Zemeckis Bombs with “Mars Needs Moms” Zemeckis Bombs with “Mars Needs Moms”
Feature Film

Zemeckis Bombs with “Mars Needs Moms”

Mars Needs Moms

Robert Zemeckis’s animation career climaxed in a spectacular crash and burn with last weekend’s release of the Simon Wells-directed Mars Needs Moms. The $150 million folly debuted in fifth place, grossing $6.9 million, made even more pathetic by the fact that it debuted in 2,440 3-D theaters including a substantial 200-plus IMAX screens. Disney shuttered Zemeckis’s creepy nightmare factory known as Imagemovers Digital over a year ago, and the performance of this film, which Nikki Finke called “one of the biggest money losers of all time,” should finally convince the rest of Hollywood that Zemeckis is absolutely clueless when it comes to producing and directing animation.

Some more disastrous notes about the film’s opening courtesy of Box Office Mojo:

[It] was the third least-attended launch for a Disney animated movie on record (only Ponyo and Teacher’s Pet were less popular) and lowest debut yet for a broadly-released modern 3D-animated movie, replacing Alpha and Omega for the dishonor. Sci-fi animation can be a tough sell, yet Mars still had one of the sub-genre’s weakest launches ever, selling fewer tickets than even Planet 51, Space Chimps and Astro Boy. Mars was severely limited by its premise, which was better suited to a television cartoon, and its execution looked awkward, incoherent and creepy in the marketing.

Rango dropped to second place in its second weekend with a solid $22.6 million and a cume of $68.2 million. Gnomeo and Juliet grabbed $3.6 million in its fifth frame pushing its tally to $89.1 million. The Illusionist wrapped up $72,200 from 76 theaters for a twelve-week gross of $1.975 million. My Dog Tulip grossed $5,251 from 4 theaters for a total of $223,694, and The Trouble with Terkel grossed $568 from one theater for a total of $30,610.

  • brendon


    People will do anything to prevent themselves from admitting that it was the awful-looking animation that kept people away. That it was the title — no little boys want to see a movie about moms! — or that it was competition from Rango and Gnomeo and Juliet.

    Watch this happen: the spin coming out of this movie, which is almost entirely about boys and men, will be that no one wants to see movies about women.

  • But Robert Zemeckis didn’t direct this movie! Simon Wells (of “Balto” and “Prince of Egypt”) did!

    And anyway, Zemeckis directed animation very well back in “Roger Rabbit.” Which had, you know, actual animation in it.

    • amid

      It was made through Zemeckis’s company, he produced the film, and according to articles I’ve read, he was closely involved with the mo-cap process. Wells is nominally the director but the disastrous creative approach to this film can be attributed to Zemeckis.

      • Sure. I get that. But I don’t think the failure of this movie marks the crash-and-burn climax of his motion-capture reign of terror. Polar Express was a hit and (more recently) A Christmas Carol did pretty well. He’ll go right on making these movies until he himself directs a bomb.

        And after that, he’ll probably keep getting more chances, because he’ll still be the guy who made Back to the Future and Forrest Gump.

    • In my opinion, we all know that he was more involved than less, and basically his name rides on all of these mocap movies. I’m glad audiences are no longer responding to these films, hopefully it’ll stop cause it’s always been more disturbing than entertaining. As far as roger rabbit goes, I feel like from what i’ve seen on the bonus features of the dvd, his lack of knowledge in the medium forced him to trust others (richard williams) to take the helm of the animation. These directors (Steven Speilberg, George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis) whom I love for creating some of the most entertaining movies of my youth, have really just shown us what can happen when you have no limits.

      • Xgeeme

        I wouldn’t be too proud yet. Who knows how much of this money is going to the Roger Rabbit sequel, which many WANT to be good?

    • Brandon Pierce

      Zemeckis did not direct the animation in “Roger Rabbit”. That was Richard Williams.

      • Oh yeah. I knew that at some point. Color me sheepish.

