I have been looking forward to the release of John Carter for months. Not only because I enjoyed the book (to be honest, though I had heard of it, I hadn’t read it until I heard about the movie coming out) but because of the very idea of it. Here was an unapologetic pulpy story given life on the big screen. A spectacle not based on something from the current bestseller list but on a nearly hundred-year old work that really only hardcore sci-fi nerds had heard of, much less read. It was an underdog idea from the start and I loved it.
And it flopped.
The movie itself was pretty much all I had hoped for. It was exciting, fun, and captured the world of Barsoom beautifully. But, nevertheless, it flopped like a fish on a board.
John Scalzi does a great job of summing up what happened here. It boils down to two important points: niche audience combined with failed marketing. It’s not the quality of the film that ultimately matters but the money. This isn’t new or groundbreaking information, but facts that are important to remember.
But I also feel it is the victim of a the “first-weekend-push” phenomenon that the movie industry has embraced. Essentially, if a movie doesn’t make a huge profit on its first three days of release, it’s counted as a loss. And films like John Carter cost so much to make now ($250 million, in this case) that unless you already have a huge audience baked-in, there is no way that’s going to happen.
That’s why most of what Hollywood puts out is “unoriginal” or based on what’s hot right now–they have to have the built-in take for the opening. And that’s also why a lot of perfectly fine films will never get a sequel or inspire producers to invest in more “risky” genre films.
It just doesn’t seem right or fair that so much rides on three days.
I don’t know what to do about it. Can movie makers cut some of their costs? I’m sure they’re already under pressure by their backers to try. Can more emphasis be put on later-market access (DVD, Blu-Ray, streaming) to pick up losses? I really don’t know.
All I know is that when something like John Carter comes to the theater, I better go get in line quick–and bring a few friends with me. Opening day is the only day Hollywood is listening.