Updated Tuesday 1 p.m. PT
But few of those observing the company were expecting the swift doomsday sentence handed out by Disney on Monday, that the science fiction tale would lose $200 million, making it one of the biggest financial flops in movie history.
Two hundred million? That is a breathtaking sum, a humdinger, a gobsmacker.
I can’t think of a similar announcement for a single movie in recent history. In fact, most studios try to bury losses for individual pictures in their financial statements. And they always argue that long-tail revenue streams mitigate a weak box office.
Not on this one.
The fact that Disney, the most tightly wound movie studio in the industry, publicly announced the loss within 10 days of the film’s opening means that it wants to soften the blow on Wall Street that will surely be coming.
Indeed, influential analyst Harold Vogel told the L.A. Times that the company can easily absorb the loss.
“It’s the equivalent of a ding on the side of your car,” he told the paper. “You wish it didn’t happen. But at the end of the day, the car drives fine.”
The company’s disclosure indicates that our estimates of a $250 million budget and $100 million in marketing probably undershot the true number by quite a bit.
Since the movie already has taken in almost $200 million globally, not an insignificant sum, and there will still be revenue rolling in for months from ancillary, this means that costs must have run far higher than publicly stated.
There will be fallout. Ross is unlikely to be in danger of losing his job as chairman of the movie studio.
But there is no doubt that it ratchets up the pressure on his tenure as movie chief.
Ross, an affable guy with Goofy-like smile, has so far not been able to claim any major victories under his leadership. Last year, he had to live with the flop “Mars Needs Moms,” while the massive success of “Pirates” redounded to Jerry Bruckheimer and the franchise he built.
Studio executives are quick to point out that “John Carter” originated under former studio chief Dick Cook. But they can’t ignore the fact that marketing for the film was handled by the current regime.
That’s a big Achilles heel. Arguably Ross’ most important decision since taking over the studio two years ago was hiring a marketing president. Hollywood outsider MT Carney, was his out-of-the-box choice for marketing chief, and she is now out of the job.
That choice never took root in Hollywood, Carney suffered from a whisper campaign over her abilities that made her damaged goods from Day One, and Ross badly handled her departure, shopping the job out from under her – a story that we broke here at TheWrap.
It wasn’t easy to find a replacement. He finally went with Ricky Strauss, a competent executive who has not had a marketing role at a major studio in years and then was handed the challenge of “John Carter.”
Not a day at the beach for anyone involved.
One bright spot: Ross can claim to have distributed and marketed “The Help,” an Oscar favorite and box office hit. But I’m going to guess that our commenters are going to say this was a DreamWorks success, not Disney’s.
So from here on in, the scrutiny will be laser focused on Ross and whether he can lead the studio where it needs to go.
Disney’s statement on Monday focused on the future.
“As we look forward to the second half of the year, we are excited about the upcoming releases of ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Brave,’ which we believe have tremendous potential to drive value for the Studio and the rest of the company,” Disney said.
For Rich Ross’s sake, they better hope so.