    • Inkan1969

      Simon Wells? Didn’t he have a nervous breakdown from stress working on “The Time Machine”? I’m really sorry to hear about this setback for him then.

      • Oliver

        Hey, I almost had a nervous breakdown just from *watching* ‘The Time Machine’!

    • Richard Williams directed Roger Rabbit’s animation, not Zemeckis.

    • Grinterloper

      Richard Williams was the animation director on that movie, Not Zemeckis.

    • Steven M.

      Zemeckis didn’t direct the animation, Richard Willaims did.

    • John F A

      Richard Williams directed the animation. Zemeckis just staged the live action with enough space in each scene for the animators to add the characters.

  • Hopefully this will prevent his Yellow Submarine remake from seeing light of day.
    Too optimistic?

  • I’m just glad that animated films as a whole have had success at the box office as of late, I would hate for this film to have been any greater indictment on the medium than it is.
    I hope that if Mr. Zemeckis takes another swing at animation he chooses to embrace it fully and he leaves the ping pong ball covered suits and art direction that begs to ask if any part of the film would have been better as live action, very far from the production.

    But yeah I know, I’m not holding my breath.

  • I’d like to see a mocap movie about people in ping-pong-ball suits.

    Called ‘Moms in Ping-Pong-Ball Suits on Mars on Christmas’.


  • Giovanni Jones

    Robert Zemeckis doesn’t really seem like ol’ cool director of neat movies we all once knew. Maybe he’s been replaced by one of his own mo-cap clones and he’s not the REAL Bob at all!

  • I dislike that weasel phrase “one of the worst” that she uses to create drama and avoid the work of real reporting.

    MNMs may not do well but it’s the only one on this running tally…


    …that is still in its first week of release. When its release is done it will be way off this list. Of course, it will still be “one of” as all movies are if you dig far enough down the list.

    • amid

      Finke’s comment about the film being a big money loser was likely in relation to its production/promotion budget, which isn’t factored into that chart you posted. The film is reputed to have cost $150 million just on the production side.

      • John F A

        $150 million+ is a ridiculous price tag for any movie. In the old days the studio moguls would pride themselves over how expensive they could make a movie look, for the least amount of money. Anybody can make a hundred million dollars look like a million dollars. This is a huge problem with CG, which consumes mountains of cash to produce something that would have been better off filmed with live actors. Sure, everyone wants their investment to pay off big, but did Disney really think this movie would earn $300 mil? (what it would need to see a profit)

    • Bruce Wright

      “When its release is done it will be way off this list.”

      That list is of “opening weekends”, not total tally. It’s not coming off that list.

  • Skip

    Apparently Mars needs a lot more than moms.
    Zemeckis worked on Roger Rabbit with RIchard Williams, can anybody think of a better resource to learn about animation than that. The scary thing is that I have read rumors like Zemeckis is considering doing a sequel to Roger Rabbit, as well as a remake of Yellow Submarine. I hope these are just rumors.

    • Xgeeme

      The Yellow Submarine is going to happen.

      The Roger Rabbit sequel is a rumor that many many people online have spoken of, so I hope it does happen.

  • Stephan

    But it also got great reviews. I guess that doesn’t fit the narrative.

    • Contrariwise

      Great reviews? It has a 38% on Rotten Tomatoes.

      “It seems that it’s time to admit that dressing actors in LED-studded catsuits, asking them to give performances on sterile white sets and handing the results to a team of computer animators is not a way to make a good movie.” – New York Times

      “Talk about setting the bar too low, especially in a movie that kids will be watching.” – San Francisco Chronicle

      “The tone baffles and wobbles. This is one of the least visually appealing films ever to go out under the Disney banner.” – Chicago Tribune

      “Mars may need moms, but Earth needs good movies, and this isn’t one of them.” – Wall Street Journal

      “Mars Needs Moms isn’t much of a movie, but it’s a great teaching tool for how not to make an animated film.” – Toronto Star

      “Red and Battle: Convoluted story, motion capture sucks warmth out of every scene.” – Richard Roeper

      I could go on and on and on and on.

