John Carter Fails to Lift Off With an Anemic $30.6 Million Box Office Opening Weekend

John Carter Fails to Lift Off With an Anemic $30.6 Million Box Office Opening WeekendUniversal’s popular 3D animated comedy The Lorax easily retained its title as North America’s top film this weekend while zipping past the $100 million mark, the studio’s second this year, without breaking a sweat. Great news for Universal Studios and bad news for Walt Disney, who had to settle for a mediocre second place debut for its very pricey sci-fi epic John Carter starring Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins. Two other debuts, A Thousand Words and Silent House, were both dead on arrival. Once again, the national box office showed its strength by rising a modest 5.4% over last year’s totals at this time.

In its second weekend, The Lorax had no problem staying in the number one spot as once again weekend family audiences turned out in droves. Still playing on an ultra-wide 3,746 screen count, The Lorax eased a modest 44% from its mammoth opening last weekend to earn a great $39 million. After ten days, the movie became the top-grossing film of 2012 so far while amassing a huge $122 million and should have no issue zipping past the $200 million mark in the next couple of weeks.

The type of business that The Lorax is currently enjoying may seem like the stuff of fantasy to the folks at Walt Disney Studios this weekend as their expensive science-fiction epic John Carter had a domestic opening that could only be seen as a disappointment. Based on the classic sci-fi novel series from Edgar Rice Burroughs set primarily on Mars, the live-action adaptation was directed by Pixar alumni Andrew Stanton (Wall-e, Finding Nemo) and stars Taylor Kitsch as a Civil War soldier who winds up transported to the Red Planet and finds him in the middle of another epic conflict.

Under any other circumstances, a $30.6 million opening on 3,749 screens at this time of the year would be seen as quite good. But when your movie costs close to $400 million to make and market and arrives with the stigma of a disaster in the making, $30.6 million might as well be 30.6 thousand.

There are a number of factors that may have been the cause for the movie’s mediocre start at the box office. The 50% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes is probably the smallest and the downright atrocious marketing campaign by Disney would be one of the biggest. In fact, I would have to say that the marketing for Carter (which I have heard is actually a lot of fun) has to stand as one of the all-time worst ever mounted by a major studio for a big-budget flick. You know a studio has no idea on what to do with a movie of this kind when they have no tie-in merchandise to accompany its opening.

While the movie experienced a 26% drop in business on Saturday and is estimated to lose a modest 30% on Sunday, the road ahead to profitability is going to be one as long as a trip to Mars itself. Even if Carter manages to hang on and earn $60-70 million in North America, it will still find itself a couple of hundred million in the hole. Making things even more of a challenge is the upcoming one-two punch of The Hunger Games and Wrath of the Titans opening at the end of the month. If the film is to save face, the foreign market will have to come to the rescue. Fortunately for the Mouse House, the overseas debut numbers were far more encouraging than the domestic. Since Friday, it has earned a great $70 million from foreign engagements.

While Carter’s opening was than hoped for, it could have been far worse for Disney. They could have been releasing one of the two outright bombs this weekend instead. One of those was Dreamworks/Paramount’s Eddie Murphy turkey A Thousand Words, which was quietly dumped on 1,890 screens where it earned an estimated $6.3 million and landed in sixth place. The movie was shot back in 2008 and shelved from that point on. The film marks the latest live-action dud for Murphy, whose recent track record indicates that yet again that unless he is part of an ensemble (Dreamgirls, Tower Heist) no one cares to see his latest round of dreck.

The third opener for the weekend was the Open Road horror release Silent House. The R-rated horror cheapie ($1 million production budget) opened in fourth place on 2,124 screens and quietly screamed out an estimated $7 million. The film got savaged by critics and ticket buyers cared even less by giving it a deadly “F” CinemaScore.

Last weekend’s number two film, the raunchy ‘found footage’ comedy Project X, slipped an acceptable 45% from its opening to earn an estimated $11.5 million this weekend. After ten days, the film has partied up $40 million and should finish its run around the $65 million mark. Not too bad for a movie whose target audience can’t get in without a parent or guardian.

The final movie in the top five for the weekend was Relativity’s action hit Act of Valor. Once again, the film held up quite well against the action competition (-48%) by earning an estimated $7 million on 2,951 screens. To date, the low-budget Navy SEAL drama has earned $56.1 million and is on track to hit at least $70 million by the end of its run.

The remainder of the top ten was as follows:

7. Safe House (Universal Pictures) $5 million (off 32% from last weekend). $115.8 million.

8. The Vow (Sony/Screen Gems) $4 million (-33%) $117.6 million.

9. This Means War (Fox) $3.75 million (-32%) $46.8 million

10. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (New Line/Warner) $3.68 million (-43%) $90.7 million.

Next weekend, only one film opens in wide release: Sony’s comedy take on the TV series 21 Jump Street starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. With only a new action/comedy to face, The Lorax could potentially win its third weekend in a row.

– Shawn Fitzgerald

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