This weekend I saw the already dubbed “flop” called John Carter. It’s actually a very good movie that just failed to find an audience. Perhaps it will find fans on home video and eventually be regarded as entertaining fare, but its box office run is quickly coming to an end.
Just like when a terrible movie makes a fuckton of money (Transformers, anyone?), you have to wonder why a good movie fails. Who is going to the crap and staying away from the good stuff? And what influences their decision? This is something that I as a writer have to think about sometimes.
From listening to people, John Carter failed to draw in people on several levels.
First, the title itself is so generic. Not many people today respond to the name John Carter itself since the source material is around 100 years old. Journey to the Center of the Earth is just as old but it made money (enough to warrant a sequel). An obvious difference between the two would be budget. Journey was much less expensive so profitability was easier to reach. But another reason might be that the title of Journey to the Center of the Earth says it all. You know what that movie will be about.
The title of the book this film is based on is A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’ve read that test audiences didn’t like this title mainly because guys didn’t want to see a film with the word “princess” in the title and girls didn’t want to see a film with “Mars” in the title. Hence, John Carter.
Secondly, the advertising campaign didn’t make it a must see. Would a bigger star have at least drawn in more people? Who knows. Would giving more of the story helped? I’m not sure. Either way, the ad campaign was an epic FAIL. It showed some action and some aliens but no one could figure this one out and so they stayed away.
Lastly, this is storytelling we’ve seen before. The funny thing is, the reason we’ve seen this before is because writers and filmmakers have been stealing from this story for decades. John Carter isn’t like other action/sci-fi stories. It’s the other way around.
John Carter could be a good lesson to Hollywood except it could have succeeded. You can’t predict this shit. Or as the great screenwriter William Goldman remarked, “Nobody knows anything.” The best laid schemes of mice and (movie) men often go awry. The best you can do as a filmmaker is get behind something you love and put all you’ve got into it. You may succeed, you may fail but in the end, at least you won’t be left feeling like a hack and a sellout.
Go see John Carter too. I know this was a labor of love for the filmmakers because it shows.