Fears that Disney's John Carter could prove to be a multimillion dollar flop have increased with a disappointing opening weekend box office.

The high-concept sci-fi epic failed to top the US box office and was beaten by Dr Seuss' The Lorax, a computer-animated family comedy.

John Carter pulled in $30.6m (£19.5m), $8m less than The Lorax, which made $39.1m despite that film being in its second week of release.

The figures will come as a significant disappointment to the backers of the film, which is believed to have cost more than $250m to make.

The movie represents a long-awaited adaptation of a novel series by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. It follows the adventures of a Confederate soldier who is suddenly transported from the American Civil War to Mars, where he discovers he has super-strength and agility because of the Red Planet's lower gravity.

Concerns were raised that the film would prove too hard a sell for those cinema-goers who were not already devotees of the book series. Its Superbowl trailer met with a muted response.

John Carter represented a significant gamble for Disney that many observers were surprised to see. The majority of the studios release comfortable sequels or derivative remakes with the security of a guaranteed audience.