What Can A Clockwork Orange teach us about a potential John Carter sequel?

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I came across an interesting article by Mike Kaplan entitled “How Stanley Kubrick Transformed the Modern Box Office Report (By Accident)” and I’d like to be able to drill down into the story Kaplan tells more deeply, particularly his discussion of how the marketing of 2001: A Space Odyssey failed miserably but laid the groundwork for the success of A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick’s next film.

Kaplan worked with Kubrick on both films and the aspect of the article that I found particularly intriguing was his depiction of the progression from the blundering marketing of 2001, to the properly managed, focused marketing for A Clockwork Orange.  I see in this some analogies to the situation surrounding John Carter — particularly the pattern of a) marketing misses the mark, b) movie flops, c) movie finds alternative audience, d) succeeding movie builds on the alternative audience and markets correctly, and is successful.

The other intriguing tidbit is that Kaplan devised the “successful 70mm relaunch strategy” for 2001 – and I’d like to know more about that.

Now, the analogy is not perfect by any means ….. but it’s worth a read.

How Stanley Kubrick Transformed the Modern Box Office Report

Stanley Kubrick believed that “filmmaking is an exercise in problem solving.” He meant that to include the distribution and marketing of his films as well as their production, and he devoted more time and effort to managing the release of his films than any other director. In my view, it’s one of the reasons he made only 13 films in 46 years. He relished the problem-solving.

I spent two years overseeing the marketing of Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, devising its successful 70-mm. relaunch strategy, before joining him in England to handle the release of A Clockwork Orange. Our collaboration began shortly after Clockwork wrapped and lasted through its December 1971 premiere, its official U.S. release date of February 2, 1972, and throughout its extended rollout. With Stanley’s rare combination of meticulousness and creativity, we achieved what we set out to accomplish — but the most influential result of our collaboration was unexpected.

The distribution of A Clockwork Orange was profoundly influenced by the unique marketing history of its predecessor. 2001 was MGM’s most expensive film to date. The fate of the company, which was in the midst of a proxy battle, depended on its success. It was greeted with derisive, negative reviews by the mainstream press and public — unprepared for its radical, non-linear style — until alternative audiences embraced it as a cinematic breakthrough.

Three and a half years later, the “X”-rated A Clockwork Orange opened to rave reviews in the United States, in a perfectly choreographed advertising-publicity-exhibition campaign that broke house records in every major city. Unlike the first, misconceived 2001 campaign, nothing was left to chance, including the crucial selection of cinemas, which were usually decided by a studio’s sales executives.

2001 was a special roadshow film, meaning it was presented with higher prices, reserved seating, and usually 10 performances a week. Only one to three roadshow cinemas existed per city and were easily identified.

Read the full article


  • “for those of us who actually would like to see a sequel get made, studying any pattern that even might be relevant is not a wasted exercise.”

    There is plenty to learn from the story of a marketing failure followed by a later effort that benefited from the lessons learned. Any John Carter sequel or reboot will want to know exactly what went wrong with DJC’s marketing and how to remedy its shortcomings, as well as how to leverage the existing fan community. Kaplan and Kubrick were of course working in a different era of marketing, with a fan base of a somewhat different nature, but the basic principle of “learn and apply” is a good reminder for any future John Carter filmmakers.

  • MCR
    Well, I’ve had to think about movie marketing a lot in my work and one of the issues is how the film is branded. I’m not saying 2001 to Clockwork is a sequel, but they learned things about how to brand Kubrick as a reliable brand of avant-garde sci-fi and use that in getting from 2001, (not so successful financially) to Clockwork (very successful). It’s not exactly a sequel but there was a brand development process that might have some relevance to what would be happening if a sequel were to get made. I’m not saying this is the magic elixir….just that there can/should be some lessons.

    In the case of Kubrick, prior to 2001 he didn’t have anything to do with sci-fi but 2001 created a platform so that when he went on to Clockwork, they had something to build on. He didn’t continue with sci-fi beyond Clockwork …. we all know that …. but during that window from 68 to 71 there was something at work that might yield some useful lessons. I’m just saying maybe and it’s worth looking into……..not “eureka I’ve found it!”.

  • Dotar:
    I get the feeling we’re talking about two different things. I’m thinking-and I might be wrong about this-you’re saying there is a connection and how 2001’s marketing and how bad it was were the lessons that Kaplan states were learned on Clockwork. My comments had more to do with the movies themselves. You don’t need to see 2001 one to see Clockwork. Now yes I can understand they could be seen a going after the same audience but you don’t need to see one to see the other, whereas with a John Carter sequel I would think a person would need to see the first one just to understand what is going on. It’s like reading Gods of Mars without at reading A Princess of Mars, you might get confused. That’s where I’m coming in regards to that.

    As for looking at patterns, I wouldn’t look at Donnie Darko and its pattern. They made a sequel that was supposedly so bad it went straight to DVD. I recently saw it in the 5 buck bin at Best Buy and I’m sure that’s not where the JC sequel brigade wants to end up.

  • MCR
    Kaplan, who worked on both films, definitely felt there was a connection between lessons learned on 2001 and outcome with A Clockwork Orange. And it’s not quite intellectually legit to say 2001 (futuristic sci fi) to A Clockwork Orange (futuristic sci fi) in a straight line has no more validity than Barry Lyndon (costume drama) to the Shining (horror). The fans who warmed to 2001 clearly were prime targets for A Clockwork Orange whereas the gap from Barry Lyndon to the Shining was much more substantial.

