John Carter is a 2012 movie directed by Andrew Stanton, who also wrote Finding Nemo, all the Toy Story movies, and the beloved Wall-E. Based on that alone you would expect John Carter to have been fairly successful, but I am willing to be that you haven’t seen it and may have not even heard of it. There are a number of reasons that John Carter did not do well in box offices or even very well afterwards and a few reasons why I believe it will likely become a “cult classic” in the future.
John Carter was supposed to be named John Carter of Mars, which would have been better because Mars is a key aspect of the plotline and even develops sort of an emotional connection near the end. John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), the main character, is a veteran of the American Civil War, but after he stumbles into a cave his life is changed forever. The cave is actually a location used for intergalactic transportation via a medallion and a voice command, which John learns to use later on. Through a strange flood of unfamiliar events, John accidentally transports himself to Barsoom, also known as Mars, where he finds himself surrounded by Green Martians, a barbaric tribal race that takes great interest in John and even grows to accept him as one of their own, especially their leader Tars Tarkas (William Dafoe).
Eventually John quite literally bumps into a very humanoid looking Red Martian princess named Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) and is immediately entranced by her beauty, how typical. The rest of the film then develops their relationship that over times goes from reluctant acquaintances to star-struck lovers (see what I did there). John and Dejah have a shared enemy named Sab Than, The Jeddak (leader) of the Zodanga Red Martian tribe that has been at war with Helium, Dejah’s tribe, for thousands of years.
As you may expect, Sab Than feints that he wishes to marry Dejah Thoris in order to unite their tribes and finally have peace, but what he actually wants to do is marry her and then kill her and take the kingdom for himself. But what’s his secret weapon? Oh, it’s just a never-before-seen technology that fits on your wrist and shoots lasers big enough to destroy a skyscraper, but also has the ability to entirely disguise a person or build a city. He was given this tool by Matai Shang, a Thern. Therns are a shapeshifting race that is the Mars equivalent of the Illuminati, controlling the planet from behind the scenes and making sure that everything follows their plan; John happens to accidentally foil an initial step in the Thern’s plan to have Sab become the ruler of Mars and gains two enemies, Sab and Matai.
The movie is full of all sorts of Sci-Fi goodness and manages to stay interesting the entirety of its 132-minute runtime. The writers managed to create a totally new and alien world with unique races, creatures, technology, language, and ideas while also keeping everything very relatable and not too far-off. But why did this movie flop and why will it be a “cult classic”?
Well this Disney Sci-Fi had a budget of $250 million but only earned $30 million opening week and grossed $280 million worldwide, once it was released on DVD. The movie is actually based on a book written in 1912 by Edgar Rice Burroughs called “A Princess of Mars”, but Disney did not try to make this known and did not make it obvious whatsoever by simply watching the movie, and anyone who was alive at the time of this novel isn’t anymore. The original story is not family friendly at all; everyone is completely naked and the story is full of violence and gore. Another big mistake that Disney made was that it didn’t advertise to women at all; Dejah Thoris is a very strong and independent woman who finds love in a kind and respectable man. Dejah is a warrior princess scientist who is, in my opinion, the most important character. Dejah’s character is everything I would want my non-existent daughter to be when she grew up, but the commercials hardly showed her at all and if they did it was to portray her as a helpless dame who needed the big and strong John Carter to rescue her, the movie did not do much different and only succeeded in making her seem damaged and stubborn. The last and final thing that made this movie a failure from the start was that Disney’s Mars looked a lot like Arizona and there was only one non-humanoid race, making it very easy to entirely forget that the movie takes place on Mars, hence why the title should have been John Carter of Mars.
Now why do I believe that John Carter will be a “cult classic”? First of all, it was the most money Disney has every lost on a movie, the closest runner ups are Mars Needs Moms (2011) and Sahara (2005). The mistake of leaving “of Mars” off the end of the title was most likely an attempt to not remind people of their previous failure with Mars Needs Moms. Now since its failure in 2012, John Carter has gotten a decent following of people like me who know that the film is great despite all the Disney smoke trying to cover it up and the movies follower count is still growing to this day. John Carter has an easily recognizable symbol as the movie poster that just screams cult symbolism; seriously, scroll back to the top and try to imagine a bunch of movie buffs with shirts or tattoos of that logo, I sure can imagine it. One of the reasons that Star Trek gained such a massive following is because of the new language created for the races, and John Carter has a much smaller scale adaption to the modern English language that can easily be used to demonstrate following of the film such as Barsoom for Mars, Jasom for Earth, Rasoom for Mercury, Cosoom for Venus, and Jeddak for any kind of leader. Jeddak Trump has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Given a big enough fan base, various quotes from the film would also gain a lot of headway and that would nearly guarantee its status as a “cult classic.” Mark my words, John Carter will be formally announced as a “cult classic” before the year 2030.
Now I know that this movie is an infamous misstep by Disney, if you consider an immediate loss of $200 million a misstep, and that my review seems to only focus on the negative, but this I could write two or three more pages talking about the reasons why I love this movie. Despite its flaws, it still manages to be a fantastically entertaining storyline and the cast was all perfectly picked to represent their characters. Even with all the mistakes that were made, I’ve never understood why this movie wasn’t as successful as Avatar.
I love movies, but I only like to see them for the first time and so finding a movie that I can watch over and over again is a rare gift; John Carter is one of five movies that I am always up to watching (the other four being The Living Wake, Inception, Donnie Darko and Napoleon Dynamite).
In conclusion, this movie has a 6.6/10 rating on IMDb but I would give it a solid 8 or 9 instead. Not many people even bothered to see it in theatres and that is mainly due to bad marketing, but it is also a massive shame that more people haven’t experienced this film. I tell my any stranger or friend about this movie when discussing must see Sci-Fi films because it really is one that needs to be seen and it is appropriate for all audiences and has something for every movie goer.
Watch this movie, please. Then share it with your friends and family