The New Year is here and 2016 will bring WB’s Legend of Tarzan on July 1. What are the experts predicting in terms of Box Office Gross? For those in the Edgar Rice Burroughs fan universe, it feels like a make or break opportunity to either rejuvenate the legacy of ERB’s most beloved creation and propel it into a successful second century–or a chance to relive the doomsday frustration that was Disney’s John Carter. Which will it be?
First question — how will success be defined?
Hollywood rule of thumb is that a film has to do at least double the production budget in worldwide box office gross to make a profit and have a shot at a sequel. This is just a shorthand calculation — the actual calculation of profitability is much more complicated and includes calculating a ten year revenue stream from all sources in all territories — against all costs including production, marketing, and distribution. But the rule-of-thumb calculation is good enough for general assessment and we’ll use that.
So that means that LOT, whose budget is reputed to be $180M, needs at least $360M global box office (and more likely $400m) to be regarded as a profitable endeavor worthy of a sequel.
So, as a first step — let’s build a model that shows what sort of opening weekend would likely be necessary in order to achieve basic profitability.
For reference, painful as it is, let’s look at John Carter:
John Carter Actual Performance vs Theoretical Breakeven
$267M — Production Budget
$534M — Theoretical Breakeven
$30.1M — Opening Weekend
$73.0M — Domestic Total (26%)
$211.0M — Foreign Total (74%)
$284.1M — Global Total Box Office Gross
(250M) — Shortfall vs Breakeven (Global Total minus Theoretical Breakeven)
Yes, I know. Pretty painful. You can see why Disney took a $200M writedown.
But, painful as it is, we can derive the following ratios and percentages which we can then reasonably apply to Legend of Tarzan as a starting point for breakeven analysis of that film.
Ratios and Percentages
Theoretical Breakeven is achieved at 2x Production Budget
Opening Weekend is 41.2% of Domestic Total
Domestic Total is 34.5% of Foreign Total or 26% of Global Total
So, using the John Carter ratios as a starting point for building a model, here’s what a John Carter-based theoretical breakeven for LOT looks like:
Legend of Tarzan Theoretical Breakeven
$180M — Production Budget
$360M — Theoretical Breakeven
$38.2M — Opening Weekend Needed to Achieve Breakeven
$92.6M — Domestic Total Based on Opening Weekend of 38.2M (26%)
$267.4M — Foreign Total based on Domestic total of 92.6M (74%)
$360.0M — Global Total Box Office Gross
$0.0 — Achieves Breakeven
Does that mean that LOT gets a sequel at $360M global gross? I would say the answer is probably NO if it achieves $360M but the US domestic share is only 92.6M. The low-end threshold for a film to be considered a hit domestically is $100M, so I would argue that the model has to be adjusted at least that much ….meaning U.S. Domestic needs to reach $100M regardless of what the foreign total is. It could reach $100M one of two ways — a) by having a better opening weekend while retaining the John Carter ratio of opening weekend/domestic total, or b) by having better “legs” than John Carter. I think it is reasonable to assume that Tarzan will have better legs than John Carter simply because it won’t be encountering the massive “Flop of the Century” negativism that surrounded the John Carter release, and which depressed “legs” …. For those who love John Carter and think it had great legs — at opening weekend of 41.2% of domestic total, it did not have great legs. And for those who think it was a disaster in this regard — no, that’s not right either. John Carter was within plus or minus 5% of the average blockbuster performance in terms of opening weekend vs domestic total.
But I think in the case of Legend of Tarzan, a $38.2M opening weekend would in all probability lead to a domestic total of $100M.
John Carter on the other hand performed much better overseas than it did domestically, which is why you end up with a 26%/74% split between domestic and foreign. I think Tarzan will do well in foreign also, but JC’s ratio might be a little skewed toward foreign because of the degree to which it underperformed domestically. Meaning, one of the reasons for that 26/74 domestic/foreign ratio is that JC was mismanaged and tanked horribly in the US, while foreign audiences were not subjected to the same barrage of “horrendous flop” narrative. If Tarzan dodges the bullet of the “flop of the century” narrative domestically — then I’m not sure Tarzan will have a ratio of 26% domestic/34% foreign. I think it could be more like 30% domestic/70% foreign. So I think that the real over/under point for Legend of Tarzan is $40M opening weekend. If it does $40M opening weekend and the reviews are reasonably good and audience grade is B+ or better, then the perception at least will be that it’s made its numbers and is a success.
Sequel Trigger Point
The trigger point for a sequel is not necessarily breakeven — there are many other calculations that would go into it. In the case of Legend of arzan, I think it’s safe to assume that WB will be in more of a “show me” mood than might be the case with other wannabe franchises. There are many reasons for this: Tarzan is widely considered to have run its course; it doesn’t have the existing fan base that typical comic book superheroes have; it was widely thought to be headed for a “doomsday flop” until the trailer played well, but there is still skepticism.
So, based on all of that, I would say that the low opening weekend that would keep the sequel conversation alive is a $40M opening weekend, $100M domestic total, $400M global total. $45M domestic opening would make a sequel likely, and $50M domestic opening would make a sequel an almost sure thing.
What People Are Predicting
With all of the foregoing as background — what sort of predictions are out there? I’ve scoured the internet and here’s what I’ve found.
$40M Opening Weekend
$136M Domestic Gross
$37.6M Opening Weekend
$114.5 Domestic Total
174.7 International Total
289.2 Worldwide Total
Kyle’s Animated World
Opening Weekend: $57 million
Domestic Box Office: $159 million
Overseas Box Office: $388 million
Worldwide Box Office: $547 million
RyneOh1040 — 38 Opening, 105 Total Domestic
Grey Ghost — 300M Worldwide
efialtes76 — 19 Opening, 36M Domestic Gross, 110 Worldwide Gross
The John Carter Files Official Prediction #1
I’m calling this prediction #1 because it will have to be revised as the promotion either prospers or flounders; as we get more information on the film itself; and as we see how the competition does. For now, my key assumptions are as follows:
- Independence Day Resurgence, which comes out the week before, will fall short of the 100M opening that many are predicting, and will land more around 80M. I base this on the reaction to the first trailer, which has been soft (It’s currently at 17.2M but it’s “Like Ratio” is less than .5% and it’s been slowing down dramatically and Tarzan at 13.7M started much more slowly and has been gaining steadily.) This means it projects to a second weekend of 35m-40m (Tarzan’s opening weekend).
- The BFG is not tracking that well. This is the Spielberg film that opens opposite Tarzan. Most predictions for this one are in the low 30’s and most concede Tarzan will outperform it on opening weekend.
- Good first trailer for Tarzan; good cast; every choice thus far has been solid and thus I have a reasonable level of confidence in the film itself and the marketing team. I also think that the Skarsgard/Robbie pairing has a bit of an “it factor” going for it.
Opening Weekend : $50M
Domestic Total: $130M
Foreign Total: $340M
Global Total: $470M
It will be interesting to look back on this as we get closer. I hope I don’t have to downgrade this . . . . .This is definitely a result that would make me happy, as I’m 80% sure this would lead to a sequel and even if it didn’t, it would form a solid basis for another studio to take on a Tarzan reboot in the not too distant future. Also, it would help remove some of the stigma from John Carter’s box office woes (woes which were amplified because of the massive budget) which in turn could create more opportunities across the board for ERB properties.