Is Alan Horn launching a reboot of The Rocketeer? – and what it might mean for John Carter

Other Stuff

An intriguing report surfaced at by Claude Brodesser-Akner (he of  “John Carter Was Doomed by its First Trailer” fame)  that Disney Studio Chief Alan Horn is prepping a re-boot of 1991’s The Rocketeer as the first major production of his tenure.

Now that Disney’s troubled movie studio is under new management, our spies tells us that, curiously, one of the first properties to be developed for a feature film is a reboot of 1991’s thirties-set adventure film, The Rocketeer.

We say ‘curiously’ because while the property was actually a flop at the time, its similarity to the current Disney-Marvel cash cow Iron Man is more than a little striking: In it, a racing pilot named Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) discovers a rocket-pack prototype in his stunt plane, hidden there by the gangsters who stole it from Howard Hughes; Secord tries it out, and, like Tony Stark, quickly discovers that a) flying without a plane is SO cool, and b) you gotta fight the bad guys (including Timothy Dalton, who two years prior had starred as James Bond for the second time) and save the girl (a luminous Jennifer Connelly).

While both properties are based on comic books, Iron Man actually arrived on the scene first: The Rocketeer was first published in 1982 by tiny (and now, sadly, defunct) Pacific Comics, and was conceived by artist Dave Stevens as an homage to the serial action heroes of the thirties. By the time Disney released The Rocketeer in 1991, Pacific had already been liquidated for half a decade. Stevens lost a battle with leukemia in March 2008 – just two months before Marvel’s adaptation of Iron Man was released.

We’re told the studio will soon be meeting with various writers to come up with a take. But its reappearance at Disney now, of course, begs the question: Why? What is new studio chief Alan Horn up to? It could be an early sign that the former Warner Bros. chief doesn’t just view his new job at Disney Studios as that of a mere portfolio manager, content to make sure acquisitions like Marvel, The Muppets, and Pixar, which keep churning out their own properties as Disney’s brand withers. That would be good news, indeed.

It really is a curious choice but I can’t help but think that the sensibility that would land upon The Rocketeer, chosen from all the possibilities that are out there, can’t be nearly as hostile to John Carter as Rich Ross was, and Bob Iger is.  I don’t know what that gets those hoping for something good to happen for John Carter — but I don’t see how this is a bad thing.


  • Oh, and comparisons with Iron Man are silly! Its like there is no depth or understanding of the subject…dude who flies and wears a helmet *bam* Iron Man! And the reasoning that this is the motivation for rebooting Rocketeer makes zero sense. After all, wasn’t the major criticism of John Carter that it looked too much like everything else?

  • I love the Rocketeer…love the movie, love the Dave Stevens comic, and I’m even buying the great IDW anthologies that have been released over the past year…but I just don’t get Disney choosing this property as a potential reboot. The only thing I can figure is that they already have the movie and merchandising rights…so they don’t have to invest any more money in the intellectual property.

    Don’t get me wrong…more Rocketeer done as well (or better!) as the 1991 movie would be welcome, but Rocketeer is a cult thing that appeals to a specific demographic, and to a specific crop of people who followed the comics in the eighties, or saw the movie on VHS (because they sure didn’t see it in the theatres). I guess there’s a guaranteed bottom line, but it certainly isn’t a big gains kind of project. Or perhaps that’s the point…Disney’s tentpole strategy is a shambles, so why not go after smaller game with modest budgets and get a sure buck?

    The only thing I hope is that the movie is a bit better and more full-throated in its adaptation of the material…the old movie is considerably ‘cleaned up’ and feels constrained by being a Disney movie (much like John Carter). Its frustrating, because you look at the Pirates of the Caribbean movies under the Disney brand, and they’re filled with sexual innuendo, scary monsters, brutal (but not bloody!) violence and scary monsters…why not inject some of that carefully conceived pulpiness into a Rocketeer movie?

  • I’ve decided to try to calm down. It’s been a tough week and the constant push for more of Stanton’s John Carter was just rubbing me wrong.

