One of the many interesting aspects of Disney’s handling of John Carter was the decision to break with tradition and announce the writedown on the second Monday after release, rather than waiting until the next quarterly earnings report, which is what they had done previously. Many John Carter supporters felt that this announcement was premature, coming as it id before the film had even opened in key markets like Japan and China.
Flash forward fifteen months to The Lone Ranger, which did even more poorly than John Carter on its opening weekend (29M vs 31M for John Carter). What should we expect from Disney?
I’m not sure.
First of all, let’s compare the performance of the two films. Here’s a chart which is instructive, up to a point.
- The reputed promotional spend for Lone Ranger was 175m vs 150m for John Carter, so if that’s true — the foregoing charts basically zero out when promotion/marketing investment is added.
- John Carter had a much stronger Foreign opening, and clearlyw ill have a higher foreign total than Lone Ranger. But Lone Ranger opened on Wednesday, not Friday, and there are the Wed / Thu figures (including holiday July 4, Thursday) that are not captured in the chart above. So for its first 5 days, Lone Ranger had 48m and JC had 35m — but JC’s first five were Friday through Tuesday, with no Holiday, and kids in school, yada yada.
The bottom line is they are pretty similar in terms of outcome, if you consider worldwide gross. But more of JC’s money came from foreign, where Disney earns less from each box office dollar.
But on to the question — will Disney announce a writedown tomorrow?
If such an announcement is purely a matter of looking at the the numbers and making an announcement, then they should. But as everyone knows, it’s more complicated than that.
Let’s start with the pre-release “it’s a bomb” drumbeat.
For whatever combination of reasons, the pre-release drumbeat regarding The Lone Ranger didn’t come close to the “it will bomb” clamor that John Carter endured. At least that’s my impression — I didn’t follow Lone Ranger as closely as i did John Carter. But I think that’s a fair observation and it makes sense because there are things that differentiated Lone Ranger from John Carter as far as whether or not the package made sense is concerned.
Why did JC become such a profound target of pre-release ridicule, when Lone Ranger did not get whacked to that extent?
Both involve an attempt to revive interest in a thrilling series from yesteryear, and there are those who are using this to show them as corollaries to each other.
But in the case of John Carter the series simply wasn’t known whereas Lone Ranger was at least something that most moviegoers had heard of, even if they had never seen it. There was recognition. The title conjured up an image. The title “John Carter” conjured up nothing. So there was a difference on that level.
More importantly, Lone Ranger had marketing hooks that John Carter didn’t. Johnny Depp. Jerry Bruckheimer. From the team who brought you the Pirates of the Carribbean.
That last one is very important. Moviegoers understood that the Lone Ranger was basically what the POTC team moved on to — it was their next thing.
For all those reasons, Lone Ranger wasn’t ridiculed in advance as an outrageous allocation of studio resources the way that John Carter was.
Remember — John Carter was an obscure, untested literary property, it had a first time action director, it had no major stars, and it didn’t have a “name” producer attached.
So, the “Schaenfreude Quotient” for John Carter was 95, and it’s only 75 for the Lone Ranger.
Will Disney make an announcement?
I doubt it, but that might. They might be smarting a little bit for the criticism they got for how they handled John Carter, but I doubt it. They may also have discovered that making such an announcement does in fact make sense from a stock price management point of view. It soothes shareholders and diminishes the likelhood that a bomb will result in a significant drop in stock prices.
So maybe they will think it makes sense to do this all the time when a film bombs in a big way – even though it hurts the movie’s performance to do so.