What Are the Box Office Predictions for Legend of Tarzan?

Legend of Tarzan (Movie)

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.

Box Office Frontier

$40M Opening Weekend

$136M Domestic Gross

IMDB User List:  

$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

Box Office Theory — Various Users

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.



  • Great analysis, as always. And Happy New Year, 2016 will certainly be interesting for ERB fans. One thing is for sure, If the movie does well it will surprise quite a lot of people. I’m watching some “most anticipated 2016 movies” videos and Tarzan is on none of them, even from some who were pleasantly surprised by the teaser, as Collider, and even If the list has 20 entries!

    • I’m seeing it on some lists . . . . . I was going to do a compilation of the ones where it does appear . . . but it’s definitely getting left off of some of them, if not most.

  • I’m still not entirely convinced that LOT’s production budget was 180 million, considering what was known about preproduction and filming up until the sketchy Hollywood Reporter article.
    But only WB knows for sure.
    As for predictions, reality is it’s too far out, especially for a movie that still isn’t that well known.
    I think the initial reaction to the first photos/poster/trailer has been pretty good, which gives me some hope for the box office potential.
    I think we’ll be able to get a better idea as WB ramps up promotion, especially if they show anything at WonderCon in March, or CinemaCon in April.
    Getting good reviews I think will help, especially as this isn’t part of an already established franchise.
    Of course, it can get good reviews from the critics and good reviews from the audience and still not do that well at the box office, which is what happened to Tom Cruise’s 2014 movie Edge of Tomorrow.
    Let’s hope that’s not the fate for LOT.

    • Well . . . . in a way, it’s never too early …. believe me, before a studio greenlights a project, someone is doing projections. But I understand what you mean — as noted, I’m envisioning having to adjust it up or down as more becomes known and the promotion unfolds. As for the budget, I have been skeptcial about it being 180 since the only real source for that is an unnamed “source close to the production” in Kim Masters article in the Hollywood Reporter. But now that I’vessn how much CGI there appears to be in it, I’m a little less skeptcial and more inclined to believe it’s really that high. But it’s really a “reported number” — not a certainty. Note that IMDB held it at 120m for a long time, but recently changed it to 180m. So they were resisting changing it when the only known info was from THR …. maybe they have more info–or maybe it just got repeated so many times that they finally accepted it.

  • Oh, I know that on a business and really attentive film fan level it’s never to early to start predictions. Though even looking at just this years ‘duds’ there are people who aren’t doing a good job of predicting box office when they approve a film, and its budget. 🙂
    As for Tarzan’s budget, IMDB had it 90 estimated until the HR article. Then it went to the 180. I found the 180 interesting, since it basically follows the formula of taking your shooting budget and then doubling it to end up with an estimated for the overall budget, including promotion. We knew it was going to be CGI, so I don’t buy it suddenly ballooning to 180. Especially since it wasn’t greenlit until the budget was pared down. Which is probably one of the reason they didn’t film on location for the jungle (I think Hawaii had been mentioned as a possible location) but instead shot at Leavesden. Nor were there any whispers of cost overruns, or filming problems. I could buy a budget of 120 million, but not 180. The article was very weaselly worded, and not just on the budget numbers.
    And I know that WB has probably been tracking reaction veryveryvery closely since the initial promotion three weeks ago, to get some idea of what needs to be done going forward. For me, I know what I hope for in terms of numbers, but I’m going to try and not make any predictions until several months from now, when promotion really starts.

    • I hold out some faint hope that the production cost is less than 180m ….. but I”m 99% sure the 180m that is being referenced is only considering the production cost, not the cost with marketing included. If you read the original article where the figure of 180m surfaced, I think it’s pretty clear from the context that they are talking about the production budget. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/warner-bros-faces-tarzan-trouble-831921 . . . . Masters makes comparisons to Pan’s production budget of 150m and opening weekend of 15m …and projected loss of up to 150m “after a hefty marketing spend” is calculated in. So, I really don’t think that’s the case. I agree that they should have known how much CGI was needed and how much it would cost . . . .so that remains a mystery. And I hold out hope that it’s not really a 180m production cost. But I think it would also be at least incautious to build breakeven models etc based on 90m ….which would make it the first studio action blockbuster to come in at less than 100m in a long, long time. The good news is that even with a 180m budget, a box office performance that would get us a sequel is still attainable.

