In these days were studio executives don’t see movies so much as entertainment as revenue streams, it’s not enough for a film to make enough at the box office to turn a profit. It needs to make enough to justify a sequel if not the launching of a full-fledged, multi-installment franchise that will bring in the box office bucks for years to come.
The problem with that thinking is that box office returns have to be at a level even higher than just the “break even” point. And the more you’ve spent on your film, the bigger the risk a studio is taking, meaning that they’ll invest even more money in its marketing to insure that it will earn all of its money back once the film is released. It’s a slippery slope, and one down which many a film has slid.
Disney is looking at this problem with director Andrew Stanton’s fantasy adventure John Carter which is set for release next March. Based on the series of pulp novels written by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, the film is sporting a reported budget in the neighborhood of $250 million and stars Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe, three names that don’t necessarily drive business at the box office.
So how much will this film have to make to give the studio the reassurance that they should make a sequel? According to a profile of Stanton in the issue of New Yorker magazine (available online for the magazine’s subscribers only) –
John Carter … will have to earn about $700 million to justify a sequel.
Earning $700 million at the box office would put John Carter into the top 50 earners of all time. Stanton has done that before with Finding Nemo, but, with apologizes for the pun, this is a different kettle of fish altogether. Finding Nemo had the luxury of being a PIXAR film, thus it had a certain amount of brand name power that drove ticket sales even though the story was original with no pre-existent recognition factor of its own. As a live action film, even with ads blaring “From the creator of Tarzan and the director of Finding Nemo!”, John Carter is still a tough sell to the non-geek public.
Disney’s marketing department is going to have their work cut out for them in not only generating awareness for the film over the next six months, but in also educating the general public about the character and creating the desire that this will be an epic fantasy adventure that should be seen on a big screen and not on home video late next summer. I imagine that word of mouth among the geek community will be important as well. Disney’s absence from this coming weekend’s New York Comic Con, the last big geek event before the film gets released, is glaring and a little bit troubling.
Of course, if the movie does earn enough for Disney to give the go-ahead for a follow up, there are almost two dozen more John Carter books that they could dig into for material. Hopefully, the studio will get the chance to do so.