After months upon months of box office speculation, John Carter finally opened and as expected was a huge disappointment. The mega-budget sci-fi epic wasn't even able to unseat The Lorax, which held first place for the second-straight weekend. The other openers, Silent House and A Thousand Words, also performed poorly on a weekend where overall box office was at around $137 million (up just six percent from last year).
The Lorax fell 45 percent to $38.8 million. The movie held about as well as Horton Hears a Who! (45 percent), and a bit worse than Despicable Me (42 percent). On Sunday, The Lorax passed The Vow to become 2012's highest-grossing movie at $121.7 million.
John Carter opened to $30.2 million from 3,749 locations. That's lower than practically any similar movie, beginning with those that came out around the same time of year. It was obviously way off from 300 ($70.9 million) and Watchmen ($55.2 million)—what's more concerning, though, is that it was even a tad below 10,000 B.C. ($35.9 million) and Battle: Los Angeles ($35.6 million), both of which were modest movies in comparison.
Among past Mouse House franchise attempts, John Carter isn't looking so good either. Back in 2003, Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl debuted to $46.6 million, or the equivalent of over $60 million. Tron Legacy opened to $44 million in December, which is a month with notoriously low openings (the movie ultimately closed with four times as much, a fate that's unlikely for John Carter). One very minor bright spot is that the opening was slightly above that of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time ($30.1 million), but with 3D and IMAX surcharges John Carter even lagged behind that dud in initial attendance.
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.
The movie is called John Carter, but aside from the fact that he can jump far and looks good without a shirt on, what else did commercials really convey about the title character? Also, what was John Carter doing in this desert landscape occupied by tall green men, aside from fighting giant furry white creatures? If the characters don't seem interesting, and the stakes are low (or poorly explained), it doesn't really matter how much money the movie cost or how many advertisements are run—audiences are just not going to show up.
For whatever reason, the marketing mainly ignored the movie's central romance, and as a result it paid dearly with women, who represented just 37 percent of the opening weekend audience. Crowds also skewed slightly older (59 percent over the age of 25), and they awarded the movie a solid "B+" CinemaScore. 3D presentations accounted for 64 percent of the gross, and included within that figure was a very high 16 percent from IMAX 3D showings.