John Carter is a live-action science fiction film that was directed by Andrew Stanton and released by Walt Disney Pictures in 2012. This film is based on a sci-fi novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs titled A Princess of Mars, a martian story that belongs in the Barsoom series of novels. The Barsoom novels centers around John Carter, a human who mysteriously appeared on the planet Mars that is inhabited by different kinds of Martians. Disney hoped that John Carter’s box office success would launch a new popular franchise for them after the end of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise; however, due to inflated production costs and negative reviews from critics and audiences, John Carter became one of Disney’s biggest movie flops. To know more about the factors that made the sci-fi Disney movie a flop, let us take a look at the production history and reception of John Carter.
The film adaptation for A Princess of Mars has been in development since 1931, when Bob Clampett, the director of Looney Tunes, approached Edgar Rice Burroughs if he could adapt the first Barsoom series story into a film. Burroughs is reported to have accepted Clampett’s offer with enthusiasm, but the writer recommended the director if someone could write an original story for John Carter for the film, as he believes that adapting A Princess of Mars into a film can be difficult. Clampett produced test footage of an animated short in 1936, but that footage was received negatively by those who watched it in different theaters. Clampett’s test footage was believed to have been lost when the project was canceled, but Danton Burroughs, Edgar’s grandson, found a copy of the footage in the Edgar Rice Burroughs archives.
The plan to adapt A Princess of Mars was revived in the 1950s when a stop-motion animation effects director named Ray Harryhausen wanted to direct a John Carter film. However, it was only around the 1980s when Walt Disney Studios, through producer Andre G. Vajna and Mario Kassar, bought the film rights for the Barsoom novels in hopes that they can compete in the sci-fi movie market that was popularized by the Star Wars films. Disney already hired John McTiernan to direct the movie, and after a few months, they hired Tom Cruise to star as John Carter. Unfortunately, the project was shelved after McTiernan realized that the visual effects technology during that time was not advanced enough for them to do the Martian adventure justice. The rights to film the Barsoom novels were then returned to the Burroughs estate.
After a failed attempt by Paramount to produce a John Carter film that supposed to be directed by Jon Favreau in the early 2000s, Andrew Stanton, who is known as the director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E, approach Disney and asked them if they could buy the film rights for the Barsoom novels again from the Burroughs estate. Disney was first skeptical about Stanton’s request, as they know that Stanton hasn’t directed a live-action film yet, but they eventually gave in and allowed Stanton to direct a Barsoom novel film adaptation. After the release of WALL-E in 2008, Stanton visited that Edgar Rice Burroughs archives in Tarzana, California, for his research. Stanton stated that working on the pre-production for John Carter was the shortest that he has done for any of his movies, as he already has sufficient knowledge in the Barsoom novels since he read them as a kid.
Filming began around the middle months of 2010, and it was believed that Stanton did reshoots for the film as he felt unsatisfied with the scenes they have shot previously. The reshoots are speculated to have been conducted because Stanton had no knowledge of filming live-action movies. In addition, because of the inflated budget caused by the reshoots, many film critics believed that the movie might not be able to recover its budget using only its box office sales. This speculation would later turn out to be true a year after the release of John Carter.
At the worldwide box office, John Carter was able to gross $284.1 million, but because the budget for the film reached $306.6 million, which include the production and marketing costs, John Carter is considered by many film fans to be not only one of Disney’s biggest flops but also one of the worst box office bombs of all time. The failure of John Carter is not really attributed to its box office sales, as it actually did well in several countries around the world, but what made it fail is its inflated budget, as well as the negative reviews that it received from critics, who stated that the film’s story was too complicated and all over the place.
During the pre-production stage of John Carter, Disney and Andrew Stanton planned it to be the first film in a John Carter trilogy. The second film was supposed to be a movie adaptation of the second Barsoom novel titles The Gods of Mars, and the story was already being worked on by producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins even before the first film finished production. However, because of the box office failure of John Carter in 2010, the planned trilogy was ultimately canceled. Furthermore, Disney returned the film rights of the Barsoom novels to the Burroughs estate on October 20, 2014, eliminating the possibility that the company will produce another John Carter movie.