Has it only been ten years since John Carter? The movie feels like a relic from a different era—which it kind of is. At The Wrap, the film’s long gestation and disappointing fate are chronicled in “The Untold Story of Disney’s $307 Million Bomb John Carter: ‘It’s a Disaster,’” which looks at the entire history of the film, from the 1917 publication of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel on which it’s based up to the repercussions the film’s reception had for its stars.
John Carter was supposed to be the start of a franchise—an epic series for Disney, which had not yet bought Lucasfilm. (That deal was finalized mere months after John Carter‘s release date.) So it’s no surprise that director/co-writer Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E) had a plan for what would happen next. And in traditional series fashion, the unmade sequel would’ve changed the world of Mars—excuse me, Barsoom—as we knew it.
The second movie would have been called Gods of Mars. As Stanton explains, each film would have a different character delivering the prologue, and in Gods of Mars, that character would be Dejah (played by Lynn Collins in John Carter). Gradually, it would become clear that Dejah was telling the prologue to her child—Carthoris, whose father is John Carter. Dejah’s father, Tardos Mors (Ciarán Hinds), would offer to help with the baby, only to be revealed as shapeshifter Matai Shang (Mark Strong), who steals the child.
Carter, of course, returns to Mars, where he finds that Kantos Kan (James Purefoy) has been looking for him. Stanton explains, “And he gets back and you think it’s going to be a reunion, only to find out that there’s been some time between the prologue and the main credits.” Then the real trouble starts:
Now Dejah’s gone missing. She’s convinced that the Therns took their child and if Carter ever comes back, she went down the River Iss to try and find him. And then, like Beneath the Planet of the Apes, it all takes place, everybody going into the earth to find out who’s really been controlling the whole planet. There’s a whole race down there that has been with high tech. Basically, it’s been a third world without anybody knowing it on the top of the surface and the first world’s been inside the whole time operating the air, the water, the everything to keep the world functioning.
John Carter didn’t do well enough to merit a sequel. It made $281 million dollars, which sounds like a lot, but its production budget was $307 million. The movie, as The Wrap details, seemed doomed before it even came out. Fans recut its baffling trailers. Disney’s usual marketing and merchandising was missing. Studio brass changed over. Practically everything went a little bit sideways. It’s a story that’s all too familiar and yet specific—and personal—for every film and its creators.