Will Legend of Tarzan be a Sleeper Hit or an Also Ran?

Legend of Tarzan (Movie)

It’s  coming up on 40 days since Warner Brothers’ dropped the teaser trailer  and published two images for Legend of Tarzan starring Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie.  Other than that that initial flurry, there has been zero promotion — but now that more than a month has gone by, what can we discern about the status and prospects for the film? Is anything more clear now than it was a month ago?  Are there reasons for encouragement? Cause for concern?

The biggest question is — will LOT simply get crushed in the busy summertime schedule next year, when it comes out one week after Independence Day Resurgence, opens opposite Steven Spielberg’s The BFG, and is followed one week later by Secret Life of Pets and a week after that by Ghostbusters.  

Let’s start with some metrics and limit it to the film that comes out a week earlier (IDR), the film that comes out alongside LOT (The BFG) and the film that comes out a week after LOT — Louis C K’s animated and much buzzed Secret Life of Pets.  These are the films whose fates are most clearly interconnected — they ware the films you will be reading about when you read the box office results for LOT’s first two weekends when its fate will be decided.

This chart is from January 17 and the “Increase” and “Incr %” shows the increase from Dec 28 (the last time I checked the numbers.)
Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 8.41.53 AM

So — what are the main takeaways from this?

  • IDR leads the pack, as you would expect, but: 
    • LOT is gaining on it.  Look at LOT’s increase of 1.7M and 12.7% since Dec 28.  And then look at the number of likes — 91,299 for LOT and 77,270 for ID2, even though ID2 has 3M more views.   These are signs that the LOT trailer is a hit with legs — and the IDR trailer  (an hence, IDR) is soft.
  • The IDR softness is evident in a number of ways:  
    • IDR’s low percentage of likes — .42% is not a good number. Popular trailers usually end up in the range of  .55 %to .65%.
    • The modest increase of 7.6% for IDR, vs the robust increase of 12.7% for LOT.

What does this mean?  In practical terms, it’s the difference between IDR opening at a $80M vs $100M, which in turn means a second weekend of $35M vs $45-50M, which in turn means — to LOT — a different of $5-10M in LOT’s opening weekend. In other words, if IDR opens at $80M and is a little soft overall, it translates into a 15%-20% higher opening weekend for LOT than would be the case if IDR opens very strong at $100M with  strong reviews and strong word of mouth.  Now — look, I know there are a lot of “ifs” in there, but think of it this way. Generally speaking, there is only so much available box office gross to go around on any given weekend, and the amount IDR will consume is a function of how it opens and how strong it holds.  Given the excitement that the trailer opened to — it could be doing a lot better.   It’s a good thing for LOT that it’s looking a little soft.


  • The BFG looks weak but could gain momentum because of pedigree:
    • The BFG is the Steven Spielberg/Disney adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic book.  To date it’s been getting more love from entertainment writers than it has from consumers watching the trailer.   But …. it’s too early to write it off, in spite of the weak trailer numbers.  First, it’s on the same weekend as LOT so it will have a disproportionate affect in comparison to the other films, which come before or after.
  • Secret Life of Pets doesn’t look too intimidating, but:
    • It is more active throughout social media and on the internet, with more different pieces being put forward — than any of the others.  There is some potential for it to surge in coming months.  But for now, it looks like it will be a hit and will probably win its weekend — meaning LOT will likely be denied a second weekend in first place — but it does not project to open so high as to hurt LOT excessively on the second weekend.

The Curious Case of Hollywood Stock Exchange

In the chart — if you look at the last column, you’ll see what each film currently selling at on the Hollywood Stock Exchange..  (For those who aren’t familiar, HSX is “the world’s leading entertainment stock market. At HSX.com, visitors buy and sell virtual shares of celebrities and movies with a currency called the Hollywood Dollar®.”)

So . . . when you look at that the first thought is — oops, LOT is languishing far behind the others.  What does this mean?

First — it’s an indication that the data I’ve crunched above has not yet really made it into the consciousness of the traders on HSX and, one could argue, LOT is undervalued on the exchange.  But this also points to the problem of the film — which is that it’s starting point is a large set of negative expectations on the part the Hollywood cognoscenti, and while the trailer has helped — the film still faces signfiicant headwinds, moreso it would seem, from the “smart guys” than from the average consumers who see the trailer, like it, and are enthusiastic.  If you doubt what I’m talking about, just take a trip over to Deadline Hollywood and read the comments on the LOT trailer article.

