Survey: How would you apportion blame for the “failure” of John Carter?

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I am at the very end of the first draft of John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood, and am now writing the “Findings” — which is an attempt to distill what I have learned into a series of observations that capture “what really happened”.  I have a question of our  readers.  If you were to assign a percentage of the blame for John Carter’s “failure” to achieve box office success at a level commensurate with its budget, how would you apportion the blame?  Please keep in mind the question refers to the the “John Carter Enterprise”  — meaning I’m not looking for your critique of the adaptation by Stanton except to the extent you blame the adaptation for the overall business performance  of the enterprise.

Here are the candidates:

Andrew Stanton

  • Director
  • Largely controlled the story/writing and cast, as well as execution
  • Had substantial influence  on (but no control over)  the main marketing creatives and themes

Disney Studios Chariman Dick Cook

  • Approved the budget at 250m and did not require “name” actors

Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross

  • Hired MT Carney who set the marketing that returned.
  • Made the decision to not pursue licensing, merchandising, and co-promotions

MT Carney and the Disney Marketing Team

  • Responsible for the marketing campaign
To be clear, the way to play the “blame game”, you give an answer like this:  Stanton (25%), Cook (25%), Ross (25%), MT Carney et al (25%).  It needs to add up to 100%.  Obviously comments describing your thought process are important.  I’m particularly interested in seeing where the contrarians who love beating up on Stanton go with this.
Please keep in mind — I’m not really asking who you blame for whether or not the film pleased you personally or suited your personal tastes.  The question is about the overall film enterprise



  • I’ve have been in the fields of marketing and PR for 18 years. I blame marketers, public relations people, and their direct bosses for most major business blunders. As such, my breakdown for the blame is: Stanton (10%) for his influence, Cook (10%) for being in a high position of influence, Ross (30%) for being the direct boss, and Marketing Team (50%) because they should have known better.

  • I’m not gonna make friends but we’re here to be honest about what we think

    30% Andrew Stanton, 20% Dick Cook, 40% Rich Ross, 10% Marketing

    Andrew Stanton was too sure about everybody knowing John Carter beforehand which was not the case. He is the one who gave lessons and TED talks to everybody about how to make a story and presented us with a very confusing one, trying to respect too much of the original material ; he is the one, that dictated marketing his own rules (“everybody knows John Carter and has been waiting for it for so many years that we can just do a Superbowl ad with one name” – FAIL).

    I do not blame Dick Cook for the budget. This is a big budget but as we saw it this year, plenty of studios took this kind of risk (and some failed). I blame him for the not asking any “name” actor. You do not spend that amount without any name figure. That is basic blockbuster rule. If you agree with Stanton’s choice not having one, then you cut the budget in half.

    Rich Ross is my main blame. The decision not to have ANY merchandising just shows he had decided a long time ago that he didn’t want this movie to work. This is almost personal vendetta and this type of attitude has nothing to do in a professional environment. Keep acting like a child and you’ll be treated like one. I do not blame him for hiring MT Carney. I blame him for hiring her and not giving her the possibility to do her job properly with the double-crossing of Stanton having free reigns.

    MT Carney, in the end, has to be blame for not having been able to stand stronger against these men. She must have fought in the beginning but in marketing, one must know when to give up and she did just that, waiting for the nightmare to be over. She has been brilliant in the past and there is no reason she suddenly would have become stupid. Maybe tired of men behaving like kids. I’m pretty sure there is still a lot to learn about the John Carter adventure coming from her side.

  • 10% Andrew Stanton, 0% Dick Cook, 40% Rich Ross, 50% Marketing.
    I was so sad at the Marketing Director turnover in the middle of the crucial promotional/marketing time period 🙁 That was such horrible timing.

  • Yeah, I think so too. FYI cook is theoretically liable for a couple of things: a) not pushing back on the budget, and b) not pushing back on casting, especially when the budget went to 250m. In the overall scheme of things this is pretty small potatoes and I don’t see how he gets more than about 5%.

    Iger should have been on there. I was thinking that as CEO of Disney Corp he doesn’t get that involved — but as people rightly point out, he hired Ross and that was a mistake and may be one of those thing where one guy makes one decision that dwarfs a lot of others. Also, even though the studio income is only 7% of overall Disney income, it’s the “wave generator” and thus important, and John Carter certainly rose to the level of something that mattered. He could have made one phone call to Ross that could have changed almost the whole outcome, and he didn’t do it.