  • Jerry quite liked it though.

  • Ponyo may have only made $3,585,852 during its opening weekend in the US, but it only played on 927 screens. The per-screen average was $3,868.

    Mars Needs Moms earned $6.8 million on (approx.)2,640 screens. Its per-screen average will be far, far lower.

    Yes, it’s clear to see that this movie tanked. But there wasn’t much buzz, and you didn’t see its likeness slapped onto 1,000 cheesy products. Desipite the Disney name on the box, the American “animation-as-babysitter” crowd was never going to turn out in great numbers. I suppose you could hope for strong word-of-mouth, but as Cartoon Brew is well aware, it’s damned hard to get people to show up for any animated feature that’s even slightly off the beaten path.

    I’m not a big fan of Zemekis’ mo-cap cartoons, but this is a loss for our side. Hollywood will not decide to invest in smarter, more intelligent animation; they will instead double down on the same Happy Meal formulas. Shrek 5, here we come…whee!

  • Mark

    Zemeckis didn’t do such a good job on roger rabbit–it’s a pretty lame cartoon.

    • Was My Face Red

      Roger Rabbit was a massive worldwide hit, made Bob Hoskins a star and (along with The Simpsons and Ren And Stimpy) helped kick start a rediscovered love of funny cartoons by the general public. Not such a bad job really.

      • John F A

        Roger Rabbit really benefited from the novelty factor. At the time there hadn’t been anything like it. The Little Mermaid hadn’t even been released. It did a lot of things that people didn’t think were possible for animation at the time. The impressive tech covered up a lot of plotholes.

  • I’m holding out for a meta motion capture movie about motion capture. At least that would explain away the spookiness.

    • Ha, like “Best in Show”, but about Hollywood’s now and has-been’s trying to push experimental mediums or SFX best suited elsewhere.

  • I had a feeling something bad would happen, but I never figured I’d be right about it! Hopefully this will convince to put an end to mocapped Yellow Submarine. And make the Bone movie actually animated(2D animated) over the horrible mo cap treatment its getting.

    • cbat628

      Is Bone really going to be “mo-capped?” I think, and hope, that it’s just going to be CG. My ideal is still a professional, caring, well-thought-out 2D animated adaptation of Jeff Smith’s awesome comic, but with CG there would still be more room for caricature, exaggeration, timing, etc. than motion capture. A “mo-capped” version of Bone would just look… freaky.

      • Darkblader

        There is a source on here, that mentions that on the whole “Bone mo cap” thing. I think its one of the older posts. I remember reading that not many readers were impressed with it though.

      • Paul D

        I would love love LOVE to be part of a 2D Bone team. I must have bought the books each at least half-a-dozen times for my family (we read them till the pages fall out and the covers fall off) and another half-dozen times as gifts. What a great series!

      • Bone definitely needs the 2D treatment. I just can’t see how the artwork could be translated well through CG or… mo-cap.

        Have to mirror Paul’s sentiments though, I always urge friends and family to read it, and I have to be careful picking up my copy for fear of getting sucked into reading it again and again.

  • Maybe the box office had something to do with the less-than-compelling TV ads. They promised a lame direct-to-DVD experience one might expect to encounter for the first time in a BIG LOTS rack for $2.

  • Thom Foolery

    I am really hoping this failure coupled with “Christmas Carol” will stop him from using Mo-Cap on the sequel to Roger Rabbit. Last I heard, the humans would be Mo-Cap and the Toons would also be CG. Is this still the case?

    Also, Anthony Strand, Zemeckis did NOT direct the animation in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. That was done by Richard Williams.

    • Xgeeme

      Hmm. One of the reasons he wants to us mo-cap on Roger Rabbit is because it would bring back Eddie Valient, who Bob Hopkins is getting too old to perform as- mo-cap can circle around that obstacle. While that may sound like a more practical reason than the overly-done tools in Mars Needs Moms, I really hope they raise enough money for the Toons to be hand-drawn.

