Top 10 Box Office Takeaways: ‘The Legend of Tarzan’ and ‘The BFG’ May Not Recoup

As 'Finding Dory' ruled for the third weekend, "The Legend of Tarzan" did better than expected and Spielberg's "The BFG" flopped.
The Legend of Tarzan
'The Legend of Tarzan'
Warner Bros.

With Independence Day falling on a Monday, the holiday weekend’s three-day totals so far took a sweet jump over 2015, when the 4th fell on Saturday. After a slow summer, the result is the best increase over the equivalent weekend in some time; three films topped $30 million for the three days, all better than any last year.

The top spot was nabbed both last weekend and in 2015 by a Pixar film in its third week. Incredibly though “Finding Dory” is now 50% ahead of “Inside Out” through the same period, with a clear path to the best total of the year, at least until December’s “Star Wars” entry takes its shot.

READ MORE: Why ‘Finding Dory’ Sequel Drowned ‘Independence Day: Resurgence

The Legend of Tarzanexceeded predictions, but is far from home-free in recouping its $180-million cost (plus marketing). That’s no worry for the $10 million “The Purge: Election Year,” which was not far behind. The clear loser, unless it has strong legs and much bigger international results, is Steven Spielberg’s Disney swan song, “The BFG,” which lagged some distance behind.

We’ll add Monday estimates when they come in, which could shift some perceptions.

The Top Ten

1. Finding Dory (Buena Vista) Week 3 – Last weekend #1

$41,901,000 (-43%) in 4,305 theaters (no change); PTA (per theater average): $9,733; Cumulative: $372,250,000

2. The Legend of Tarzan (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 43; Est. budget: $180 million

S38,135,000 in 4,068 theaters; PTA: $10,709,000; Cumulative: $38,135,000

3. The Purge: Election Year (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 55; Est. budget: $10 million

S30,870,000 in 2,796 theaters; PTA: $11,041; Cumulative: $30,870,000

4. The BFG (Buena Vista) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 66; Est. budget: $140 million

S19,585,000 in 3,357 theaters; PTA: $5,834; Cumulative: $19,585,000

5. Independence Day: Resurgence (20th Century Fox) Week 2 – Last weekend #2

$16,500,000 (-60%) in 4,091 theaters (+23); PTA: $4,033; Cumulative: $72,657,000

6. Central Intelligence (Warner Bros.) Week 3 – Last weekend #3

$12,330,000 (-32%) in 3,166 theaters (-342); PTA: $3,895; Cumulative: $91,767,000

7. The Shallows (Sony) Week 2 – Last weekend #4

$9,000 (-46%) in 2,962 theaters (no change); PTA: $3,038; Cumulative: $35,252,000

8. Free State of Jones (STX) Week 2 – Last weekend #6

$4,134,000 (-45%) in 2,781 theaters (-34); PTA: $1,487; Cumulative: $15,200,000

9. Conjuring 2 (Warner Bros.) Week 4 – Last weekend #5

$3,850,000 (-50%) in 2,008 theaters (-1,025); PTA: $1,917; Cumulative: $95,284,000

10. Now You See Me 2 (Lionsgate) Week 4 – Last weekend #7

$2,950,000 (-47%) in 1,788 theaters (-957); PTA: $1,650; Cumulative: $58,689,000

The Takeaways

The Good, the Mixed and the Ugly

Any summer weekend and any holiday weekend boasting a Top Ten increase of 42% ($53 million) over the previous year qualifies as a positive development. The timing is good, with year to date totals before this weekend up a meager 0.4% despite a record number of $300 million-plus releases for the first half of the year.

But consider this. With the 4th falling on Saturday last year, two new wide releases, “Terminator: Genisys” and “Magic Mike XXL,” opened on Wednesday, with the two films combined grossing $30 million their first two days plus their $40 million combined totals ($27 and $13 million respectively added for the weekend). So an uptick was certain, barring a major disaster. Add together the $12 million more by which “Dory” exceeded “Inside Out,”  and the result is closer to a draw in terms of actual improvement.

Again, a fresh take on a franchise entry hit the bullseye as well as a bargain-basement sequel (“Purge”). Credit must be given to Warners and “The Legend of Tarzan” for taking a close second and coming in ahead, by some degree, of the $30 million total considered more likely. But it still is an iffy figure. An outright flop is Steven Spielberg’s re-entry into the world of fantasy, with “The BFG” coming in far behind, the weekend’s biggest disappointment.

Why “Tarzan” Stood Out – And How It Compares

This summer is so crowded every weekend that even a high-end budgeted film like “The Legend of Tarzan” has to contend with two other openers, as well as a Pixar smash. Two entries also chased younger viewers, adding to the challenge. Add the wariness audiences are showing to many new but still familiar-sounding releases and a general downbeat advance reaction (reviews and box office speculation), and the stories about another big-time flop were ready to be written.

That didn’t happen. The movie opened to $38 million and will likely pass $45 million for the four days. But the $180 million production budget (add marketing and you get to $300 million) keeps it in the “wait and see” category.

Compare it to another Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation, 2012’s “John Carter,” which Disney opened in March. It managed (adjusted for inflation) a total of $32 million, just a little below what “Tarzan” would have done without its extra Sunday pre-holiday boost. It cost more — $250 million in 2012 figures— and died an ugly death (tripling its domestic take of $73 million overseas). But everyone pronounced it DOA.

