Mars Hates Disney

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Maybe Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) should stop releasing movies in March -- or, at least, the Mars-related ones.

John Carter is shaping up to be a box-office dud, following in the footsteps of last March's release of Mars Needs Moms.

Domestic box-office receipts for the costly sci-fi flick's opening weekend clocked in at a disappointing $30.2 million. The overseas take of $71 million is far more impressive, but big-budget blockbusters rarely recover after weak openings.

Disney's take of the John Carter ticket sales appears unlikely to cover the film's $350 million estimated production and marketing budget during its entire theatrical run, and that means the family entertainment giant will probably take another beefy charge the way it did when Mars Needs Moms crash-landed last year.

Adventures in moviemaking
John Carter seemed to have all the right ingredients. The story was originally written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the iconic novelist behind the Tarzan series that Disney successfully mined into animated gold. Andrew Stanton -- the award-winning Pixar director behind Finding Nemo and Wall-E -- took the helm, pitching the project as "Indiana Jones on Mars" to the company.

Well, in the end, it turns out that it's more like Indiana Jones on Mars Needs Moms.

To be fair, Mars Needs Moms sold just $21.4 million in domestic tickets during its entire multiplex stint. John Carter was there after just two days. However, the budget and expectations were markedly higher for Stanton's movie.

The movie won't go down as a turkey along the lines of other big-budget flops including Ishtar and Heaven's Gate, but it's going to sting to the likely tune of a nine-figure charge in Disney's financial reports.

Hakuna matata
These are sensitive times at the local multiplex. Last year was a disaster, as attendance hit a 16-year low. It may have been a weak slate -- and you know that, because The Artist took the Oscar -- but there is also the fear that folks are no longer turning out to watch movies on the silver screen.

The pessimism is likely to dissipate next week, at least temporarily. Lions Gate's (NYSE: LGF  ) Hunger Games opens a week from Friday, and the first installment of the wildly popular book trilogy should easily have the strongest theatrical opening in a long time.

In that sense, maybe Disney's timing wasn't so bad. Critics will forget about John Carter's weak ticket sales. Moviegoers that get shut out of the likely sold-out Hunger Games screenings may settle for John Carter instead, giving the movie a longer tail than the poor opening weekend may suggest.

The timing also helps IMAX (NYSE: IMAX  ) . The days of the cinematic super-sizer hanging on the hits and misses of Tinseltown have been smoothed out by a loaded slate of IMAX screenings. Yes, John Carter opened on IMAX this past weekend, but it also has The Lorax and Hunger Games this month.

Exhibitors are getting smarter, and hopefully this is the last year that Disney puts out a Mars-themed movie in March.

On with the show
If you like to stay on top of what happens next -- and I'm guessing you do, because you're reading this article -- how about checking out The Motley Fool's top stock for 2012? Spoiler alert: It's not Disney. However, it is a free report, but only for a limited time so check it out now.

Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Walt Disney and IMAX. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story, except for Disney. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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