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”.