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Box Office Of Barsoom

March 22nd, 2012

I know that there’s no way to spin the second weekend box office for John Carter into anything good. Even Disney has already stopped trying, announcing that they expect to lose $200 million on the film once the Martian dust has settled.

However, I want to take a few moments to write about expectations and reality.

We all know that John Carter was a flop. Boxofficemojo.com began its March 11 weekend report with this: “After months upon months of box office speculation, John Carter finally opened and as expected was a huge disappointment.” They noted that it earned only $30.2 million domestically during its initial weekend. The report continued, “Disney’s marketing department has been beat up on pretty good for the lackluster John Carter campaign, and to their credit the movie doesn’t really lend itself to an easy sell. Still, making the movie is the responsibility of production, and selling the movie is the responsibility of marketing, and in that regard they clearly failed.”

Fast-forward a week.

On March 18, Boxofficemojo.com reported “With its broadly-appealing premise, popular lead actors and well-executed marketing campaign, 21 Jump Street cruised in to first place at the box office this weekend ahead of two-time winner The Lorax.” So, how much did 21 Jump Street make? $36.3 million domestically. Just $6.1 million more than the mega-flop that is John Carter. We can now quantify the advantage of a broadly-appealing premise and well-executed marketing campaign*.

Looking at the international box office–where the real money is made–John Carter grossed $70.6 million in its opening weekend, and was up to $126.1 million as of Monday morning. 21 Jump Street made $7.2 million…one-tenth of Carter‘s first weekend. Granted, the comedy played in far fewer countries, but–as the article I linked to in the opening paragraph explains–that’s because action films are an easier sell in foreign-language markets.

Nevertheless, 21 Jump Street is a hit. You can bet that they’re already planning the sequel, and that everyone else will be looking to dust off other ’80s cop shows to remake as comedies. John Carter, however? Floparoo. Only $180 million worldwide. What a stinker.

Let me be clear here. I’m well aware that John Carter cost an insane amount of money to make and sell: somewhere upwards of $350 million. And according to Boxofficemojo.com, the production budget of 21 Jump Street was a mere $42 million. In terms of return on investment, there’s a clear winner here. (Jump also received significantly better notices, but I suspect that the most brutal reviews of  Carter had less to do with its actual merits than with its bottom line.)

As an audience member, why should I give a shit how much the studio spent? Theaters don’t offer discount pricing for inexpensively-made movies. Marketing budgets and production overruns matter to bean-counters and entertainment reporters. The only real difference any of this makes to me is the extent to which the return on investment influences future film production. When movies I like are perceived as poor performers, studios are less likely to make movies I like.

There, unfortunately, the market has spoken.

*I have nothing against 21 Jump Street. I haven’t seen it yet. By most accounts, it’s pretty funny.

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