    I think your other comments about how different it is with global releases now versus the way films were released in 68 and 71 are more meaningful. But then …. for those of us who actually would like to see a sequel get made, studying any pattern that even might be relevant is not a wasted exercise. Maybe I can learn something from Harold and Maude, or Donnie Darko…..but I won’t try to convince you guys of it! 😉

  • Dotar Sojat wrote:
    “Contrarians please: Play nice! I know this presents an almost irresistible opportunity to launch a your standard “let’s bash Andrew Stanton” rant, but this is not about making value judgments about the films.”

    To quote Hannibal “Oh Dotar, the problem is you need to get more fun out of life!”

    But for now I’ll keep to the subject at hand.

    Pesonally I don’t see that there is a lesson that A Clockwork Orange is teaching about a John Carter sequel. Clockwork wasn’t a sequel to 2001, it had no relationship other than Kubrick. That’s like trying to find a connection between Barry Lyndon and The Shining, there is none. The marketing lessons also were different then. As add to what Steve already said, movies were not pushed out as massive events in 3000 theaters. That wouldn’t happen almost until Jaws seven years later and even then not on the scale of today’s films. A film like 2001 could find that “alternative audience” over time because there wasn’t a demand for quick box office returns (I wonder if that alternative audience wasn’t just really hippies who as Roger Ebert wrote went out during the intermission, dropped acid and returned to be dazzled by the pretty lights) and grow during over time. John Carter didn’t have that luxury, it had to perform strong out of the gate and when it didn’t it was written off as a box office failure.

    This isn’t much but there you go, that’s all I got for now.

  • Steve, I’m torn in my choice of film misquotes, but they’re both for you.

    ” Steve, you ignorant slut.”

    ” I fart in your general direction.”


  • Steve, well that’s a pretty good bashing of me, not so much Stanton, so at least it’s not a rehash of old stuff.

    For the record, Kubrick is my all-time fav film-maker and I have the highest regard for him, and I’m intentionally trying to not make this a direct comparison of Stanton and Kubrick. Your point that you can’t divorce the film/film-maker in studying the pattern I’m trying to study is one that I don’t’ buy entirely. Audience analysis and marketing strategies and things like that do exist somewhat independently but you’ve mounted such a forceful argument that I think I’ll just meekly go quiet and see what others have to say. I do think your rebuttal was fairly stated and didn’t go too far in beating me up…..could be I deserve it on this one but I’m not convinced yet that there is nothing to be learned from the analogy.

  • the analogy doesn’t fit in any way, shape or form.

    You’re probably lucky that I somehow lost my first comments on this ill-considered comparison.

    You can not divorce the director from the product; Kubrick had Spartacus and Dr. Strangelove under his belt prior to 2001; the “alternative audience” you talk about was a question of placing the film in the proper theaters/cities, not a question of growing a legion of zombie-like followers.

    Stanton makes cartoons. Kubrick made film and there is nothing to be gained for either by trying to make a comparison. (Even including JC, Stanton makes cartoons, not FILM.)

    There’s nothing to be gained from looking at the history of the marketing either; the secondary market of DVDs and red box and cable and pay-per-view did not exist; computer tracking did not exist (as is noted in the article itself); general release and wide release did not exist. The foreign market was an after thought.

    The difference between 2001 and JC is that a good film can overcome problems with release, bad reviews, poor audience reception over time because the goodness ultimately shines through (Sounds like the plot of a blockbuster-wannabe-tenpole-franchise, huh?). But it has to be a GOOD film first. 2001 broke cinematic history, invented new ways of filming live action and did so at a time when one of its central messages (that something other than a xtian god gave rise to man) was an outright attack on most of american society – and you’re trying to compare a film with a message like that to a piece of….entertainment?

    You’ve insulted Kubrick’s memory terribly with this. Inexcusably. Perhaps tomorrow you can try and get some Fellini, or Scorsese to rub off on JC.

    This whole thing strikes me as an act of desperation. The wind is no longer filling the Sequelista’s sails. You can pick up the oars, but as we learned from Spartacus, trying to row to that drumbeat gets people killed.

    In related news, I note that my local Shaws supermarket still has not sold out of JC DVDs and they are moving one step closer to the $5 bargain bin at the local Walmart, now occupying the “New Releases – $20.00” racks at the “Under 20 Items” checkout lines. Their cover price is still 24 and 29 respectively; this is no doubt a test to see how many people will mistakenly pick it up thinking the price is $20. LOL. Not many, I’m sure.

  • Contrarians please: Play nice! I know this presents an almost irresistible opportunity to launch a your standard “let’s bash Andrew Stanton” rant, but this is not about making value judgments about the films. This is about marketing, and patterns. The pattern of 2001 missing the mark initially but finding an alternative audience is a pattern than John Carter has also followed. If you think that statement isn’t true, I’d be happy for you to attack that. Just please don’t repeat the same bludgeoning of Stanton that we’ve heard 1000 times.

    What I’m really looking for are links to other articles about the 2001 marketing experience, more on the success of A Clockwork Orange compared to the failure of 2001……..if you have knowledge, insight, or links please share.

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