    I also agree Bob and probably have exaggerated it. This film won’t hurt the books or ERB’s reputation as much as I’ve claimed. It reminds me of a story Stephen King told concerning writer James M. Cain who when asked how he felt about Hollywood trashing his books pointed to a book shelf and said “They’re right there.” The books survive even when the movie has fallen by the wayside.

    I guess where I got angry is that as a film property I feel Stanton and Disney has ruined that. Yes I agree that Ross and Carney deserved to be shown the door and I will be happy to see Iger’s ass hitting it to (sorry for the vulgar image) but I also feel that since Stanton did not deliver that great film-which has been debated I know to death-he also deserves the blame. I pointed out on an IMDB thread that it took 15 years for another film version of Dune after David Lynch’s awful movie and that was a miniseries (which is where John Carter of Mars possibly needs to go in order to do it justice) and even then recent attempts to bring it back to the big screen have fallen by the way side I think due to studio execs believing its the material that doesn’t work, not the idea that the director or previous studio blew it. That and the near 100 year journey will have more convinced that it was just never meant to be a movie so they’ll be blaming the material not Stanton or Disney for messing up.

    Sorry for the long winded explanation but that’s what I got. Returning to The Rocketeer I hope the reason Alan Horn is doing this is because he believes there’s more stories to tell than just thinking “we can cash in” and deliver a bad movie like Tron Legacy. I would hate to see that happen.

  • MCR, I applaud you. You have become infinitely more congenial, and pretty damn funny, in your clever workarounds to get your point across.

    Just to step back to our previous exchange from a few days ago. I do feel your pain and frustration, which I do actually share. I do think the movie, no matter what we think of it, has actually not harmed ERB as much as you might think it has. I don’t have any hard data to back this up, but I would guess there are many more people reading these books now than if this movie never got made, which is sort of a good thing. I know it was an opportunity that was colossally blundered, we can argue who deserves to have the necks throtlled the most severely, but Disney’s mistake in not featuring ERB’s name in any of the promotions, that oversight now some what insulates him from the failure, and many people who did like the movie are now reading the books and hopefully passing them around to friends.

  • I loved the original Rocketeer and I’m not sure it really needs a reboot. Now THAT’S a movie that could use a sequel. It had that old fashioned pulp adventure feel that John carter SHOULD’VE had. He should be planning a John Carter reboot.

  • I’ll just keep to the Rocketeer in my comments-I love the original film. In fact it was the last great live action film Disney probably made and I am interested to see what way Horn goes with it. That said I hope they don’t decide that they need to suddenly make the hero “damaged goods” since that approach doesn’t fit with this character and as shown sometimes backfires horribly.

  • I think that it can only mean good things for a possible JC sequel. But, whether it does or not, this has me super excited, as “The Rocketeer” is one of my all-time favorite movies. I don’t know if a reboot could be as good as the original, but it could still be really good.

    “The Rocketeer” is an underappreciated movie that suffered from a somewhat lackluster marketing campaign ala JC (although it was WAY better than the marketing JC got), but without the internal sabotaging of the film. If Alan Horn has the sensibility to want to bring back the Rocketeer (which is a pulp inspired property), I can see him trying to finish the planned John Carter trilogy.

  • Sounds like a great idea! I hope it’s for real.

    Rocketeer originally written as an homage to 1930’s serials, which were in turn largely influenced by ERB. Maybe this is a step toward bringing things full circle…

  • I have to agree with you, Michael. I do see this as a good sign for John Carter getting its sequels under Alan Horn. Like to take it that way, anyway. 🙂

  • It’s a great development! Now Stanton has to march into Horn’s office with a great treatment, with a plan to deliver Gods under $150 million, and solid ideas to combat the reasons why American audiences didnt flock to the theaters in March.

  • Any project with a “pulp” sensitivity is good to have around. Between that and the two Tarzan reportedly in developement, it’s fairly good news!

Leave a Reply