  • Sure, SciFi is a hard sale at the box office. Yet, some how, I don’t quite see this as being the next Iron Giant on DVD.

  • Chris J.

    This movie’s failure is an absolute no-brainer for anyone who’s seen the ads. The characters look creepy. Really, really, off-puttingly creepy, and no one wants to go see it.

    My daughter saw the ad for this movie and made a face that looked like she had just smelled something awful. She has no clue what the film’s about and doesn’t care because she doesn’t want to go see those “scary people” from the “Mom Mars” movie.

    Granted, she’s only 5, and not the target audience, but her reaction is the pure, human response to the way these characters look. Zemekis has been trying to claw his way out of the uncanny valley but he just keeps sliding deeper and deeper into it.

    • Well, I hope whoever plays as The Nostiliga Critic can bash this in 20 years.

    • Did those ads contain bad rapping that has nothing to do with the film whatsoever? Those were the ads I saw on YTV in Canada, and they were a turn-off for me – not that I was ever going to see Mars Needs Moms, granted, but those ads were just inscrutable.

  • What is Disney doing releasing two animated movies so close together? Two of their OWN movies? Against ANOTHER animated movie that has a giant star? I’m not alone in thinking that’s exceptionally crazy, right?

  • I think Mars Needs Moms is a lot like the first Jimmy Neutron movie- boy doesn’t like his parent(s), parent gets kidnapped by aliens, boy must rescue parents.

    The TV series for Jimmy Neutron was entertaining and Ok enough that “Mars Needs Mom” movie has a cliche plot. I mean, I’m one who thinks “The Polar Express” is a holiday classic, and I am one of the few who enjoyed the mo-cap “A Christmas Carol”. But “Mars Need Moms” is a mo-cap disaster.

    Considering that the autor of the book’s “Bloom Country” strip and “FoxTrot” may have paralells, especially in the process before FoxTrot’s deubut, I think “FoxTrot” should have an animated series produced by Lee Melendson.
    I just want to hear the characters’ voices, I think either Nancy Cartwright or Richard Williams should be the voice of Jason Fox.

  • Kitschensyngk

    Something to think about:

    The current Guinness World Record holder for biggest box office bomb of all time, Geena Davis’s 1995 pirate movie Cutthroat Island, cost their studio $115 million but only made $10 million in theaters.

    Mars Needs Moms did WORSE than that on its opening weekend alone.

  • When one knows nothing about the movie, the title suggests a product targeted at families in a self-conscious, maybe even condescending and dumbed-down way.
    Anyone old enough to choose a movie based on what he/she personally wants to watch isn’t going to choose a movie of this kind.

    (Yes, we at the Brew know that the title actually refers to MARS NEEDS WOMEN, but most people don’t.)

  • Gray64

    Okay, I don’t like the design of Mars Needs Moms either, and I’ve been cool on the other Zemekis motion-capture films too, but can we please be objective here? You scream your personal prejudices from the mountaintops when you describe Imagemovers as a “creepy nightmare factory.” One can almost see you rubbing your hands together in glee at M.N.M’s lackluster box-office performance. If your hatred for motion-capture is so great, perhaps you need to excuse yourself from any discussion of a motion-capture film since you don’t seem able to approach the issue with anything other than hate and vitriol. To be sure, there’s nothing particularly new and/or interesting in Mars Needs Moms (outside of the means used to make it) but would it have been any better in traditional animation, Pixar-style CGI, or live action?

  • lovetta sangster

    Is it bad that I’m happy it flop ? I mean I really hate those fugly and uncanny animated movies Zemeckis makes.

  • animatorX

    The folks at IMD were largely not to blame, they did their best to execute the ideas… the modeling, camera, texturing, lighting and rendering are fine. The animators are capable of doing great work. But in the end, the ideas were not ours. There was no story dept at IMD and the character designs were largely driven by the desires of the director.

  • Eloi

    Will it finally be obvious that writer/director Simon Wells, great-grandson of H. G. Wells, did not inherit the old boy’s genius or talent?