  • The one thing that I would do is replace Dick Cook with Bob Iger in this poll. Dick Cook greenlit the movie, but he was gone once it went into production. So:

    Dick Cook: 0%
    Bob Iger: 25%
    Rich Ross: 50%
    MT Carney and Marketing: 22%
    Andrew Stanton: 3%

    Bob Iger, you’re the head of the studio, get on the ball and make sure that everyone’s doing what they need to do to make this movie as successful as possible.
    Rich Ross: Announcing that the movie would lose $200 million less than two weeks after it was released, no merchandise (there should have been a toy line, more books, posters, etc.), just sitting there and doing nothing to make sure that John Carter got the exposure it should have had, pretty much wanting it to fail.
    MTCarney and marketing: not doing their jobs.
    Stanton: should have done more to promote ERB, have his previous worked mentioned in promotional materials (“from the director of “Wall-e” and “Finding Nemo”), maybe trying to limit the budget better (but it was his first live-action movie, so perhaps he’ll learn from his mistakes).

  • Stanton: 15%
    Cook: 5%
    Ross: 50%
    Carney: 30%

    Andrew Stanton: 15%
    Even if Stanton was the one who said no to a Heritage trailer and wanted to use Led Zeppelin instead, I still put more blame on Disney marketing executives. I assume that the Marketing Execs / Dept. have ultimate control and responsibility for the trailers and marketing campaign of Disney movies. If Ross and Carney didn’t have the backbone to stand up to Stanton and do what was best for JC’s box office potential and Disney’s overall business, then that’s their fault. Stanton’s really just responsible for the quality of the movie. I gave Stanton 15% for his “substantial influence” on marketing. He said in interviews he was concerned about JCM books falling into obscurity, so why didn’t use his influence to get ERB’s name in front of a new generation?

    When I saw the Kashmir trailer at first I thought, hey that’s cool. I totally relate to that music and material. Then I thought, oh that’s bad. I’m the last type of person they should market this movie to. They needed to reach a more general audience. The Kashmir trailer made me think Stanton was more focused on fulfilling his own childhood fantasies than doing what was best for the movie.

    Dick Cook: 5%
    For approving $250M for an introductory type movie. A $250M cost probably sets the box office earnings bar too high for a 1st movie like this, unless you’re James Cameron. I blame Cook less since he was gone in 2009 and Ross could’ve stepped in to do some damage control if he knew what he was doing.

    Rich Ross: 50%, MT Carney: 30%
    These 2 were the execs responsible for the marketing campaign and if they couldn’t manage one artsy director with a big ego, then they never should’ve taken those jobs. It was their job to take charge, not passively react to whatever Stanton said. I’m dumbfounded that these 2 couldn’t execute the type of marketing campaign needed for JC that was totally obvious to the fans here. I blame Ross more for hiring Carney and since he had worked at Disney for years he should’ve known better. Carney just lived up to her experience in this area – zero.

    Agree with Calin below that Bob Iger can be added to the blame list as well for hiring Ross to begin with.

  • Michael, since you say Disney corporate is responsible for not going to Comic Con then the blame precentage I gave Stanton goes to Ross. What was he thinking? So my revised tally stands now at Stanton 0%, Cook 0%, Ross 70%, Carney/mktg 30%. Ross deserved his dismissal.

  • Dotar Sojat wrote:
    “That said “he refused to compromise on the budget” — did anyone actually challenge him? Did anybody say, nooooooooo, that’s too much? Or ….. okay, but if the budget is that high, we have to cast a star in the lead, maybe two…”

    That is true, hence my reason for scoring Cook and Ross. But still as you yourself has mentioned before with reference to Wrath of the Titans there was no reason for this film to have cost 250 million dollars, especially since all of the above the line costs (cast salaries, etc) would have been relatively small. The fact that in some cases Stanton boasted of how he makes “big movies” (most notably during his interview with Mark Kermode where he actually said “I wouldn’t know what to do with 5 million dollars” just makes it sound that he was irresponsible or didn’t care since it wasn’t his money. And that irresponsibility lead to a film that was going to struggle to ever break even, much less become a huge blockbuster.

