A Film Franchise That Can Be Salvaged: John Carter
Disney has already taken a bath on John Carter, so the likelihood of a sequel is pretty much extinct at this point. John Carter was slated to be a tentpole franchise that would be relied upon to be a cash cow for the next decade or two. This was supposed to be Disney’s Harry Potter*.
John Carter is steadily exiting theaters now, making room for The Avengers and Battleship and other widespread releases in the coming weeks (Note: I wrote this a few weeks ago). Can John Carter the film franchise still be salvaged? I think so. Here are some suggestions:
1. A re-release as part of a late summer double bill. Disney sibling The Avengers is one of those rare films that warrant repeat viewings in a theater. In the box office dead zone known as August and September, a double bill pairing John Carter with Avengers would bring more exposure to the overlooked Carter. This would be a break-even exercise with Theaters pocketing a bigger chunk of the gross, but the fanbase for Carter would grow and would convert more rentals of John Carter into purchases when the film hits home video.
2. Invoke the good name PIXAR for the home video release, albeit a different flavor of PIXAR. They didn’t market John Carter as a PIXAR film because of the violence and adult themes, which makes sense. Just as I have oft-mentioned that Cars 2 would be better served with a PIXAR Kids or PIXAR Family moniker**, John Carter could be buoyed by the PIXAR name if skewed for the adults. It would need a Criterion vibe; something like PIXAR Revue, PIXAR Cinema, or PIXAR Spotlight. This brand would give the film further credibility and perhaps a spot on the list of Disney PIXAR video collectors. Remember: strong video sales can give birth to a film franchise. Worked for Austin Powers, which tanked at the box office.
3. Acknowledge the different fan bases and provide alternate titles for the home video release. I haven’t done a Blu-Ray design here for a while, apologies. But for John Carter’s Blu I would include 2 additional covers for the box depicting alternate titles: A Princess of Mars and John Carter of Mars. This way fans can display the box with the title of their choosing. I’d go a step further and include those titles as being displayed when the film plays. Yes it would take a bit of trickery to allow for the choice and to swap titles on the fly, but it is do-able. This way fans can adopt the film title they like, and that adds a bit more appeal when it comes time to purchase.
4. Day one Director’s Cut. Film studios like to pocket Director’s Cuts for ‘double dip’ film releases down the road (usually opting to release a vanilla version first). Disney typically doesn’t do that, usually selling feature-rich combo packs to start off with. But for John Carter it would serve Disney well to throw in everything and the kitchen sink. That means a plethora of features and some game-changers like Director’s Cuts or Extended Editions. This release has to turn a lot of heads and get the cinephiles talking up a storm.
5. Supplemental media. This film must have been a merchandising nightmare. The books for which it is based are public domain, and you can’t do any toy tie-ins. How do you nurture a film franchise when the film is such a standalone product? In this day and age merchandise is a huge piece of the pie, and I’m a little surprised Disney sunk $250M on a film that relied almost entirely on box office alone. The Barsoom books were re-released in a shiny John Carter polish, but that was it. Put your Marvel acquisition to work Disney! Graphic Novels and Motion Comics would have introduced Carter to a new generation. These inexpensive mediums would grow the fanbase and expand the Barsoom lore.
This also addresses the lack of awareness for the John Carter character and Barsoom books. It seems to me that the film was released under the assumption John Carter was as engrained in the pop culture zeitgeist as Batman or King Kong. John Carter didn’t really have a built-in audience, at least not in this century.
*And Tron Legacy was supposed to be Disney’s Star Wars. Been a rough few years for the house that Mickey built.
** Cars 2 is not the same caliber of previous PIXAR films. I suppose Cars and even A Bug’s Life could be re-purposed for a kid-friendly PIXAR moniker too.
Be sure to check out the other entries in my “Salvageable Film” series.
Excellent article on the botched marketing for John Carter at Vulture.com.