Disney movie studio boss Rich Ross stepped down on Friday, taking the fall for at least a couple of over-budgeted bombs as Hollywood shies away from taking risks on big blockbusters.

His resignation comes after two years in a row of nasty March surprises, ironically both having to do with the Red Planet. Last year it was Mars Needs Moms, a creepy animated movie that lost $70 million. This year, it was John Carter, a sci-fi action movie set on Mars that resulted in a $200 million loss for Disney.


Rich Ross, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, stepped down as the Disney movie studio boss, taking the fall for at least a couple of over-budgeted bombs. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)

Ross, 50, said in a memo to staff that he no longer believed his role as chairman of Walt Disney Studios was "the right professional fit."

The move was not surprising to analysts, coming a few months after studio marketing chief MT Carney also departed because of a string of lackluster releases.

Disney CEO Bob Iger, who said last summer that big-budget movies were getting "increasingly more risky," thanked Ross for his years of service.

Disney stock rose 27 cents

The Walt Disney Co.'s stock rose 27 cents to close Friday at $42.35.

Disney's most successful movies recently have been made by studios it has bought, including Toy Story maker Pixar, which releases Brave in June, and Marvel, which will release the much-buzzed The Avengers overseas next week.

Under the Touchstone brand, Disney also distributes movies made by Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks production company, including War Horse.

Fixing problems at the studio is seen as crucial for the company, because movies launch characters that are developed into Disney toys, theme park rides, books and video games. For example, Cars Land, an attraction based on the Pixar movies, will open at Disney California Adventure in June.

"For Disney, it feeds a lot bigger value chain," Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger said. "This is a more significant move for investors of Disney than it would be at other companies."

Belief film would become a franchise

Although some of Ross's troubles stemmed from films put into production by his predecessor, Dick Cook, analysts said his inability to prevent big losses was what led to his exit.

"At some level he takes responsibility for not fixing them or shutting them down," Needham & Co. equity analyst Laura Martin said. "They need to lower the risk of entry and build franchise films from that base. Not go all in, hoping it works out."

Part of the estimated $250-million budget on John Carter can be attributed to the notion that the movie could become a multi-part series, as it was based on a trove of books by the late Edgar Rice Burroughs. The series began with A Princess of Mars in 1917 and carried through to the posthumously published John Carter of Mars in 1964.

The movie starring Taylor Kitsch had a budget that rivalled what 20th Century Fox spent on Avatar.

But "John Carter" made only $269 million at box offices worldwide while "Avatar" took in $2.8 billion. After splits with theater owners and marketing expenses, Disney has said "John Carter" would cause a studio-wide loss of $80 million to $120 million in the January-March quarter.

Brought Hannah Montana to TV audiences

Ross had taken the job just two and a half years ago with a mission to cut costs and develop new hits. He had brought High School Musical and Hannah Montana to TV audiences when he headed Disney Channels Worldwide.

Ross spent much of his early tenure at the studio cutting costs and canceling projects that weren't seen as important to the Disney brand.

He shut down the San Francisco-area motion-capture facility used to digitally animate Jim Carrey's Scrooge character in A Christmas Carol sold the award-winning Miramax label to outside investors, and cut such movies as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Wild Hogs 2 from the development slate. Last year, he suspended production on The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp, until its budget was trimmed.

But those efforts were overshadowed by movies that were released but failed to excite big audiences, including Prince of Persia, Prom, Secretariat and even Winnie the Pooh.

Ross told staff in a memo Friday that "the best people need to be in the right jobs, in roles they are passionate about, doing work that leverages the full range of their abilities."

"I no longer believe the chairman role is the right professional fit for me."