NPR Story
1:59 pm
Wed May 9, 2012

'Avengers' May Mitigate Disney's 'John Carter' Flop

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 4:19 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Have you ever wondered what $200 million sounds like? Well, wonder no more.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE AVENGERS")

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: (as Black Widow) This is nothing we were ever trained for.

CORNISH: That's a scene from the movie "The Avengers," released by Walt Disney Studios. It made just over $200 million in its opening weekend here in the U.S. Then again, $200 million also sounds like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "JOHN CARTER")

LYNN COLLINS: (as Dejah Thoris) You are John Carter of Earth?

TAYLOR KITSCH: (as John Carter) Yes, Ma'am.

CORNISH: That's the film "John Carter." It flopped in theaters back in March. Yesterday, Disney released its quarterly earnings report including a $200 million write-down for the Carter debacle. The two films bookmark a rocky spring for Disney Studios, even by Hollywood standards.

For more, I'm joined by Sharon Waxman, CEO and editor-in-chief of TheWrap.com. Hi there, Sharon.

SHARON WAXMAN: Hey there, Audie.

CORNISH: Let's be clear, "The Avengers" - is it that much more a success than "John Carter" was a failure?

WAXMAN: It is. It's a movie that's taken in $700 million globally in a very short period of time since it opened - so, its 14 days or something like. So that's $200 million record opening in U.S. history and then another $500 million around the globe. That's really something.

CORNISH: Now, after "John Carter" bombed in the theaters, you saw Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross ousted from that position, but he also was around when "The Avengers" was being made, so does this redeem his leadership?

WAXMAN: Not really, because the studio job at Disney that Rich Ross had is very much an oversight job of the various divisions that make up the studio, which now is Marvel and that's where "The Avengers" came from. It's Pixar and there's the Disney label - and that's where the "John Carter" movie came from - and then there's also Dreamworks, whose movies the Walt Disney Studio distributes.

So then the question a little bit becomes, what's the soul of the Disney Company, in a way? You know, I mean, there's been this big shift toward branding these divisions in a very specific way. And it's funny because the Walt Disney Company is one of the only Hollywood studios that has had, historically, a real brand identity. You know, we've always associated them with kids' movies and family movies and now there's somehow less of a grasp among us, the public, as to what a Disney movie is.

CORNISH: That was my next question. I mean, where does this lead them? Do we know - when I think of a Disney movie, what am I supposed to be thinking of now?

WAXMAN: I can tell you, I know from their side, they want Disney to be synonymous with family movies and that's what they're focusing on, but when you have these different divisions, it becomes a little bit muddier. And when you're releasing so much fewer movies than you had before, it becomes a little bit less clear.

CORNISH: For so long, it seemed that Disney's bread and butter was animation, you know, "Snow White" and "Pinocchio" and "The Lion King." It seems like, with the exception of its Pixar films, Disney animation has really struggled.

WAXMAN: The focus has really been on Pixar and understandably so because the Pixar movies tend to bat .1000. So Disney animation is not - I would say it is eclipsed, certainly, by Pixar, but it's not abandoned because it is the origin of the company and, first of all, they rerelease a lot of older movies and they do very well with that and they're starting to make 3D versions of some of those animated movies. But you're absolutely right. I mean, the focus has been much more on Pixar.

CORNISH: I want to talk about that earnings report we mentioned earlier. Even with that $200 million write-down on "John Carter," Disney reported that their revenues were up 6 percent and profits up 21 percent. Help me understand that math. How is that possible?

WAXMAN: OK. So the Walt Disney Company is doing very well. That's what's so interesting. The movie studio constitutes only 12 percent of the revenues of the Walt Disney Company. The money is really coming from television. ESPN is a cash cow for Disney. ABC is doing very well and, right now, the theme parks are doing very well. We focus on the movies because they're splashy and they're sexy and there's movie stars, but when you look at the bottom line, they're contributing far less than they used to.

CORNISH: Sharon Waxman is CEO and editor in chief of TheWrap.com. Sharon, thank you for talking with us.

WAXMAN: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.