I think it’s OK for John Carter fans to indulge in a little schadenfreude after hearing the news that Rich Ross, the chairman of Disney Studios, has stepped down from his post in the wake of the debacle that was the bungled release of the long-awaited John Carter.
Ross issued a resignation and made the situation look like it was voluntary, but Hollywood reporter Nikki Finke over at Deadline wrote, “Make no mistake, Ross was fired.” The report focuses on personality clashes with business partners and all sorts of insider stuff. Well, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer studio head.
To the degree that the average movie fan is aware of this news, they probably accept the public story that John Carter was this colossal money-losing bomb and the studio was hurt badly, so Ross fell on his sword and stepped down. And film industry insiders will be aware of the personality clashes and business problems. But people who have been following the long-gestating John Carter project will be pointing to Ross’ policy of… er, “benign neglect” toward the release of the potential tent pole film. John Carter began at Disney under the tenure of Ross’ predecessor, Dick Cook, and as a rule, new studio heads spike everything the old regime put into production. But John Carter was too far advanced to pull the plug. So it would seem that Ross contrived to let the movie wither on the vine, hoping that the failure of the project would be tied to Cook.
But the Disney corporation apparently didn’t see it that way. The execs seemed to think that Ross was in charge when the studio burned some $200 million in cash, so if it happened on his watch, it must be his fault. So, one might say that Ross was hoist on his own petard. If he had responded to complaints that early trailers and publicity weren’t working, John Carter could have been spared the taint of failure that accompanied it to the box office and ultimately sank it.
People did not go to see John Carter in droves and then bad-mouth it, so it wasn’t the people who hated it. The film received generally good reviews, however, even the positive reports were accompanied by musings and complaints about its “bloated” and “massive” budget – which at just a tad under $250 million was nowhere near excessive for a big action/adventure picture. So even the film’s defenders were dragging it down and damning it with faint praise, thanks to Ross’ failure to support it.
And Disney has failed to support him.