The whole turn off for me and a lot of folks I know, regarding John Carter was the glorification of a Confederate soldier--his elevation from a traitor to his country to the hero of a whole world. That is absolutely mindblowing and NOT in a good way AT ALL.
And having had conversations with a LOT of my friends (Black, as am I) about other movies that do the same thing for America's Losingest Traitors--whether it's The Beguiled, Cold Mountain, or that thing that recently came out with Tom Hanks--that puts a real damper on the enjoyment of a film. Literally not one of us seems to be cool with a Confederate soldier prospering to any extent, let alone ... whatever magical heights Carter ascends to, having saved Mars. Knowing that a hero of fiction, where anything is possible, still fought to keep keep folks that look like me in chains forever. Not trying to harsh anyone's hidden gem-mellow regarding this film or those others, but, I've even met white people who aren't comfortable enough with that premise to get into John Carter.
Speaking ONLY for me (though I don't doubt many Black folks will agree, since we may not be a monolith but we ARE a multitude that can be grouped by our shared and similar experiences in dark skin on THIS WORLD) I deal with having to support racist garbage every day in real life. Even when I don't leave the house. I definitely don't want to PAY to see a Confederate soldier do well and become top dog on Mars, and getting along with aliens, when he couldn't NOT fight to keep other humans in chains. I don't want to see him get the girl of his dreams. Orn antebellum gray-dress fall in love with the mysterious soldier. That's not a thing I can overlook in fiction nor do I want it to be. Nor will it ever be. Many millions can overlook that, worldwide. But that's a point of luxury and privilege I have never had. It is a HORRIBLE feeling to see a LITERAL BAD GUY do well. Again, it happens too often in real life for me to enjoy it in my fiction and escapism--at least when the Bad Guy is hailed as the Hero.
A lot of minorites who aren't Black probably feel the same because, again, THE CONFEDERACY. Women, LGBTQIA+ folks, non-Christians--if anyone in these camps can sit through this sort of thing and feel light of heart, like they wouldn't have been lynched or in chains had THEY been a character in the film--and there are many millions of them worldwide, too--then that's their business. But if you ever again have to wonder why some things flop ... consider who would find it absolutely painful and horrifying to sit through, maybe with oblivious folks all around them cooing about visually stunning cinematography. I can assure you that, too, does not feel wonderful.
And ... notice anything similar about most of your commenters--especially those who really dug John Carter?
I say this without shade, just honesty and more than a little startlement. I've not recently, in the past seven or eight years, heard ANYONE wonder why ANY film starring a Confederate soldier as the HERO wasn't more popular. The question was as jarring as hearing someone wonder why films featuring a bad cop with an itchy trigger finger as the hero haven't done well in the past several years and haven't been made nearly as often as they were in the aughts. Factor in that fourteen percent of the population MINIMUM isn't going to find that to be escapism and you have a pretty plausible answer for some of the low numbers. And fourteen percent is probably on the low side, as I'm only factoring in the majority of Black Americans. Add in other brown folks, queer folks, any recreational drug enthusiasts who've had bad run-ins with the law, folks who've been in prison ... and, of course, THIS ENTIRE PAST FIFTEEN MONTHS, and those films would flop even harder than John Carter. Which I think may have flopped harder than Ishtar.
From a film-making standpoint, with the whole CONFEDERATE HERO bit left aside for a moment: From what I've heard, ol' JC (not at all subtle, was Eddie?) wasn't exactly the Training Day of bloated budget, Disney films. Not every film flop, regardless of claims of it not-sucking, coulda been a contendah and a household name if not for ... whatever. If one MUST have a racist hero who fights for/against suspect things, better to have a Lovecraftian-style hero who's already half-mad, struggling against some unseen cosmic horror from farther afield than freaking MARS. Rather than this Burroughs hero shooting laser beams or whatever at creepy/crappy CGI. At least the former offers some scope and real imagination, instead of relying on retro-futuristic fan service to carry the day. That's just poor film-making and concepting. Even a Union soldier winning Mars from whoever couldn't save a film that's just fandom wank and no real style, substance, or mastery.
Thank you for writing the article, though. I actually DO like hearing why folks like bad films and film that I for whatever reason (and there are many possible reasons) wouldn't ever touch. The difference in perspective alone and peek into a dissimilar POV is heady.