In 2012, Disney took advantage of their ownership of Marvel to reap the benefits of the billion-dollar grossing Avengers movie, but that wasn’t the only major franchise they were hoping to launch that year. You may recall that a couple of months prior to Earth’s Mightiest doing battle with Loki, the Mouse House released John Carter, an adaptation of the influential Edgar Rice Burroughs character, with (then) rising star Taylor Kitsch in the title role and award-winning Pixar director Andrew Stanton calling the shots.
The end results, however, were very un-Tony Stark-like. Earning a mixed critical reception (read our John Carter review), the film failed to capture the imagination of moviegoers, making only $73 million domestically. Even though its $284.1 million worldwide intake surpassed the film’s $250 million production budget, the poor performance caused Disney to lose a significant lump of change and cost studio head Rich Ross his job. Any plans Disney had for a long-term franchise were surely scrapped.
So it shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise to learn that Disney has lost the property’s media rights, which will now reside back at Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. The company announced the development in a press release, stating their intentions to partner with a different studio to bring the adventures of John Carter of Mars to the screen.
Disney, of course, have both the Marvel and Lucasfilm goldmines to play in, with superhero and space opera films planned throughout the next decade at least. The Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Star Wars galaxy are both highly recognizable brands that bring in substantial box office profits (and countless merchandising opportunities), so one can see why they’d rather dedicate their time and efforts to the surer things as opposed to making a floundering series work.
Burrough’s John Carter books had a tremendous impact on the film industry, as they served as sources of inspiration for the aforementioned Star Wars and James Cameron’s record-breaking smash Avatar – two franchises that will see a number of new installments shortly – among several others. In that sense, it comes with a heavy dose of irony that the original sci-fi narrative couldn’t establish a connection with audiences, but Disney had trouble marketing the picture (changing the title after Mars Needs Moms bombed in theaters) and the character himself wasn’t all that recognizable despite being a pioneer in a very successful genre.
ComingSoon notes that some of Burrough’s earliest publications, including “A Princess of Mars,” are in the public domain, meaning that anybody can try their hand at adapting those if they so please. However, if a new production desires the kind of global attention that Stanton’s film received, it would have to be met with the approval of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
At this stage, it’s difficult to say what Hollywood studio would want to roll those dice. The moviegoing public showed not too long ago that there isn’t a big demand for John Carter movies, and most of the large corporations are tied up with franchises that are (at least, supposedly), box office locks. Warner Bros. just announced a major DC slate, Paramount is working on Transformers and Star Trek sequels, and Universal wants Matt Damon back for a new Bourne installment.
Given the large scale a John Carter film would command, it would have to be one of those major studios footing the bill, and there doesn’t appear to be any takers right now. Burroughs, Inc. could conceivably reach out to Fox or Sony – who could benefit from additional franchises – but they too are involved with Marvel, and Sony really doesn’t need to take on a risky proposition right now.
It’ll be interesting to see if anything becomes of this, or if John Carter just goes by the wayside. Today’s Hollywood landscape is already flooded with huge tentpoles that seemingly pop up every other week, so executives could determine that the price tag for a new Carter film simply isn’t worth it.
We’ll keep you updated on the progress of future John Carter films as more information becomes available.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90.