      By the way . . . . . I’m really interested in any hard evidence that can be developed regarding the budget. As far as I can tell . . . all references to 180m track back to the Kim Masters article . . . . .are there other independent references to it? I haven’t seen them but if anyone can find references to 180m (or any other budget figure) that seem to be sourced in some other way than Masters/THR, please share. . . .

  • It’s implied, but not stated:”with a budget of around $180 million and packed with visual effects”.
    It’s a weaselly statement, like writing the initial screenings didn’t go well. Well, the first screening had the power go out, technically that’s not going well. It read to me to be an article that was truthful without being accurate, something I’d have gone over in a high school English class on learning to analyze news articles and learning to critically think about what’s being written. It could all be truthful AND accurate, but based on what was known, which wasn’t a lot, that article’s ‘information’ seem off of what had been known. The initial budget was listed on IMDB and not changed until that article came out. But there hasn’t been a specific statement on estimated production budget.
    There were no reports of cost overruns, or any reshoots out of the ordinary, nor of screenings receiving horrible reception. Could have the CGI budget gone way over? Yes, but there wasn’t even any whisper about that. CGI’s expensive, but usually not hideously so, not anymore, even for movies that are very CGI driven.
    But if you weren’t paying attention to it, which was the supermajority of most general movie fans, the first you heard of this movie was that it was in trouble. So by having had the movie in a ‘cone of silence’ (as you accurately called it) was something of a misfire on that, because it did put something of a bad buzz out on it. I think the fairly positive reaction to the first trailer has helped dispel that.
    I’ll note that Mad Max: Fury Road did have a very troubled production and lots of bad press, until it was released, to remember just a very recent example of ‘movies that are supposed to suck but actually end up being good movies (or at least successful movies’).So it’s not as if one article is its box office death sentence.
    My hope is that it opens with at least 50 million domestically and after that finds a combination of domestic/foreign that gets it to at least 400 million. Even if it doesn’t get a sequel I’d like it to be considered a success. I’d like it not to cause heartburn in WB execs.
    And despite all the bad press WB has received this year, it hasn’t that bad of a year:
    “Plagued with an array of big budget gambles that didn’t deliver, it’s amazing to consider that Warner Bros. is literally +1.5% at the box office with $1.59B. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that Warner Bros. dominated the early part of 2015 with American Sniper ($350M domestic), the biopic of Navy S.E.A.L. sniper Chris Kyle which played straight to the heartland…
    They hope to have better luck next year from Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, DC Villains’ pic Suicide Squad, Todd Phillips’ Arms and the Dudes and Harry Potter offshoot Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”*

    *I note no mention of LOT, but Arms and the Dudes, which I have never heard of and had to Google.

    • Well …. the good news is — first comment on that post, which has been upvoted 10 times leaving it tied for first in that category of the 121 comments, is:

      Carolyn • 14 hours ago
      Margot Robbie and Skarsgard.
      That’s enough for me to make a trip to the cinema.
      10 • Reply•Share ›
      dizzylucy Carolyn • 13 hours ago
      I’m hoping that one does OK, it looks like it could be a fun action adventure popcorn flick. Plus, yes, Skarsgard and Robbie.
      4 • Reply•Share ›

      And then the only other comment about Tarzan is “I think you’re mistaken about Tarzan,” and a reply “I have hope for this one.”

      The thing is, compared to the massive cry of ‘DOOM’ and ‘MEGAFLOP” for John Carter, Tarzan is doing fairly well in that it’s not making all the flop lists, and IS making many of the “films to look for in 2016” lists.

      I”m going to do a post on LOT’s status in the various lists and I think I’ve got the positive ones under control. Let me know if you find it on other flop lists …. or if it’s being left off of flop lists, that is interesting too. . . . .

      No mistake, it’s still an underdog. But “Pan-sized flop” is no longer the typical description, thanks to the trailer and the casting.

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