    “Your doppelgänger is in a mellow mood….or, more probably, he set aside he is personal issues about he adaptation and looked at it from the perspective of the “John Carter Enterprise”….”

    I was tempted to but this isn’t about what I thought about the film as an adaptation or as a film itself (even though I do think that the critical response and the fact that word of mouth didn’t translate to stronger holdover performances in the weeks after its release do play some factor). Instead I just looked at it from “whose more responsible for the film not performing” and decided on the ratings I gave. Granted if there was more choices I would have given Robert Iger a big 50 percent since he clearly screwed up in both hiring Ross and not not stepping in to question why Stanton was allowed carte blanche contol over this film.

  • Stanton 5%
    Dick Cook: 5%
    Rich Ross: 60%
    MT Carney: 30%

    Stanton is not one of those directors who spend too much money, because he knows that even 250 millions are not enough for a movie like JC.
    And his movie is far better than most of… than all of the recent Disney movies, like Tron Legacy and the first Pirates of the Carribeans.

    Dick Cook took a risk, something that no enough Hollywood executives have th courage to do.

    We have a good movie, but where was the marketing machinery? “How can we we sell a movie without Johnny Depp acting like a moron? (Avengers, it’s ok, Downey jr makes silly jokes)”. No merchandising? No toys? Come on!
    And Disney got Tarzan, Nemo and Wall-E! Can’t they seel the new product with the fact they got the creator and Tarzan and the Director of Wall-E and Nemo in their pocket?
    The movie was good, the marketing was awful, nearly inexistant.

  • Ross 50%
    Carney & Marketing 25%
    Stanton 25%

    I think no merchandising or cross-promotions hurt the movie big time. I still smell a great big rat about the way Disney handled this movie – whether it wanted the film to fail no matter how good it might be.
    We know the marketing sucked. And I think Ross/Disney had a hand in its suckage. Still smelling a rat.
    I’ve gone on record saying I love the movie – I was even moved to write Stanton a thank you letter for making a movie I’ve wanted to see for 40-odd years – I had never, ever written a gushing fan letter before. Yet, if true that it was his decision or at least agreed not to go to Comic Con and not have ANY sort of “heritage” sort of marketing, then it hurt the film. This movie needed to be hyped big time and they could have done that at Comic Con without giving too much away. I’m not criticizing his movie, but I feel he could have made better decisions to help the marketing and how the movie was first presented.
    In defense of “Kashmir” being used in a trailer at his insistence: how come “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” gets away with rave reviews for its teaser trailer using a Zeppelin song but “Carter” gets bashed for it? Seems to me another example of just piling on for this movie. I could also care less about the size of the budget since I believe the movie was set up to fail one way or another by Disney. If that’s what it cost to put on screen what we saw, so be it. I bought the Tharks as being real, more than any other CGI creature on film to date.

  • Dick Cook: 0%
    He just approved a project and a budget. Had he stayed there I guess he would have given the movie the support it needed.
    MT Carney and the Disney Marketing team: 0%
    To me the simple fact that there were no tries to correct the crash course AFTER MT Carney leaved is enough to prove that the lack of effort was ordered from above.

    That leaves us with:
    Rich Ross: 65%
    His lack of support is painfully apparent towards this project, but none of that would have mattered if:
    Andrew Stanton: 35%
    if Andrew Stanton delivered a truly great movie for all to love. His creative freedom was complete, and yet he made decisions that eventually hurt his own movie: messing with marketing (not his forte it seems), conceive the movie not as stand-alone but as the first chapter in a trilogy, and practicing dubious storytelling experimentations (putting all exposition at the beginning, allowing other exposition scenes to alter the flow of the movie later, hiding the true motivations of his main character). The worldwide box office was way much better than in America, but not to the extent of calling it a resounding success either. It seemed fitting to me to give Stanton a percentage of blame equivalent to the satisfaction rating viewers expressed!

  • I mean . . . just because you have a big budget . . . doesnt mean you should use the whole thing . . .

    it was too much money for him to get his feet wet with . . .

    I think this just supports my opinion that every direct/producer/filmmaker should hire someone who has the sole purpose of slapping him/her when he does something stupid . . .

    (maybe then movies like A.I. wouldnt happen)

  • Honestly, I would give stanton a fair amount but nothing greater than 28% of the blame . .

