What is the actual production budget of Warner Brothers’ Legend of Tarzan? This is a big deal because it affects the breakeven point for the film, and the point at which a sequel becomes possible. To my knowledge, there has never been any kind of official statement from WB about it, (which would be normal), but there is a widely accepted figure of $180M. Today an outlier of an entertainment site, Movie News Guide, mentioned in passing in a post about the movie that the budget is $120M. Is this just a mistake? Or are they onto something? My inquiring mind wants to know.
Let’s go back a few years.
The project originated with John August being signed to write the first script for what Variety reported at the time was “a substantial seven figure sum”. And that was the first of about 5 screenwriters; plus you had big name producer Jerry Weintraub on it from 2003 . . . .so my point is, there was some pretty hefty developmental investment before it ever went into production.
Flash forward to April 2013. At that point, the film had not gotten an official green light from WB but was moving toward production — with production offices on the lot at Warner Bros humming along — when WB put the brakes on, shut the production office. Reason? At the time, Mike Fleming at Deadline Hollywood reported the following:
I’m hearing they’ve shut down plans to make the film this year, and are shuttering the production office. Sounds like it had to do with a high budget they just couldn’t reduce to the level that made the studio comfortable. Casting and timing could also have been an issue, as word is the studio had been courting Jamie Foxx to play the film’s third lead but hadn’t made a deal. This is the film that Warner Bros has tried to get going for years, even hiring scribes Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer to separately script their own visions for the franchise.
Nobody was commenting officially, but insiders at the studio tell me they are trying again for 2014 and that Yates is still in the fold. The studio hadn’t greenlit the film and did not have pay or play deals, so it wasn’t that hard to apply the brakes. Warner Bros is always voracious for franchises that can play on a global stage, but the studio also has been pretty bold about unplugging films that cost too much or don’t get the starpower. Recent examples include the David Dobkin-directed Arthur & Lancelot,scrapped because the film was going to cost at least $130 million, and Warner Bros didn’t want to spend a dime more than $110 million on a film to star newcomers Joel Kinnaman and Kit Harington. The studio also slowed the pace of Akira by shuttering the Vancouver production office, and letting lapse the test options deals it had with Dane DeHaan and Michael Pitt.
I recall very distinctly at the time that the budget at the time they put the brakes on was $120M, and the mandate was to get the budget down to $90M. That sounds very sane and reasonable. I also know that during that time when they were trying to reduce the budget, they made changes to the script to remove some of the big budget set pieces — particularly an elaborate train sequence.
Next came the announcement in February 2014 that the movie was back on — with Weintraub, Yates, Skarsgard, Robbie, Jackson, and Christoph Waltz all attached. There was no mention of budgetary issues and the focus was on the cast.
The impression I had at the time was that they had met WB’s requirement to reduce the budget from $120M. But I suppose it’s also possible that they got past the greenlight committee by sweetening the cast package and through the persuasiveness of Weintraub and Yates, who also produced a five minute concept reel that hopefully we’ll get to see at some point.
And that was it . . . . so the budget was either 120M (which is how it was being carried on IMDB Pro and Box Office Mojo) or less, if they had in fact reduced it.
Flash forward some more to October 2015 and the now infamous Kim Masters THR Article about David Yates being double booked and thus WB had “Tarzan Trouble” …. and in this article, she casually drops in the first reference to $180M:
But one source involved with the project is concerned that Tarzan, with a budget of around $180 million and packed with visual effects, isn’t getting the attention it needs. “The schedule of the J.K. Rowling movie got in the way of an appropriate postproduction schedule on Tarzan,” says this person. “Why would you ever crowd a director into starting a movie before his other movie is properly finished?”
My thought at first was …. this is not someone who is that close to the project, and the “packed with special effects” comment means they are thinking the budget “must be $180m” or something like that because of he special effects — but is this really an accurate statement of the cost, given the whole narrative of 120M to start with, a requirement to cut it to 90M to get a greenlight …. then the greenlight comes …. and suddenly the budget is $180M without any reports of reshoots or going over schedule on the shooting?
So I was skeptical . . . but then I wanted the damned budget to be $90M or at least $120M because that lowers the bar for success dramatically, compared to $180M.
The Kim Masters article got picked up by dozens of film sites, and everyone started repeating the $180M figure. For a long time IMDB Pro kept the budget at $90M and/or $120M — but eventually, with everyone repeating the THR figure of $180m, they changed it to $180m, as did Box Office Mojo.
And so it became generally accepted that the budget was $180M — all based on the Masters reference to an unnamed source who was generally being a bitch about the whole thing, whining about Yates having another movie to deal with, etc. (We had plenty of these blind studio quotes in John Carter, and they added to the backbiting and schadenfreude, which is why I’m a little cranky when I talk about it.)
And now …. comes the Movie New Guide reference to $120M . . . and googling, I found an article in “Amazing News Today” which is undated but seems to be recent, and it references a budget of $90M. Now if you read the Amazing News Today article, be prepared for some serious funkineess in the English — I think it was written in Hindi and has been google translated . . . (and Movie News Guide is also an Indian publication, I think)…..
So . . .
Is it realistically possible that the $180M is wrong and it really is back down around $120M or less?
- It was $120M. WB said that’s too much, get it down to $90 and we’ll green light.
- WB greenlit …. but no mention of budget. Meanwhile, nice cast package emerges, so maybe WB decided to greenlight based on that, not lower budget? But we know for sure that there was a rewrite that cut costs . . . .On the other hand, a big thing that supposedly got cut was the train scene — and there is a train scene in the finished movie, so does that mean it was cut down but not cut out? Or put back in? And I’m not sure how much cutting a train scene would really save.
- Masters says $180M. Everybody picks it up. $180M becomes canon.
- Two outlier Indian sites place it at $120M and $90M.
After initially being skeptical of the $180M figure, I had started halfway believing it because of what seemed like a lot of CGI . . . but in talking to an “industry insider” who’s seen the film, he says that there is no more than 15minutes of ape screen time, and the rest of the CGI is not terribly expensive except maybe the stampede. But none of that really explains $180M.
Anyway –I am going to keep trying to crack the code on this.
If anybody out there reading this feels like doing some googling — maybe you’ll turn up something I’ve missed. I would like to find every single reference to the budget, especially anything other than $180M. I am also going to try and come up with some bonafide “inside information” and will report what I find.
Duh. I also forgot to mention — what about the 25% UK rebate on all UK qualifying costs. Actually it’s : “25% on the first £20m of qualifying UK expenditure, with the remaining qualifying UK expenditure receiving a 20% tax rebate.” This is what brought John Carter down from over $300M to a final production cost of $267M.
So — is this considered in any of these figures? That might explain some of the difference between $120M and $180M. Not all, but some.