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'The Lorax' leaves 'John Carter' feeling spaced-out

The Dr. Seuss film finishes No. 1 for a second weekend as 'Carter' joins fellow newbies 'Silent House' and 'A Thousand Words' on the box-office reject pile.

March 12, 2012|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times

In one of the biggest box-office upsets of the year, a mustachioed orange cartoon creature brought down a brawny loinclothed space warrior at the multiplex.

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

Meanwhile, the $250-million-plus "John Carter" debuted with a disappointing $30.6 million this weekend, as fanboys failed to gravitate toward the 3-D fantasy epic that has been under a cloud of bad buzz for months. But the movie starring Taylor Kitsch wasn't the only bomb at the box office this last weekend. "Silent House," a thriller featuring Elizabeth Olsen, did not have an impressive debut, grossing $7 million — but at least that movie was made for less than $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 a measly $6.4 million.

"John Carter," about a Civil War veteran who is transported to Mars, will probably 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.

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 last 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 such films as "Wall-E" and "Finding Nemo." Unlike the movie's director, its leading man is not as well known to most filmgoers. While many television viewers are familiar with the 30-year-old Kitsch from 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 had the biggest opening day in the country's history.

"This is the kind of movie with the genre and sensibility that tends to fare well overseas," Hollis said. "The action sequences play particularly well to an Asian sensibility, and 3-D does well in emerging markets like Russia."

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. Though 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 each by the end of their domestic runs — a fate that may also befall his latest effort.

The movie, with 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. DreamWorks 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 about the film. However, a Paramount spokeswoman said the movie cost $40 million.

Those who saw "A Thousand Words" didn't particularly care for it, giving it an average B- grade, but audiences liked it a lot 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 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.

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