Last weekend, the nearly as costly “Independence Day: Resurgence” actually grossed $3 million more, again with no holiday boost. Last year, “Terminator: Genisys” through five days had passed $42 million. So we’re talking a trio of high-end cost films close to the same range. Why the different treatment? The industry was calling out a disaster—so “Tarzan” surpassed low expectations.

The movie nabbed strong female interest (just over half of the audience) with the “Me Tarzan, you Jane” romantic appeal of well-reviewed Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) teamed with muscle-rippling star Alexander Skarsgaard (building on his cable following for “True Blood”).

The movie also beat out “The BFG” as the go-to younger audience film. Both films had about half of their viewers under 25, but “Tarzan” scored better with the higher-ticket cost for over-12 attendees. And per Warners’ reports, the most enthusiastic response (A+ Cinemascore) came from those under 18. So give credit to those backing the film for guessing that though “Tarzan” might seem like a retread for some older audiences, younger folks familiar with the Disney animated perennial were interested. That sounds (at a much lower cost) similar to Disney’s triumph with the already familiar but fresh live-action redo of “The Jungle Book.”

But “Tarzan” took a 10% second-day drop, not unusual when the Friday figure includes Thursday early shows and summertime matinees add to initial results. But that was a whole lot better than “The BFG” (which had little preview interest). We’ll see how it holds.

The likely $300 million combined cost means the total worldwide box office needs to total far in excess of $400 million to break even (film rental overall comes in to distributors at less than half of gross, as other revenues add on later). A best-case scenario would see a domestic multiple of over 3X (total $120 million), then this playing like “John Carter” (that would mean around $360 million). Initial foreign grosses were decent, but hardly decisive. Most of Europe hasn’t opened yet because of high-end soccer competition.

And the summer remains super competitive. Sunday’s figures will be an early indication of any result coming in better than expected. So far, not so bad.

“The BFG”

“The BFG” Is No BFD

This isn’t the first Spielberg film not to open at #1 by a long shot. Oscar-contender “Bridge of Spies” opened to $15 million and third place last October. The director’s last film not to open at the top in the summer was “The Terminal” in 2004 (adjusted, its initial number was $26 million, with a 3X multiple).

But the lackluster response is a rarity for him. This is a $140 million family-oriented effects and emotion-heavy story that should be in his wheelhouse. Adapting a well-known Roald Dahl story, getting adequate reviews,with the Disney brand attached, it not only ended up third best among new films, fourth best overall, but also third best among those appealing to families. That’s a sea change.

Why? This one is tougher to figure than many. The most likely reason: it skewed too young, competing against “Finding Dory.” The second is that after an absence from films like “E.T.,”  which was a third of a century ago, Spielberg fans are skewing older.  (His last non-Disney film, the animated “The Adventures of Tintin” only grossed $77 million domestic, though worldwide it approached $400 million). The third might be that, as talented as he might be, Mark Rylance, recent Oscar winner for “Spies,” adds little to its appeal and might actually make it appear more serious. Then there’s the “Hugo” comparison. Martin Scorsese tried something similar (and very expensive), with better reviews, also 3-D, also children’s book oriented, also failed to score equal to hopes (even with its awards-parallel timing).

Whatever the reasons, the most discouraging element is despite little boost from Thursday to increase Friday totals, Saturday fell 12%, more than “Tarzan.” That, coming off already lower numbers, is not a good sign. And with Universal launching the animated “The Secret Life of Pets,” this could be at risk for a drop next weekend and little chance of recovery.

Recently Spielberg has cast his lot with more adult-appeal films, and there is no reason to think he won’t return to form. But this is a curious turn in a fabled and hugely successful career.

The Purge
“The Purge”Universal

And Then There’s “The Purge: Election Year”

Universal and Jason Blum’s third time around in their lucrative “Purge” franchise grossed $31 million for the three day weekend, challenging the two other openers, whose combined $300 million cost is 30 times more than its production budget, along with much smaller marketing costs. “Tarzan” bested it, but this number is spectacular, and more impressive than the bigger opening for “The Conjuring 2.”

Why? For one thing, “The Purge” cost $30 million less even if it opened a bit over $8 million lower. For another, it is the third, not second, entry for the franchise. The gross exceeds the second “Purge” by a few (unadjusted) dollars, and in 2014 it had less competition (the other openers were “Planes: Fire and Rescue” and “Sex Tape.”) And it comes in the wake of “The Conjuring 2” three weeks ago, with its younger more violent-film inclined audience not quite as hungry.

This franchise has benefited from a consistent vision, overseen by canny Jason Blum and directed and written by the same creator (James DeMonaco) who both know how to provide the expected goods. This ended up with mixed reviews, but far more respectful for its type (similar to “The Shallows” last weekend).

Its chief appeal is to a harder-edged mainstream audience not well-served by most of what else is around, aided by summer play time and good counter programming placement. It’s also a nice return to form for Universal, which hasn’t had an opening this good since January with “Ride Along 2.”


Other than the strong ongoing performance for “Finding Dory,” the other holdovers ranged from disastrous to stellar. The “Independence Day” sequel had anything but a resurgence, with a 60% drop from its weaker than expected start. It will struggle to survive much longer, at least outside of better-performing foreign markets. On the other hand, “Central Intelligence” wiped out remaining doubts of its success with only a 32% drop and a likely $115 million-plus domestic total, which will top several films costing over $100 million.

Last week’s other two openers both managed to fall under 50% (both in the 45% range), with “The Shallows” looking to head to profit with $35 million already (off a $17 million initial cost), while “Free State of Jones” at a much weaker $15 million so far, and only half as much this weekend, not getting the response an adult-oriented film should.

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