The film’s commercial and critical failures are more well-known than the film itself. The prospect of director Andrew Stanton’s would-be franchise-starter flopping seemed out of the question. However, on March 9, 2012, the film that Stanton had waited decades to create premiered to the little box office and terrible critical reviews. The picture grossed $284 million worldwide, which would have considered it a success if the studio hadn’t compared it to an estimated $300 million production budget. The dream vanished, as did any possibility of launching a daring new sci-fi series. Those who watched the film and enjoyed it puzzled for years why it bombed so badly. Those who didn’t care condemned it as another botched Hollywood money grab.
For those who haven’t watched the first film or need a refresher, the plot of the first film is as follows: Between 1868 and 1881, Confederate Army captain John Carter (played by Taylor Kitsch) accidentally sends himself to Mars with an extraterrestrial medallion he discovers while escaping Union forces. Carter realizes that his bone density, along with the planet’s low gravity, grants him exceptional physical capabilities upon his arrival on Mars (dubbed Barsoom by its residents). The terribly lost human soldier is soon confronted by the Green Martians, known as Tharks, headed by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe). Unbeknownst to Carter, social unrest is increasing amongst the various Martian species, with Red Martian princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) trapped in the crossfire. The shape-shifting Therns, headed by Matai Shang (Mark Strong), complicate matters even further, resulting in a deadly struggle on several fronts. Carter returns to Mars after faking his death, duping Shang, and winning an old challenge that had kept him locked on Earth in the first film.
Several times in the months leading up to the release of John Carter in 2012, Stanton stated that he had plans for sequels if the original picture was a hit. He did not, however, reveal what those intentions were or what the sequels would entail. That is, until now.
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The one-and-done John Carter, which was supposed to kick off a film trilogy based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom writings, failed to owe to a number of issues that were practically impossible to forecast when the movie was greenlit. One of the most significant roadblocks that the project never overcame was its ill-fated marketing effort. MT Carney, Disney’s new movie marketing chief, chose to remove “of Mars” from the title during production. Stanton did not agree, but he also did not object to the decision. “It wasn’t my decision,” Stanton said to TheWrap. “It was recommended, and I didn’t argue against it.” They didn’t realize it at the time, but a sequel was becoming increasingly unlikely. The marketing was too convoluted and perplexing.
Teasers, posters, and other promotional materials began to appear online in July 2011, but none of them acknowledged Stanton, Burroughs, or any of the other illustrious authors behind the project. Stanton had directed Pixar’s Finding Nemo eight years before, and Burroughs had developed the character Tarzan, but none of those details were used in the film’s marketing. It was Stanton’s first foray into directing a live-action movie, but his significant success as a filmmaker persuaded Disney executives to give him a chance. Unfortunately, their faith in him was not represented in the promotion. Ultimately, because John Carter’s marketing was so poor, a sequel was nearly hard to produce.
Stanton was certainly the perfect guy for the job, but a puzzling marketing plan, along with the difficulties of an animation director’s first step into live-action, led to the project’s demise.
We’re unlikely to see Gods of Mars on the big screen (at least not from Stanton or Disney), so this new knowledge is the closest we’ll come to see what may have been.