Weekend Wrap-Up
John Carter Not Nearly Big Enough For Disney
By John Hamann
March 11, 2012

Let us celebrate our awesomeness with sky marshmallows!

Openers laid an egg at the box office this weekend, and while the one that John Carter laid may look like gold, nobody – and I mean nobody – is smiling at Disney Corp today. The other two openers, Eddie Murphy's 2008 comedy A Thousand Words and the one-shot horror flick Silent House, were complete roadkill, as Dr. Seuss' The Lorax ran over them driving his biofuel Mazda SUV. The story of the weekend, though, is John Carter, the $250 million mega-picture that only drew senior citizens this weekend.

Our number one film of the weekend is once again Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, as the huge opener dominates the top ten again. After opening to $70 million last weekend, obliterating box office tracking and estimates, The Lorax was still flying high this weekend, as it took in another $39.1 million from 3,746 venues. Considering the huge opening, The Lorax fell a not bad 44%. One has to remember that usually, the bigger they are the harder they fall. 300, 2007's sword and sandal epic, fell 54% after opening to $70.9 million. The Bourne Ultimatum fell 53% following a $69.3 million debut.

With blockbuster kid's flicks, like The Lorax, studios are more apt to release them strategically. Two Pixar films have opened to $70 million, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. The latter was released on November 5, 2004, and opened to $70.5 million. It fell only 29% in weekend two, as the Thursday before the weekend was Veteran's Day, and enabled the Friday to behave more like a Saturday at the box office. With Finding Nemo, Pixar had an excellent film, and was able to turn superlative word-of-mouth into a 34% drop in weekend two. The Lorax didn't have the critical praise that Nemo did, as it came in at 57% fresh versus Nemo's 98% fresh rating. Despite all that, The Lorax is on its way to being a film that's remembered. It crossed the $100 million mark on Saturday, its eighth day of release, and now has a running total of $122 million. It has zero direct competition next weekend, so I expect a good hold, before it faces off against The Hunger Games on March 23rd.

Finishing second this weekend is John Carter, the Disney release that didn't have much of a chance over this mid-March weekend. John Carter earned $30.8 million this weekend from 3,749 venues, far too little for a film that cost $250 million before getting into more money for prints and advertising. This one has been in the works for a very long time, as Disney took a shot at John Carter in the 1980s with John McTiernan (Die Hard, Predator) and Tom Cruise attached, then it shuffled to Paramount, where Sin City's Robert Rodriguez had a look, then Iron Man's Jon Favreau. Then in 2007, the rights reverted to Disney, and a long march to get to today took place. With Finding Nemo and WALL-E under his belt, Disney couldn't say no to director Andrew Stanton, and filming started in early 2010. Originally scheduled for summer 2012, Disney moved John Carter back to March, which is never a good indication of faith from a Hollywood studio on a quarter-billion picture. Reviews were embargoed until a week before release, and then seemingly released to the web on a case by case basis. As of last Monday, only positive reviews were listed at RottenTomatoes; today, critics are split right down the middle, with 83 for the film, and 83 against. "Top Critics" are not so split, with only 13 out of a possible 37 finding something to like (37%). If there is good news, its that John Carter does not appear to be a Battlefield Earth (2% fresh at RottenTomatoes – and one of the very few films I've walked out of).

For a film that cost $250 million to make, you need to be making at least Lorax kind of money over opening weekend. $30 million is simply not enough. If a film debuts to $30 million, and is good and popular with audiences, the studio might hope to earn five times that opening and earn $150 million stateside. It then might earn the same overseas, resulting in a total of $300 million. However, once theaters take their percentage, that amount is cut down, and advertising doesn't come cheap. With a $250 million budget, a film would need to earn at least $200 million stateside and another $300 million overseas just to come close to earning that money back. Even if it had a solid gross but still faced a loss, the studio may consider it an investment on a franchise, but I highly doubt something like that is going to happen here.

The Hollywood Reporter said on Saturday morning that 30% of John Carter's audience was over the age of 50, which is a scary indicator of the future for a film like this. Its weekend multiplier (weekend gross divided by Friday gross) came in at 3.1, which means it likely played older all weekend. While John Carter won't be a complete disaster, Disney will be paying for this one for a while. On the plus side, it earned over $70 million in foreign markets over the weekend, so at least it's off to a solid start there.

Finishing a somewhat surprising third is Project X, and to be clear, I'm surprised at the rank, not the gross. As expected, Project X tumbled financially, down 45% from last weekend's $21.1 million gross down to $11.6 million. It also should have fallen down the top ten, but with the other openers packing no punch, and the remaining holdovers starting to fall off, it held a decent ranking, which is likely a bad sign for the overall box office moving forward. The film will be a lucrative entry for Warner Bros., as this is a found footage type release starring no one, so costs were kept to only $12 million, or about 5% of what it cost to make John Carter. With a gross of about that much this weekend – its second – you can see how profitable these found footage things are. Project X has now earned $40.1 million for Warner Bros., and will likely make it to $50 million.

Fourth is Silent House, a film that looked intriguing about a week ago. Silent House – a one shot gimmick horror movie – earned $7 million from 2,124 venues. Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Silent House was a remake of a Uruguayan film that was made for $6,000. No wonder it appealed to the makers of Open Water, a film that cost a half-million to make and grossed $30.6 million stateside. Critics loved the camera work in Silent House, but moviegoers gave it an F Cinemascore, which likely means this one will be gone quite quickly.

Fifth spot goes to Act of Valor, a film that I thought would be out of the top ten this weekend, not still in the top five. Act of Valor earned $7 million in its third weekend, as action aficionados continue to support this one. Made for $12 million, dropped 48% from the previous frame. Valor has now earned a serious $56.1 million, so we can expect to see more films with non-actors shortly in our future. Huzzah.

Sixth is Eddie Murphy's A Thousand Words, a film that has been on the shelf so long, it is literally dusty. A Thousand Words didn't do so well, earning only $6.4 million from an almost laughable 1,980 venues. Made in 2008 (!), the comedy was held until a few weekends after Murphy was supposed to host the Oscars. Ironically, it is 0% fresh so far at RottenTomatoes, and hopefully it will stay that way. A Thousand Words cost Paramount $40 million to make, and this one will struggle to make $15 million.

Safe House is seventh, as it spends its fifth weekend in the top ten. Safe House earned another $4.9 million and dropped 33% compared to last weekend. Now at $115.8 million, Safe House has become Denzel Washington's second biggest picture of his career, behind only American Gangster ($130 million).

Eighth is The Vow, the romantic drama featuring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum. It fell 33% this frame, meaning that it had a weekend total of $4 million. Its overall total is $117.6, and has been an incredibly profitable venture for Screen Gems.

This Means War, the Reese Witherspoon miss from Fox, finishes in ninth. The $65 million production earned $3.8 million in its fourth weekend, falling 33% compared to the previous frame. While not a disaster, This Means War had more going for it than its gross so far of $46.9 million would indicate.

Tenth is Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. The sequel starring The Rock earned another $3.7 million and was off 44% compared to the previous frame. The $80 million Warner Bros. release has now earned $90.7 million stateside, and another $185 million overseas.

Overall, the box office was way down versus last weekend, but on ahead of last year. A year ago, the top 12 films were led by Battle: Los Angeles, which opened to $35.6 million, and combined with the other top 12 for a gross of $117.6 million. This year, the top 12 combined for $123.3 million in ticket sales. Next weekend will likely see this weekend's openers go soft, so the field will be wide open for Sony's version of 21 Jump Street, which has earned some surprisingly good reviews so far.