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Box Office: Big budget 'John Carter,' Eddie Murphy comedy bomb [Updated]

March 11, 2012 |  9:22 am

John Carter flopped upon its debut at the box office this weekend
In what is certain to go down as one of the biggest box office flops of the year, the $250-million-plus "John Carter" debuted with a disappointing $30.6 million this weekend.

Instead, last weekend's No. 1 film, "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax," claimed the top spot yet again. The Universal Pictures film, an animated 3-D environmental tale for families, collected an additional $39.1 million. The movie has now grossed a robust $122 million in just 10 days of release.

Meanwhile, fanboys failed to gravitate toward Walt Disney Studios' "John Carter," a 3-D fantasy epic that has been eclipsed by bad buzz for months. But the movie starring Taylor Kitsch wasn't the only bomb at the box office this weekend. "Silent House," a thriller featuring Elizabeth Olsen, did not have an impressive debut, grossing $7 million -- but at least the movie was made for under $1 million. "A Thousand Words," an Eddie Murphy comedy that has been sitting on the shelf since 2008 and cost far more to make, brought in only a measly $6.4 million.

"John Carter," about a Civil War veteran who is transported to Mars, will likely force Disney to take a write-down, according to media analysts. Heading into the weekend, one Wall Street analyst, Evercore's Alan Gould, said the film could lose as much as $165 million.

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Based on a century-old character created by author Edgar Rice Burroughs, "John Carter" was meant to appeal to young males. But a surprisingly older crowd turned up to see the movie this weekend, as 59% of the audience was over age 25. Those who saw the film -- a 64% male contingent -- assigned it an average grade of B+, according to market research firm CinemaScore. 

Dave Hollis, Disney's executive vice president of distribution, offered little insight on why the film did not resonate with moviegoers.

“Every studio ultimately has their turn with a film like this -- despite how good it might be,” Hollis said. “I wish there was a simple silver bullet answer of why people didn’t come out in the kind of quantity we would have liked.”

"John Carter" was directed by Pixar Animation Studios veteran Andrew Stanton, best known for his work on films like "Wall-E" and "Finding Nemo." Unlike the movie's director, its leading man is still lesser known to most film-goers. While many television viewers are familiar with the 30-year-old Kitsch due to his role on the long-running television series "Friday Night Lights," "John Carter" marked the actor's first major film role.

Overseas, the movie fared better, grossing $70.6 million from 55 foreign countries, including Mexico, Brazil and South Korea. The picture performed best in Russia, where it was the No. 1 opening of the year and had the biggest opening day in the country's history.

The poor opening for "A Thousand Words" continued a career downslide for Murphy, who was set to host this year's Oscars but withdrew from the gig months before the telecast. While the actor's last movie, Brett Ratner's "Tower Heist," was not a total box office bust -- his other recent live-action films have tanked at the multiplex. "Imagine That" and "Meet Dave" grossed well under $20 million by the end of their domestic runs -- a fate that may also befall his latest effort.

The movie, starring Murphy as a literary agent who could die after he utters 1,000 words, was made by DreamWorks while the company was still owned by Paramount. The picture stayed at the studio when it parted ways with Steven Spielberg's company, which spent about $70 million to produce the film, according to two people familiar with the production who were not authorized by the studio to speak publicly on the film. A Paramount spokeswoman said the movie cost $40 million.

Those who saw "A Thousand Words" didn't like it, giving it an average B- grade -- but audiences liked it way more than "Silent House," which received a dismal mark of F. The low-budget flick, starring the 23-year-old sister of popular twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, is about a girl locked inside of her family's lake house. The picture was acquired by Liddell Entertainment after its debut at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and is being marketed and distributed by Open Road.

[Updated, 12:40 p.m. March 11: "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" crossed the $200-million mark at the international box office this weekend, far surpassing the $140.3-million tally the original "Journey to the Center of the Earth" made abroad in 2008. The sequel, which is currently playing in 53 foreign countries, collected an additional $9.2 million over the weekend, raising its overseas tally to $200 million. The family adventure starring Dwayne Johnson has performed best in China, where it has grossed $57.4 million, but has also done well in Russia, Mexico and France.

Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic office, with international results when available, according to studio estimates:

1. "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" (Universal): $39.1 million on its second weekend, down 44%. Domestic total: $122 million. $1.4 million overseas in six foreign markets. International total: $1.8 million.

2. "John Carter" (Disney) Opened to $30.6 million. $70.6 million overseas in 55 foreign markets.

3. "Project X" (Warner Bros.): $11.6 million on its second weekend, down 45%. Domestic total: $40.1 million. $3 million overseas in 13 foreign markets. International total: $7.3 million.

4. "Silent House" (Open Road/Liddell): Opened to $7 million.

5. "Act of Valor" (Relativity/Bandito Bros.): $7 million on its third weekend, down 48%. Domestic total: $56.1 million.

6. "A Thousand Words" (Paramount/DreamWorks): Opened to $6.4 million.

7. "Safe House" (Universal/Relativity): $5 million on its fifth weekend, down 33%. Domestic total: $115.8 million. $6.1 million overseas in 50 foreign markets. International total: $61.6 million.

8. "The Vow" (Sony/Spyglass): $4 million on its fifth weekend, down 33%. Domestic total: $117.6 million. $2.4 million overseas in 24 foreign markets. International market: $39.8 million.

9. "This Means War" (Fox/Dune): $3.8 million on its fourth weekend, down 33%. Domestic total: $46.9 million. $9.4 million overseas in 52 foreign markets. International total: $57.5 million.

10. "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" (Warner Bros.): $3.7 million on its fifth weekend, down 44%. Domestic total: $90.7 million. $9.2 million overseas in 53 foreign markets. International total: $200 million.]

RELATED:

The planets may not be aligned for "John Carter"

Movie Projector: Few signs of life for pricey fantasy 'John Carter'

Word of Mouth: Eddie Murphy comedy is dusted off by Paramount

-- Amy Kaufman
twitter.com/AmyKinLA

Photo: Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch star in "John Carter." Credit: Walt Disney Studios

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