Box Office: ‘Mars Needs Moms’ a megaton bomb
How badly did Disney’s “Mars Needs Moms” bomb this weekend? Well, the embarrasing $6.8 million estimate is around 300K less than 2008’s “Space Chimps,” which did not have the benefit of bloated 3D and IMAX ticket surcharges, an ultra-wide release, the Disney brand name and a reported $60 million marketing budget.
That’s on top of Disney admitting a production budget for “Mars Needs Moms” of $150 million — I’d guess it cost at least a third more — vs. $38 million for “Space Chimps,” a Fox release that reached a final tally of $30 million domestic and $34 million foreign. Variety, who is attributing the opening to “a persisting malaise among moviegoers” rather than a terrible movie, is reporting openings in 14 foreign markets covering about 25 percent of the world brought in a pitiful $2.1 million.
You don’t need to be a math expert to expect a major tax write-off for this disaster, which played a couple of extra times a day because of its abbreviated 82-minute runtime — it’s 26 minutes shorter than “Rango,’ which held well (despite a C+ CinemaScore) for $23.1M for its second weekend without 3D or IMAX surcharges.
Beyond the effects on Disney’s bottom line, the abject failure of “Mars Needs Moms” raises new questions about the viability of animated features using motion capture, which has been deployed with far more success in non-animated features like “Avatar” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. “Mars Needs Mom” was produced by Robert Zemeckis, whose previous efforts in this area — “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol” — have all been box office and critical disappointments at best.
The academy’s animation branch has never nominated a feature employing motion capture, in which computer sensors are applied to actors who act out scenes as well as providing voices. There will be a major test of this controversial technique at the end of this year, when Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” is released. If I were Paramount (the North American distributor) or Columbia (overseas) I’d be more than a little nervous even with Spielberg and Peter Jackson involved.
The weekend’s top grosser is Sony’s dreadful “Battle: Los Angeles” with an OK but not spectacular estimated $36 million. Warners’ even worse, much-hyped “Red Riding Hood” opened in third place with a soft $14M. Word of mouth on the new releases was tepid, with “Battle” and “Mars Needs Moms” getting B ratings from CinemaScore audience surveys and “Red” scoring B-. If there is a malaise, it’s more likely one afflicting studio decision-making rather than audiences.