  • (Ok, Ponyo had low theater attendance but it was a beautiful film…)

    As far as Mars needs Moms… when I heard that title for the first time I envisioned a really cool movie! The title seemed pretty cool to me. It could have been a really fun retro film with a great story and style… After seeing a trailer for MNM the title was the only thing that appealed to me.

  • Marc Baker

    If the ‘Roger Rabbit’ sequel does become a reality, I prey that he keep the ‘toons’ in pencil 2D form, and not re-imagined nightmarish 3D abominations.

    • Kyle Maloney

      I would normally agree, but that Roger Rabbit 2 animation test with CG characters looked fantastic. If they managed to get it looking that good I’d totally be on board. I know its not practical though (since their method requires them to animate in 2d, then do an overlay with CG) so yeah its probably best they go the hand drawn route.

      • John F A

        Actually, it would be a lot more cost effective to do certain parts of Roger Rabbit II in CG. Props backgrounds, and characters in crowd scenes could be done faster and cheaper in cg.–also a character like Benny the cab could be animated cg with a mocap actor in the seat.(it is possible to give cg an Outline to resemble hand drawn animation)

      • Doug Nichols

        That test was done about 10 years ago.

  • I hope this would be a “reality check” for Zemeckis, hopefully bringing him back to the making of great live action films like “Back to the Future”.

  • SJ

    “Ha Ha!” (Nelson Muntz laugh)

  • I guess I can put my “Venus Needs Dads” sequel on the shelf.

    And I was gonna mocap myself as the dad. :(

  • D

    There is a God

  • Pedro Nakama

    If I said it once, I’ll say it again…

    When is Robert Zemeckis going to make REAL movies again?

    He is a good director and writer.

  • Jeffers

    I’m surprised no one has brought up that Breathed did get an amimated movie based on one of his books before that did for the most-part keep his original character designs and writing style. A Wish for Wings that Work was made for TV, but I’m certain most people would concur that it was a competant project.

    What I’d like to know is are outer-space and alien themed animated movies really that popular? Seems like there are a lot of them. When did the trend start? We’ve gotten Chicken Little, Jimmy Neutron, Astro Boy, Space Chimps, Planet 51, Monsters vs Aliens, Space Jam, Fly Me to the Moon, Wall-E, Treasure Planet, Lilo and Stich, and Titan A.E. plus a whole bunch more released directly to DVD. Alien movies themselves are nothing new, but it seems that Space Jam might have really started this trend with feature-animation.

    • Ted

      For US theatrial releases, you forgot Iron Giant, Final Fantasies the Spirits Within, Pinocchio in Outer Space, Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon, Fantastic Planet, Heavy Metal, Galaxy Express, Starchaser the legend of Orin, Robotech the Movie, Transformers the Movie, Jetsons the Movie, Cowboy Bebop the Movie, etc. etc. etc.

      So, it started in the ’60s.

      Also, Breathed’s Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big was supposedly made into some form of short, tho I can’t find any visual evidence (or more than cursory text) of this.

  • Dario

    Robert Zemeckis directed “Forrest Gump” and now this. Back then I never thought he would end up ruining his career like this.

  • Well, some of you got your wish re: “Yellow Submarine:” http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/disney-kills-robert-zemeckis-yellow-167415

    • Chris Sobieniak

      And the crowd goes wild…

    • Hey!!!!! Someone in Hollywood actually has a brain in their skull!
      eh.. present company excepted!

    • Kitschensyngk

      Only at Disney. He could still pitch it at another studio.

  • Toonio

    All I know is Zemeckis didn’t act alone. He had the support of a big evil force… you know who I’m talking about: Satan! err SORRY, I meant DISNEY!

    It’s funny how the NYT and the LAT forget to mention Disney on their reviews (only in small prints though).

    Convenience is a powerful excuse these days.

    • Dave O.

      Actually, NYTimes mentioned Disney several times in its “Arts, Briefly” mention of this debacle and it has an extended article in today’s business section about Disney’s response to this bomb.