    I dont like playing the blame game, but I have a feeling that Andrew Stanton went out of his way to take more blame than he deserved . . .

    But I know the facts . .. he was a bit frivolous (did I spell that right?) with his spending on certain things, insisting on shooting on film, and in the commentary he mentions getting a little power crazy with his position (demanding chickens) . . .

    he was too busy having fun I think . . .

    and . . . now MCR is my doppelgänger . . . Not exactly a bad assessment, we are both very passionate fans with similar origins (a love of a certain Micheal Whelan cover), and existing on extreme opposite ends of the fan specturm . .

  • I want to clarify that the harsh-sounding 70% is not based on my assessment of the film as art or adaptation, but purely on my understanding of the marketing decisions, his aggressive remarks in a politically charged business arena, and my read of the saleable ‘blockbuster’ content of the film in relation to successful films with comparable budgets.

    In general, I think many of the Iger/Ross/Carney decisions are understandable, if disagreeable, reactions to decisions made by Stanton. Please understand I am not currently ‘bashing’ the film or the director.

  • From my humble understanding of the situation:

    Cook: 5%
    Ross: 15%
    Carney: 15%
    Stanton: 70%

    The biggest reason? The decision not to sell the film using his own name or the legacy of Edgar Rice Burroughs (which fans seem to direct at Disney) came from Stanton himself.
    At least he has defended those choices and agreed with them.

    His haunting teaser was also miscalculated – confusing the casual viewer and holding so much of the big sc-fi imagery back that the internet roared with ‘Prince of Persia 2?’ The later insistence of Kashmir for trailer music (something I praised on nostalgic grounds) was widely panned, too.

    Much of the film is beautiful, but the lack of truly astounding action ‘money shots’ left the marketeers without must-see trailer hooks. I don’t know whose call it was to push the White Apes (which – yes – did look way too much like AoTC) instead of the Aerial Rescue (a far more original set-piece), but I suspect Stanton’s commendable ‘don’t give away too much’ ethos.

    Regardless of what you think of the film — Disney John Carter, as written and directed by Andrew Stanton, was simply not going to be the smash-hit it needed to be to justify it’s cost.
    I agree with the theory that Disney brass saw this, and opted not to ‘throw good money after bad’. Would it have done much better with all the merchandising? Probably (and I’d have bought it all). Would better trailers have put more people in seats? Definitely. But even objectively speaking (as much as I can)… it didn’t have the whiz-bang fireworks or brand recognition of a Transformers or a Spider-Man film, and it didn’t have the combination of game-changing spectacle + 4-Quadrant emotional resonance of a Titanic or an Avatar.
    Yet it cost about as much as any of those films.

    In a larger sense, and the final reason I have to go with 70%, is this:
    His attitude (‘our way is better than hollywood’, ‘Disney is afraid of me’, etc. (ad nauseum)) may have picked the political fight that would undo the marketing and lead to those other parties making the decisions they did. If anyone wanted him to fail, he appears to have given them reason. That is my opinion.

  • Ralok…..MCR only put 40% on Stanton… the comments. Your doppelgänger is in a mellow mood….or, more probably, he set aside he is personal issues about he adaptation and looked at it from the perspective of the “John Carter Enterprise”….

  • I dont like to put blame on people . . .

    but I would blame whoever it was that actively sabotaged the marketing. . .

    I am sure MCR will swoop in and put complete blame on Andrew Stanton though

  • Kevin Sanderson said

    Stanton did a great job with the movie but his not wanting to be a part of Comic Con …. hurt the film.

    Lots of good thoughts in your comment, Kevin. Re this …. Disney made the decision at a corporate level to forego Comic Con — it applied to all Disney films. It wasn’t Stanton’s call, but he didn’t fight it.

  • MCR wrote:

    Stanton-40 percent. For these reasons: He refused to compromise on the budget, allowing it balloon out of control. He refused to allow even his name on the marketing or even a “From the Director of WALL-E” tag on the trailers or posters (compared to Disney’s recent ads for OZ The Great and Powerful or even the new Man of Steel trailers, both of which play up the filmmakers despite being more familiar properties). He picked two unknowns for the leads, meaning even a familiar face or star power was nil.

