Forbes: ‘Suicide Squad’ Was A Hit, ‘Tarzan’ Wasn’t A Bomb: Warner Bros.’ Surprisingly Solid Summer

ERBDOM, Legend of Tarzan Box Office

Scott Mendelson, who is widely regarded as one of a handful of balanced and sane box office analysts, has an article in Forbes today that is noteworthy in that it more or less officially anoints Legend of Tarzan “not a bomb” as seen by a senior professional industry analyst.   Not that any fairminded observer would be inclined to call the film a bomb anyway — but given the pre-release anti-hype that had it opening as a “Pan-sized flop” and the tendency of established negative narratives to stick in spite of facts, it is good for fans of the film to see Mendelson making the acknowledgment that he does.

In early July, to my admitted shock, (the still too expensive) The Legend of Tarzan didn’t turn into the next Pan. The Alexander Skarsgård/Margot Robbie adventure played to adult women and was one of the few leggy “big” movies of the season. Cue a $126m domestic and $355m worldwide total, albeit on an alleged $180m budget.

Now, this is a welcome grudging acknowledgment by Mendelson but there is a secondary element in the quote that gives rise to a secondary layer of faint hope.

That would be his use of the word “alleged” in juxtaposition to “180m budget.”

Alleged indeed.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, somehow, the alleged budget turns out to be an overstatement?  What if it were to be “Tarzan earned $355M on a budget of $140m” rather than $180m.

Can such an argument be made?

Okay, let’s review the bidding on this.

According to a number of reports as well as some “inside information” which I have come across in my travels, the film was set at a budget of $125m when WB pulled the plug and put it on hold, saying that was too expensive.    It then got “re-greenlit” with an announced budget of $90m.  It then went into production and the budget was listed on places like IMDB as $90M.   It was then completed, without any stories surfacing during the filming over over-schedule, over-budget –none of that.

Then, on October 14, 2015, Kim Masters published in Hollywood Reporter an article under the title: “Warner Bros. Faces Tarzan Trouble as Director is Double Booked.”  In the article, the subheading reads:

Still reeling from the epic flop ‘Pan,’ the studio faces issues with helmer David Yates also focusing on J.K. Rowling’s ‘Fantastic Beasts’ even as the $180 million ape-man saga remains unfinished.

Then within the body of the article, is written:

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?”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the only evidence that has ever been presented that the budget of Legend of Tarzan is in fact $180M.  No explanation of how it got there; no stories of reshoots and overschedule; no stories of CGI problems; none of that.  Plus, no mention of the UK and Montreal tax rebates the film was entitled to, which collectively should have totaled $40M or more.  Is the $180M net of the tax rebates? Is it even a real number?

Gradually, based solely on the Hollywood Reporter article, places like IMDB and Box Office Mojo replaced their “$90M” budget listing with “$180M”.  Other articles appeared citing the figure. But no additional evidence has ever been offered.

Today, two months after the film came out, the accepted budget figure is $180M but as Mendelson notes, it is “alleged” — not confirmed.

The one fact which to me seems to weigh in favor of that being a real figure is WB’s stony silence on the issue, as well as the silence of the director, the producer, and everyone else associated with the movie.  Virtually all of the commentary on the film’s performance has been indexed against this budget.  Any positives are quickly diminished by a reference to the budget and the fact that, for a film with that big a budget, the box office numbers aren’t really that good.

Why would WB and the filmmakers sit by silently all these months and not challenge the figure if it’s way off?

One reason is that there  aren’t more than a handful of people who really know.  David Yates might know, but he might not be sure, for example, about the rebates and how they factor in.  Producer David Barron should know. Jerry Weintraub would know if he were alive, but he’s not.  And bean counters and a handful of senior execs at WB know. But that’s about it as far as people who have actual true knowledge of where the film landed budget-wise after completion and application of rebates, etc.

