Walt Disney Pictures
As an anonymous high school student once sort of wrote (no, really), “If you want something very, very badly, let it go free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with.” Walt Disney Pictures has apparently decided to put their own twist on this little bit of life advice, letting go of something they didn’t love or want very much, desperately hoping it never comes back to them again.
According to a press release over at PR Web (via Cinema Blend), all rights to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter” series have reverted back to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. – and, yes, that includes all movie, television and merchandise rights. For Disney, this might come as a bit of a relief, as their 2012 feature film John Carter is one of the studio’s biggest flops ever (Disney claimed an $84M loss on the film, which cost $250M to make), and has remained emblematic of some of the entertainment world’s biggest blockbuster, well, busts. But that doesn’t mean that John Carter is dead – because Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. is now actively seeking a new studio for potential films. Do you want to make John Carter 2? Or perhaps John Carter 2–11?
The press release makes it pretty plain: “Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. will be seeking a new studio to continue this seminal Sci-Fi adventure.”
Moreover, president John Sullos shares: “John Carter of Mars was the creative stimulus behind such movie classics as Superman, Star Wars and Avatar…Edgar Rice Burroughs was the Master of Adventure and his literary works continue to enjoy a world-wide following. We will be seeking a new partner to help develop new adventures on film as chronicled in the eleven Mars novels Burroughs wrote. This adventure never stops. Along with a new Tarzan film in development by Warner Bros., we hope to have John Carter of Mars become another major franchise to entertain world-wide audiences of all ages.”
That seems like a nice dream.
Sullos is right on a number of accounts; Burroughs was the Master of Adventure, people love his stories and, yes, there really are eleven John Carter books. But despite all those totally true facts, there’s one other that he’s conveniently left out: people didn’t go to see John Carter. At least, not enough people. Although the film was a major domestic bust, it didn’t do too badly worldwide, eventually pulling in nearly $285M in total box office receipts. But that doesn’t make it a success – not by a long shot, because even if $285M did cover the film’s reported $250M budget, that number still doesn’t account for marketing and physical film costs – and even the additional ticket cost of 3D and IMAX screenings couldn’t beef up its total take to something more respectable.
John Carter didn’t make money, it lost money, and it also didn’t reignite interest in the property or turn its star, Taylor Kitsch, into a bankable Hollywood name (Kitsch has spent the past few years trying to inch out from under both John Carter and Battleship, a battle that seems to finally be making some strides). These are the kinds of things blockbuster franchises aim for. John Carter didn’t do it the first time, so who is going to be willing to attempt to change that with a fresh crack at the franchise?
It’s interesting that Sullos throws “Warner Bros.” in there, perhaps as a nice reminder to the studio that they are already in the Burroughs business with their new Tarzan. Maybe that can turn into something more?
Plenty of properties have faced similar rights reversion issues, and few of them have found ultimate success in a new home. Recently, the rights to Daredevil, The Punisher, Ghost Rider and Blade all reverted back to Marvel. Of those four, only one property is currently in active development – Daredevil, which is bound for the small screen this fall. Just last month, news hit the wire (via /Film) that the rights to Y: The Last Man had reverted back to comic book creators Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra, after New Line failed to make their long-promised film. For now, it’s believed that Vaughn and Guerra won’t actively seek to turn their beloved series into a film. Fans of Spider-Man have long begged for the rights to revert back to Marvel from Sony so that their favorite webhead could become part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (that obviously hasn’t happened).
The John Carter series is attempting to go down a path that hasn’t proven very fruitful before – but, hey, Hollywood loves a comeback story right? (They just might not love John Carter, though.)