'John Carter' Debacle: Analysts Predict $150 Mil Write-Down for Disney

Walt Disney

In the aftermath of the sci-fi tentpole's anemic worldwide opening, Wall Street has been assessing the damage for Disney.

Over the weekend, one movie industry insider suggested Disney's John Carter could be the biggest Hollywood bomb since Heaven's Gate in 1980.

It remains to be seen if that executive is right, but the sci-fi adventure certainly is a misfire at least along the lines of Mars Needs Moms (2011), The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) and The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010), each of which caused Disney to take a write-down in recent years.

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On Monday, most analysts were suspecting that John Carter would ultimately result in a write-down of $100 million to $150 million—which, if accurate, would be larger than the losses Disney incurred on those other three titles.

Just before the movie opened, Alan Gould of Evercore Partners took the unusual step -- because the pre-release tracking was so negative -- of more than doubling his early estimate that Disney would lose $75 million on the title, alerting clients last week that the loss would be closer to $165 million.

The movie, which Disney spent about $350 million to make and market, took in $30.2 million domestically over its opening weekend and another $70.6 million internationally. It's likely to top out at around $300 million theatrically worldwide, or possibly $350 million, though its break-even point for Disney is closer to $650 million. DVD and pay TV will help stem the bleeding, but a significant write-off is inevitable.

Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan notes that John Carter was "amazingly" released exactly a year after Mars Needs Moms, which took in $39 million worldwide on a $150 million production budget. Harrigan expects a write-down of $100 million-plus for John Carter.

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In a report Monday, Harrigan wasn't completely negative on John Carter, writing: "It did earn a B+ CinemaScore and was up 25 percent on Saturday, showing positive buzz among those who had seen the movie despite wide publicity as an imminent trainwreck."

More good news (sort of) is that John Carter's poor showing has already been priced into Disney stock, said Barclays Capital analyst Anthony DiClemente on Monday.

Indeed, on Monday shares of Disney were up a dime to $42.34.

"We note that a big write-down in a single movie, despite this being the fourth year in a row, should not impact next year's earnings. Hence there is no change in our fiscal-year estimate or $45 price target," said Gould of Evercore.

Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.