'John Carter' Tracking to Open in $25 Mil Range, Could Lose to 'Lorax'

John Carter Taylor Kitsch Lynn Collins - H 2012
Walt Disney

John Carter Taylor Kitsch Lynn Collins - H 2012

Andrew Stanton's $250 million-plus live-action epic will need to do far more to make its money back.

For Disney, the day of reckoning is almost here.

At midnight Thursday, Pixar director Andrew Stanton's live-action epic John Carter begins rolling out in theaters after weeks of dismal tracking. Surveys show the 3D film only opening in the $25 million to $30 million range -- far short of what's needed to ultimately put the $250 million-plus movie in the black.

John Carter could be helped if it does well overseas, where 3D films can do giant business in territories including Russia and Brazil. The pic also should be boosted by Imax runs.

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In an ironic twist of fate, John Carter could easily lose the domestic weekend crown to Universal and Illumination Entertainment holdover Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, which opened to a stellar $70.2 million last weekend. That's the level John Carter needs to do, at a minimum.

Stanton comes from the animation world, having written and directed blockbusters Finding Nemo and WALL-E. He remains a key member of the fabled Pixar brain trust and lives in Northern California.

John Carter, headlining Taylor Kitsch as a Civil War hero who is transported to Mars where a civil war is brewing, is Stanton's first live-action movie. Considering his uber standing at Pixar, the former regime at Disney greenlighted John Carter despite a big budget and largely unknown cast. The pic is based on the John Carter of Mars book series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Some of Stanton's recent comments about John Carter have caught many in Hollywood by surprise. In an interview with BBC Radio this week, the director said he always tries to ignore what the budget of a film is. "I've never felt any gain to be worrying about numbers," he said.

And in a New Yorker article last fall, Stanton recalled saying to his John Carter producers, "is it just me, or do we actually know how to do this better than live-action crews do?"

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Final domestic tracking for John Carter will be released Thursday morning, and though the numbers might nudge upward, the film is still in trouble, unless it wildly overperforms (as some titles have this year). Tracking released Monday showed that unaided awareness was only at 9 percent -- compared with 14 percent for The Hunger Games, which doesn't open until March 23.

Males over the age of 25 are the most interested in John Carter, but only 14 percent of those surveyed listed the film as their first choice, according to one tracking service. Younger males follow, while interest among females of all ages is minimal.

The marketing of John Carter also became muddied with the exit of Disney marketing chief MT Carney in early January.

Disney is braced for bad news. Exactly a year ago, Disney found itself in the same boat with the ill-fated Mars Needs Moms, a box-office bust. It was in part because of that movie that John Carter's title was shortened from John Carter of Mars.

At the same time, Disney has several high-profile releases in the works, including this summer's The Avengers and Brave.