      “Disney closed ImageMovers Digital last March after (former Disney executive Dick) Cook’s successor, Rich Ross, viewed footage of “Mars Needs Moms.” About two months ago, Disney quietly pulled the plug on what was to be Mr. Zemeckis’s next directing project there: “Yellow Submarine,” a 3-D adaptation of the 1968 Beatles cartoon.

      The company decided to proceed with “Mars Needs Moms” in part because it had already spent so much on it and in part because some executives, notably ones left from the Cook era, acted as cheerleaders for the project.


  • Nick Name

    Just wondering-is that photo actually Zemeckis, or one of his mo-cap models?

  • Well, I, for one, liked Teacher’s Pet! Guess everybody likes something…went to see it in the theatre. Apparently there weren’t many others like me.

  • Wow, “Teacher’s Pet” looked like the beginnings of awesome. I could watch Gary Baseman animated in 3D.

  • Steven Howearth

    Here are some figure’s from Box Office Mojo that I think put this in better perspective. According to there figures Ponyo in it’s first week had a per screen average of $3,868 in 927 theaters. Mars Needs Mom’s first week was 2,218 in 3,177 theaters. This of course in not taking into account the price of regular tickets are higher now than in 2009 when Ponyo was released. And that Mars played in 2,440 theaters that were 3-D and the tickets are even higher. With those figures I feel the words “Bad Opening Weekend” are given a whole new meaning.

  • Claudia

    I don’t think the motion capture technique is the problem, even though is pretty much glorified rotoscope, it can work if done appropietly, just look at “Avatar” -and when I say that I mean the visual aspect-.

    I think the real problem here is that they don’t have a good enough story to work with. When a story is good you’re willing to let go of the technical problems of a movie, if you don’t have a good story you usually resort to eye candy -Transformers anyone?-, but if you don’t have any of those, as it seems to be the case with “Mars Needs Moms”, well, audiences are not going to respond well.

    I guess it coul have helped if they had invested the same effort in all characters design, instead of just making one of them look really cool and the others look effy, as usual in Zemeckis’ CGI productions, or at least don’t try to make the characters so photorealistic, cartoony looks aren’t always a bad thing.

    Or you know, you could have a solid script with characters that are well developed and has plot devices that make sense, that could have worked too.

  • Graham

    Please please PLEASE go back to live-action, Zemeckis. That’s where your career shined.

  • 2011 Adult

    There are press releases online saying that due to the poor performance of Mars Needs Moms, Disney is pulling the plug on Yellow Submarine.


  • Steven M.

    This should just be an indication for Zemeckis to just give up on mo-cap already.

  • That picture of that fat slob is sickening. What were they thinking?

  • AaronSch

    The best news I heard this morning is that Disney has shelved the remake of “Yellow Submarine” and Zemeckis is in talks to direct live-action films again.

    Now if only Fox/MGM would release “Yellow Subarine” on Blu-ray…

  • Michael

    “… Sci-fi animation can be a tough sell.”, Who says? You?

  • joel

    I think it definitely was the title. It sounded like a bad disney movies from the 60’s. However, the article mentioned that spacey type films are a tuff sell. Really? The producers of Rango were not silent about the fact that it is a spaghetti western. Talk about a tough sell. However, one thing was for sure, while I was buying my ticket for Rango…..it looked more appealing and caricatured then the ultra-real and (possibly) bad 60’s disney film. if you guys get my drift. :)

  • S. Astarte

    I never found his mo-cap creepy. It was the only time cg animated movies using humans instead of funny animals looked more natural and less jerky in the movements, and real for that matter. If I was against this film it would be because I’m sick of the mass amount of cg animated films that are put out with more thought on cashing in than making something timeless. Maybe it’s good, maybe it is bad, I don’t know, I’m not going to watch it, but in any case, its massive failure shouldn’t be blamed on one man alone (as one person commented, did Disney really think it would make over 150 million or more at the box office) and his loss shouldn’t be celebrated.