Market Overview

John Carter Stole $200M from Disney's Wallet

That John Carter is one sly pickpocket.

It turns out that after bumping into Disney (NYSE: DIS) on the subway, John Carter – that sneaky guy from the past, future, or some other point in time that nobody cares about – walked away with $200 million in Mickey Mouse money.

According to the Washington Post and other outlets, the over-hyped film has killed off any hope for profits for the quarter, costing the film and animation studio $80 – $120 million total. (Profits from other films brought down the overall loss from $200 million.) With a reported production budget of $250 million and a marketing budget of $100 million, John Carter is being referred to as one of the biggest losers in Hollywood history.

In the Washington Post story, films like Speed Racer (which cost $120 million but made only $94 million in theaters) and Mars Needs Moms (another Disney flop – this one earned $40 million worldwide on a budget of $150 million) are mentioned. But few are as amusing as Evan Almighty, the pseudo-sequel to Bruce Almighty, which reportedly cost $175 million to produce but made only $100 million domestically. How could a cheesy comedy with a short animation sequence and a weak replica of Noah's Ark cost $175 million to produce? Did the studio pay Steve Carell $100 million to star in the film? Even then, I can't fathom where the other $75 million went. The ad budget might have been high (there were commercials, posters and billboards everywhere), but studios count that separately from the production budget.

With foreign receipts tallied, Evan Almighty still failed to break even. It did, however, succeed in nearly putting viewers to sleep, which is probably a blessing. Studies show that most people don't get enough sleep. Because of this film, we all got a little bit more.

Joking aside, box office losers are the way of the world. Sometimes it's a fluke (ex: a movie looks promising but no one actually shows up to see it). Other times the ads are to blame (if the trailer isn't good, no one will see your movie). But more often than not, the movie just plain sucks. Viewers can spot this the moment they see the trailer. And this is far from the first time it happened to Disney.

In addition to Mars Needs Moms (which was arguably the stupidest title of any film released in 2011 – even worse than We Bought a Zoo), Disney wasted $200 million making Prince of Persia, which earned only $90 million domestically. Internationally, the film brought in another $244 million, which sounds positive. But with all the money spent on marketing and distribution, Disney would be lucky if it broke even.

Despite the massive losses Disney has incurred, analysts are still retaining their fairly positive view of the studio. With Brave (Pixar's next animated gem) and The Avengers (technically a Disney flick now that the company owns Marvel) headed to theaters this summer, Wunderlich Securities has decided to ignore John Carter and raise its price target on Disney to $46.

Brave is sure to be successful. For one thing, it's a Pixar flick, so it has “gold” written all over it. Second, it looks awesome. Some might even use the word amazing when describing the trailer, but I'll refrain from providing too much praise this far in advance. However, in the history of Pixar, the most unusual trailers (such as Up, Wall-E and Ratatouille) typically result in breathtaking and/or groundbreaking films that mesmerize critics and moviegoers alike.

Considering the popularity of Iron Man (and the decent fan reception for the Thor and Captain America films), The Avengers is all but guaranteed to be a success.

But when and where will we encounter Disney's next flop?

The studio doesn't have many films left for 2012. Frankenweenie, the unusual stop-motion flick from Tim Burton, is likely to do well with Burton fans. Wreck-It Ralph could suck and I'll still go see it, if only for the fact that it was inspired by video games and will reportedly feature cameos from some of our favorite characters (Pac-Man and Bowser are on the unconfirmed list – here's hoping for an “I'm sorry, but your princess is another castle” reference!).

That leaves just one film on Disney's 2012 schedule: The Odd Life of Timothy Green. While the production budget has not been announced, you can bet that it was low, so there is little chance that the film will be considered a “flop,” regardless of how much it makes. But in all honesty it might actually be good. After just one viewing of the trailer, I kind of want to see it. I suspect that I will really want to see it after the full marketing campaign begins, at which point moviegoers will be fully exposed to the film's potential.

But in 2013, Disney has a huge list of films that are scheduled for release, many of which are of a questionable nature. Take, for example, the sequel to Monsters, Inc. I love Pixar to death. I was not afraid to clap loudly and cheer excitedly when the first teaser for Toy Story 3 debuted. I was forever moved by Up, which has become one of my all-time favorite films. And I'll never forget the experience of attending the midnight screening for The Incredibles. But aside from the Toy Story franchise, which was begging for sequels (and The Incredibles, which sadly hasn't gotten any), Pixar films should not continue beyond their first adventure.

Before Disney acquired the studio from Steve Jobs, Pixar execs seemed to agree. But Disney loves a good cash cow, which is why we have Monsters University. For all I know, it could be a great film. It is a Pixar flick, after all. If anyone can pull off a sequel for a movie that didn't need one, it's Pixar. But Disney sequels tend to be the worst of any studio (especially when it comes to animation), and that's what concerns me the most. At the very least, moviegoers might be so concerned by its quality that they fail to show up on opening weekend. This is why Ratatouille – which wasn't a sequel but was an absolute masterpiece – failed to make as much money as some of the other Pixar flicks. People just didn't have enough faith in it.

In 2013, Disney also plans to release another Pirates of the Caribbean movie. While these films are profitable worldwide, their domestic haul continues to decline. Expect the fifth movie to be the least popular addition to the franchise.

Thor 2 and Iron Man 3 will be profitable. But don't expect The Lone Ranger (yawn) to be a huge success story. Will it flop? Maybe, maybe not. But I really doubt that it will do well.

Oz: The Great and Powerful is somewhat of a toss-up, as it comes from a big director (Sam Raimi) and features a bunch of known actors (James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and apparently Bruce Campbell). But it's also a “prequel” to the 70-year-old Wizard of Oz. I suspect this one will be a hard sell to anyone except diehard Oz and Sam Raimi fans, but I can't say for certain until the full trailer has been released.

On a more positive note, Disney will also release its first Pixar project with Henry Selick (the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline and other stop-motion gems) in 2013. Nothing is known about the film, but considering his previous work, one can only assume that it is going to be an incredible masterpiece. (Or at the very least a visual work of art.)

Disney has other (smaller) films due next year as well. From the looks of it, Pirates and Monsters stand to be the biggest losers of the bunch. That is, assuming they don't have amazing trailers that win over moviegoers.

Follow me @LouisBedigian

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