    Maybe yes or no. I think Dotar forgot to mention that Prometheus was originally set to come out March 9 and then moved to June 8 after Disney put John Carter on the same date. So it may not have to had compete with Prometheus. And it’s possible with the extra three months the marketing could have been fixed and had more time to lure in the audience.

    On the other hand you have a kiddie cartoon on the same date-about the only things that guarantee to make money anymore even if they are terrible-so yeah I doubt John Carter would have been able to topple Madagascar since it couldn’t even outgross The Lorax. Also it might have suffered from Battleship fall out. One of the things that was mentioned leading up to Battleship was how much JC’s box office would impact Taylor Kitsch’s appeal as a leading man. If it had stuck to the June 8 date it would have been John Carter being impacted possibly by all the press asking if Kitsch can carry a movie after Battleship sank.

  • If it had to go up against Madagascar 3 and Prometheus, with the audience awarness it had thanks to Disney’s marketing campaign, it would have gotten obliterated. Now, maybe in August, with the summer blockbusters pretty much done, and the kid’s still out of school, it might have done better B.O. But, from a purely selfish point of view, I wouldn’t have wanted to wait the extra three months, although with just a little more bank that it might have made, maybe we would have our sequel.

    We have had some really great discussion here but, WOW, Prometheus has set the internet ablaze. There hasn’t been this much discussion about a movie’s meanings since Inception three years ago. Actually found JC to be a more complete and satisfying movie but Hats off to Ridley and someone please break Damon Lindelof’s arms so he can never pick up a pen and write again. His part of it is everything that is wrong with Prometheus.

  • I think it definitely would have been better if it opened in June for two reasons. You avoid the Hunger Games hype and more people go to theatres in June rather than March. also those people that go in June are younger and more active in social media.

  • In my opinion, it would have been the same. There was HUGE anticipation for Prometheus, and still none for John Carter. The comeback of Ridley Scott to science-fiction in the prequel-to-Alien-that-refuses-to-be-a-prequel-to-Alien-but-which-still-is-a-prequel-to-Alien-anyway, great trailers and marketing campaign. If anything the result is not that great compared to the anticipation, but then, it’s indeed an R-rated movie.

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