Parsing it just a little bit more — look at these HSX charts for the four movies:

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 9.40.30 AM

First — note the big surge for LOT from the mid twenties to 57.  That was the effect of the trailer release on Dec 9.  Keep in mind that where it was before the trailer — in the low twenties — was an utter disaster in terms of what the “smart people” were expecting.  That’s a terrible number.  And even after the big surge — it still landed, and remains, far behind the main competition.  Is this meaningful? It’s hard to figure out how it’s good.  It’s a matter of determining how alarming it is, and whether in the end it really matters.  It does show that among those who follow these things closely enough to play on the HSX, LOT is not getting a lot of respect and is not even beating BFG — even though if you were to look at trailer numbers, you’d think it would have to be beating BFG.

The only other film in the batch to receive a big surge like LOT os Secret Life of Pets, which saw its surge come after the release of its first trailer in June 2015.  But as you can see, Secret Life has continued to grow.  Now — the first Secret Life trailer came out in June, not December, and there have been a lot of other things that have come out since then, so this is a much more active promotion.

Is WB Following a Sleeper Hit Strategy?

Recently, since the release of the trailer on December 9, there have been trade shows and “cons” where WB has showcased Suicide Squad and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — two films that come out AFTER Legend of Tarzan, while doing nothing for LOT.

Is this neglect or strategy?

As a proponent of LOT, it’s easy to say it’s neglect and it may well be.

But can an argument be made for strategically holding back on LOT?

I think one can, and here it is.

Prior to the release of the 1st trailer, LOT was, first of all, not a heavily anticipated film and to the extent there was anticipation it skewed negative. “How could WB waste $180M on a (yawn) Tarzan movie in 2016?”  “Another Pan-sized flop for WB!”  “This will be John Carter all over again.”

In other words not only was there little buzz – what there was, was pretty negative.

The success of the first trailer was that it a) won over plenty of regular fans, and b) silenced the doomsayers.

Those doomsayers have mostly moved on and are not currently targeting LOT with scorn.  And that’s a good thing.   Meanwhile, the trailer is quietly chugging along, gaining ground on the competition, and WOM continues to build — not fantastically, but steadily.  The trailer performance, particularly its “legs”, is Exhibit A that that is happening.

Given all of that — one could argue that it’s not a bad thing for good ol’ Tarzan to go hide in the tall grass for awhile.  A reasonable foundation has been built; there is plenty of  time; and too much “hey look at me” attention garnering could trigger negativity. It’s out there, believe me, lurking just beneath the surface.

In that situation, it may be just fine to let it lie low for a while.  Not forever — there will come a point when it’s definitely time to start making noise again.  But the situation now is that it’s performing pretty well compared to the competition; it’s gaining on them; and it’s not drawing fire, which could happen if it sticks its head up to high too soon.

Do I completely believe all of that?

Not completely, but if I try real hard, I can convince myself that WB is being quietly brilliant by lying low.

I hope that’s right.



  • I don’t know what trade shows and cons have occurred in the last month that WB has been promoting SS and FB, but it doesn’t surprise me that they’d promote those over LOT, since that’s what they’ve been doing since the beginning. LOT has been under the radar since it started filming. WB may also be waiting for the bigger trades and cons, like WonderCon and CinemaCon.
    I think they are going slow with this, and since the reaction to the first trailer and stills has been mostly positive and views of the trailer have remained slow but steady, this the way it may be for awhile. There’s a possibility they may drop millions on a Super Bowl ad, but I’m thinking that’s now unlikely, and may not be the best return for their money. WB may be fine with just putting the trailer in front of their upcoming movies for the next couple of months, plus an article here and there.
    I think their big push will start after Batman v. Superman, which still gives them three months for lots and lots of promotion before release.
    IDR is a question mark because it has a lot of nostalgia going for it, but if it doesn’t have good word of mouth it could drop off substantially its second week. But it’s not also outside the realm of possibility that word of mouth for IDR, LOT and Pets is all good and that they all share in the bounty. It’s not always either/or.

Leave a Reply