    First of all I think your 40% is, coming from you, generous. That said “he refused to compromise on the budget” — did anyone actually challenge him? Did anybody say, nooooooooo, that’s too much? Or ….. okay, but if the budget is that high, we have to cast a star in the lead, maybe two…

    Re the “from the Director of Wall-E”, my impression is that he didn’t “refuse”…he just suggested/agreed that they not go that way. If someone had come to him in, say, Feb and said –we’ve got to go with “From the Director of Wall-E”, I’m reasonably sure he wouldn’t have said “no”.

    But even if we trim your 40% for those two points, you’ve got equity for your story points that you didn’t bring into play….;-)

  • Well I’ll get beat up for this. Stanton-40 percent. For these reasons: He refused to compromise on the budget, allowing it balloon out of control. He refused to allow even his name on the marketing or even a “From the Director of WALL-E” tag on the trailers or posters (compared to Disney’s recent ads for OZ The Great and Powerful or even the new Man of Steel trailers, both of which play up the filmmakers despite being more familiar properties). He picked two unknowns for the leads, meaning even a familiar face or star power was nil.

    For the rest 20 percent each for Dick Cook for not even considering that Stanton didn’t have the skills necessary to make the film and just was afraid of alienating the Pixar house; 20 percent for MT Carney because even if Stanton wasn’t being cooperative she should have put her foot down instead and came up with a better campaign and 20 percent for Rich Ross for approving the marketing campaign, for not stepping in to put a halt to Stanton’s spending or even possibly putting the film on hold until the budget came down (like he did with Lone Ranger).

  • If I follow Dotar Sojat’s candidate list exclusively, I would say about 60 % of the responsibility falls to Richard Ross, 30 % to Carney and 10 % to Stanton (if he did indeed make the decision not to attend Comic Con). But if I were allowed to add a candidate, I would give a BIG percentage of the blame to Bob Iger for putting a television executive (Richard Ross) into such an important film position.

  • Twenty percent, Andrew Stanton for agreeing to the name shortening and the marketing campaign that did not emphasize the hundred year anniversary of the source material.
    Forty percent, Rich Ross, for killing the licensing and merchandising.  To me, this aspect of the marketing is huge.  If you have a child of toy-purchaising age like I do, this is how you find out this type of movie is coming out.  The toy displays can be massive in the stores, and they come out weeks before the movie.   Oh, and for announcing the $200 million write-down while the movie was still in theaters.
    Forty percent, MT Carney and Disney Marketing, for the abysmal marketing campaign.  This is why I think the movie itself was not why it failed: my family, friends, and coworkers didn’t see the movie because they saw the ads and didn’t think they would like it.  They didn’t see the movie because they flat out did not even know it existed until it made headlines with the $200 million write-down. I cannot believe that they spent $100 million advertising this movie. Where did they spend the money?

  • Oh, I wanted to add that I assign less blame to MT Carney than Ross only because she was gone a few months before the movie came out. Ross could’ve fixed the problems or rather had them fixed to improve tracking. The marketing department toward the end had their hands tied but seemed like they were trying to change things with a new trailer on the website and the very good JC for kids trailer on the Disney Channel.

  • Andrew Stanton 10% Dick Cook 0% Richard Ross 60% and MT Carney and Disney Marketing Team 30%. Stanton did a great job with the movie but his not wanting to be a part of Comic Con and not wanting to release too much footage hurt the film. He should’ve been leading the charge in that regard. Cook is blameless as he was working on things efficiently and creatively for what was required to make the movie happen until he got the boot after providing many good years for Disney. Dick Cook if I recall correctly did feel they could make their money back with the parks, merch, etc. If Cook hadn’t green lit it, we still wouldn’t have a John Carter movie yet. Richard Ross I blame for deciding to not market JC as a major blockbuster considering the blockbuster money being spent, for not making sure the marketing worked and was fixed when tracking was shown to be low, and especially for sticking the knife into the movie before it even had a chance to finish opening around the world with his announcement of the $200 Million write down which is what most people I know, who knew nothing about the movie, always refer to… they knew that from all the news coverage of the announcement. MT Carney’s lack of experience in the movie biz and the marketing team not releasing enough promotional material to keep the promo machine greased.

  • I think Stanton has to get some of the blame. 25%? I’d give most of the rest of it to MT Carney and her team. The marketing was the worst ever.

  • 80% marketing and 20% Rich Ross. I don’t blame any of it Stanton — he did his best and he made a good enough movie for it to succeed.

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