So … is it possible the budget, or more properly, the “production investment” isn’t really $180M and is in fact something south of that?  Could it be $140M after rebates?  (And of course, marketing would have to be added on top of that.) ….

Could it?

I don’t know, but I like the fact that Mendelson said “alleged $180M budget.”

If nothing else, it helps keep hope alive.


    • I made a slight edit to one para that may help clarify what I’m saying. I’m not saying that there is no other mention of the budget being $180M — I’m saying there is no other “evidence” presented. It was first mentioned by Masters in the manner I’ve documented above, and then after that, it just gets repeated without any evidence or sourcing or anything useful being added. I would note that in the article in Total Film, it introduces the figure of $185M a particular suspect way, by saying that Skarsgard “knew” what a “$185m budget” would do for his career when he was first approached to play the role. That point on the calenar would have been waaaaaaay back at the time it was on hold for being overbudgeted at $125M, and was being poushed down to $90M. So I don’t see this as really adding anything to the Masters piece.

      Having said that — if you can find anything out there — anything at all — that actually discusses the budget of $180M in a way that suggests there is actually evidence beyond “circular reporting” that started with Masters, please share. I’m very interested in seeing it and will happy to be corrected. I just haven’t seen anything, and I’ve looked. It all appears to be circular reporting based on the Hollywood Reporter piece.

  • Yes indeed. I have been tracking any mention of a confirmed source for the $180 mil given by Masters in the THR article and never found one. Nor,like you, any mention of over budget issues. What if the production budget was more like 90 mil after the rebates or even $120 mil? That would certainly explain the advertising and promo budget that we all criticized due to its scanty coverage for a $180 mil film. The coverage we saw is certainly more consistent with a film with a production budget of $90- 120 mil.

    It would ,also account for why WB scheduled Suicide Squad to premier on Aug.5 which set it up to collide with LOT in it’s 5th week. Not only did SQ take potential viewers but screens as well not to mention all the promo airspace which began in earnest at the same time Tarzan was opening,, It just never made any sense to me that WB would launch two huge budget blockbusters ( SQ at an alleged $ 175 mil and LOT at an alleged $180 mil.) within 5 weeks of one another. But if LOT had a considerably less production budget and in leu of the Issues of BvS,( IMO WB knew about them well before the premier) . It would make sense to push SQ into an early August release date to bolster the DCEU image. Their expectation would be that LOT would still remain profitable if it had a lower production budget( $ 90-120 mil)

    I’m not sure where he gets his numbers regarding his alleged.” played to adult women” comment since if we use IMDB as representative of its audience, it shows that reviews were made mostly (4:1) by males age 18-29. It may be that more females saw it but just didn’t review it on IMBD. Otherwise, I’m not sure where he gets his data. Maybe his comment is an unconscious bias used to cover his earlier mistaken ideas because, you know,if Tarzan did well in spite of his ” male” predictions it’s because it’s appeal was to adult women and how he could he ever be expected to know what they would go for in a blockbuster movie, whoose mainstay are males.? He most certainly could be forgiven for being taken by surprise, since know one knows what women want or what moves them. Right?

    I read an article within the last month or so that was talking about Hollywood and the mystery of their financial numbers and how difficult it was to tell if any given movie would be successful One of the issues they adressed was that studios do not confirm or deny and alleged production budgets published by trade journals. It went on to say that if a given cited budget was too high,it worked in favor of the studios since the public perception was that the more a movie costs,the better it would be, They don’t mention inflated budget leaks being made by studios for precisely this effect but I did wonder about the possibility.

    If the budget was indeed considerably less than $ 180 mil then the big question of a sequel boils down to the PC issue and a possible work around along with someone to push the idea. WB is still smarting about the poor reviews from BvS and SQ along mof course,with LOT. I know they will push forward with their DCUE because too much is at stake but will they be willing to face the potential PC fire regarding a LOT sequel? Perhaps VOD and DVD sales will have some influence there?

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