Is Hollywood experiencing a budget bubble?

Canadian Taylor Kitsch starred in box office flop "John Carter". (Disney)

Canadian Taylor Kitsch starred in box office flop "John Carter". (Disney)

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:18 PM ET

You've heard of real estate bubbles? Hollywood may well be experiencing a budget bubble - with a few loud pops already ringing in our ears.

The biggest bomb of the season, of course, was John Carter, Disney's attempt to make a franchise out of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars series (an inspiration for George Lucas and others).

Badly conceived and badly marketed, and given to a first-time live-action director (Pixar's Andrew Stanton, who admittedly has grossed billions with prior Pixar hits like Wall-E and Finding Nemo), it was a spectacular box office failure that may ultimately force The Mouse to take a $200 million loss, arguably making it the biggest flop of all time.

The question asked most often about John Carter is, "Is it another Heaven's Gate?" In the sense of taking down a studio, no. Believe it nor not, $200 million is not an unmanageable blow for an entertainment giant like Disney. The same wasn't true in 1980, when the runaway budget of Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate led to the bankruptcy of United Artists (and its eventual absorption by MGM).

But, in a summer season that may break records on the strength of a handful of blockbusters (The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, The Hunger Games), the big losers are a causation factor of their own.

Let's start with movies based on toys not named Optimus Prime. The mega-budgeted Battleship - also starring John Carter's Taylor Kitsch (the Canadian kid from Friday Night Lights who may be getting a rep as box office poison) - underperformed big-time. Meanwhile, despite being shot and ready to go, another Hasbro property, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, got bumped to next year for reasons that remain murky.

Other people in on the Hasbro-movie deal are clearly starting to rethink whether toys and games are a license to print money after all. Universal reportedly once intended to produce a $100 million horror film based on the occult board game Ouija. That project is now in the hands of the budget-conscious producers of Paranormal Activity, with a mandate to produce it as a "found footage" film for about $5 million.

Another ripple effect was felt with the less than overwhelming box office for the not-one-but-two Snow White movies and duelling Wicked Queens that hit the theatres this year -- Mirror, Mirror with Julia Roberts and Show White and the Huntsman with Charlize Theron.

Subsequently, Disney (remember them?) announced they were spiking plans for their own Snow White movie, Order Of The Seven, which was to star Saoirse Ronan. And earlier this year, looking ahead at the clusterfutz of fairytale-themed movies, Paramount decided to move the release of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (with Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) to 2013.

The real bubble-bust may lie over the horizon of the Mayan calendar. That very year, 2013 will see more than its share of troubled productions come home to roost.

One of the most talked-about is World War Z, the zombie apocalypse movie starring Brad Pitt, and taken from the best-selling Max Brooks novel. More than $170 million has reportedly been spent on the movie that was to open this Christmas. It's now been moved to next June, with rumours of re-shoots and on-set clashes between the various filmmakers.

Of course, Pitt has been down this road before and come out smelling like his wife's signature perfume. Moneyball ceased production once for blowing its budget under director Steven Soderbergh. It eventually was reborn with new director Bennett Miller and pretty much an entirely new cast save for its star (imagine if Demetri Martin had been nominated for an Oscar instead of Jonah Hill).

And James Cameron's Titanic was perhaps the ultimate story of a movie whose funeral was prepared too hastily. Talk of a bloated $200 million-plus budget (back when that was a lot of money) kind of got drowned out when the box office approached the two billion dollar mark.

Just as in baseball, one home run makes up for a lot of strikeouts.


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