In what appears to be the first sensible Box Office report to come out today, Forbes is reporting the outcome of John Carter’s opening weekend in a manner that shows someone is looking at the domestic and foreign numbers in context. Kudos to Forbes. I particularly like the point that “most media reports are focusing on the pre-established narrative that the film is a flop and critical failure”. Amen
After taking $30.6 million in its domestic opening weekend, the new Disney sci-fi adventure movie John Carter brought home an additional $70.6 million overseas as easily the highest-grossing film overseas, for a worldwide opening weekend of more than $100 million. While most media reports are focusing on the pre-established narrative that the film is a flop and critical failure, audiences are rating the film with a very healthy B+, some key film reviewers have enthusiastically embraced the movie, and the strong foreign receipt numbers indicate it will have a much better total box office run than many of the detractors seem to be giddily hoping for.
Part of the problem with the mainstream press reporting about the film’s performance is that the media still hasn’t adjusted to the fact domestic box office is no longer the major sign of a film’s performance that it used to be. With foreign receipts now accounting for 60-70% of the average “big” film’s total box office, there is often a contradiction between how the U.S. press perceives a film’s success and what the actual numbers really end up telling us.
Consider, for comparison, that the huge blockbuster Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol opened wide with a $29 million domestic weekend, after a previous $12 million very limited release weekend. That film, of course, has gone on to gross more than $688 million worldwide so far, and is still in theaters.
The lack of significant marketing focus on John Carter‘s romantic subplot (which includes a female lead who holds her own in combat and is a scientific genius) and no attempt to push the idea that this is just the first film in an epic multi-part franchise, probably hurt the film’s opening numbers. The continued box office powerhouse The Lorax pulling in a large portion of the family audience at theaters for the weekend was an additional problem. There’s also the chance that the widespread ad push for the upcoming film Wrath of the Titans might have led to some audience confusion between the movies or divided enthusiasm. Finally, the established simplistic narrative that the film is a big-budget flop started to take hold in the press before it even released, and it’s obviously far easier to just continue quickly repeating an established narrative than do the heavy lifting of sorting through the data and drawing more nuanced conclusions.
However, the strong overseas showing and the push back by some critics against the widespread negativity directed at the film, coupled with consistently positive audience reactions to the film, offer a chance for the movie to avoid a steep second-weekend decline, if a second marketing push is revamped and goes into heavy rotation in the press, online, and on TV domestically. Whether the ad campaign chooses to switch gears in such a way, though, remains to be seen.
Overall, the overseas box office has provided John Carter some breathing room to regroup and come back strong on the second weekend. Hopefully, the word will spread that audiences are really enjoying the film, while plenty of critics try to counter the echo-chamber against this movie with reviews letting viewers know that it’s highly entertaining, great action-adventure film with plenty to appeal to different tastes.