First stumbling block would be the studio itself that completely fumbled the marketing campaign. The posters aren't bad, but none of them mention ANY of the powerhouse cast in favor of showing only the star which no one knows outside the elitist Friday Night Lights core fanbase. Neither is there mention that it's an adaptation to an absolute classic of sci-fi adventure, one so iconic and beloved it's been ripped-off or stolen from by Hollywood for decades (did anyone really think Avatar was original?!?). There there's the title, which not only foregoes the Princess element of the book's title which would've attracted female viewership had they stuck to it, but also ignores Mars in order to call it only John Carter. Which conveys nothing, and interests even less. The romantic angle is never even hinted, the characters are never introduced (not even the cute dog-monster thingie) and without context it just looks like a big mess.
Then of course there's the reviews. Those pesky critics. Most people will claim they possess an independent mind not influenced by overpaid "journalists", but with most "professionals" giving it a scolding, it certainly shows the Lemming mentality of our society if people who've actually seen it (well, at least all the people on the spot where I watched it) were entirely surprised at how good it was. The trades seem to have been struck with a case of blockbuster fatigue, or simply reviewed it without watching it, as many simply called it "more of the same". Of COURSE it's repetitive, it's based on a 95 year-old novel that every Hollywood screenwriter and director copied at one time or another. That doesn't make it bad, especially not with Andrew Stanton negotiating himself a blank check to make the film he truly wanted without studio roadblocks everywhere. Here's a funny comparison: G.I.Joe: Rise of Cobra, the 4th biggest load of cr*p in 2009, was NOT screened for critics and sure enough ended its run with $302.5M. Ergo no reviews is much better than bad reviews...
|"You're right, Nic Cage movies look better from far far away".|
Last but certainly not least: the release date. January and February are months of sadness in terms of movie-going, only bombs and "mistakes" get released there. And that usually splashes onto early March, no one expects a great movie there. This is a Summer-Blockbuster type of film, and should've been released as such, but audiences, dealing with the first Daylight Saving weekend of the year and having recently dealt with Spring Break, saw the "Ghost" of Nic Cage in it and promptly decided to stay warm and cozy at home. Which in turn negates the usual word-of-mouth that usually brings a large portion of the film's business. Only word of mouth here was that critics hated it. Whether we like it or not, people have gregarious instincts, crowds follow crowds and sheep will always be sheep. If no one goes, no one will want to go, simple math.
Hopefully Disney will get it together in time for the DVD release and give that a more proper marketing push. I doubt it'll be enough to warrant even one sequel, but at least then audiences will discover this film for themselves and realize what too few people already know: this is movie is awesome fun.