Box Office: ‘BFG,’ ‘Tarzan’ Struggling as Hollywood Faces Gloomy Independence Day

The BFG The Legend of Tarzan
Courtesy of Disney/Warner Bros.

A lackluster summer at the box office could get even worse if there aren’t some fireworks over July 4th.

Don’t look for newcomers “The BFG” and “The Legend of Tarzan,” however, to add to the pyrotechnics. They carry hefty budgets and big name directors in Steven Spielberg and David Yates, but aren’t expected to connect with U.S. audiences. Both could rank among the year’s biggest flops, unless foreign moviegoers suddenly get passionate about a friendly giant and a jungle king.

Look for “The BFG” to eke out $30 million from 3,357 theaters over the four-day holiday; an anemic result given its $140 million price tag and a sign that Spielberg, despite a resume that includes “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Jurassic Park,” may not be the draw he once was among younger crowds. He’s spent the better part of the past decade serving as cinema’s preeminent history teacher, offering up period pieces such as “Bridge of Spies,” “War Horse” and “Lincoln” that resonate more strongly with older consumers.

“It’s weird that a Spielberg movie is the underdog at the box office,” said Shawn Robbins, senior box office analyst with BoxOffice.com.

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Critics have received the Roald Dahl adaptation warmly, saving particular praise for Mark Rylance’s motion-capture work as a giant who befriends an orphan girl (Ruby Barnhill). Amblin Partners is backing the film along with Disney and Walden Media. It’s the final release under a long-running distribution deal that Spielberg’s production label had with Disney. It has since decamped for Universal armed with new equity financing from Participant Media, Reliance Entertainment, Entertainment One and Spielberg himself.

“The Legend of Tarzan” is also facing fierce headwinds. The latest update of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books about a boy raised by apes cost $180 million to make, but is looking at a paltry $35 million opening from 3,561 theaters over its first four days in theaters — a poor result given the time and treasure Warner Bros. and financial partner Village Roadshow devoted to trying to launch a new franchise. Alexander Skarsgård, whose washboard abs first came to prominence on “True Blood,” wears Tarzan’s loin cloth this go-round, with Margot Robbie playing his Jane and Christoph Waltz serving as foil. Warner Bros. is hopeful that the film will get a lift overseas, particularly from China, where it debuts next month. This weekend “Tarzan” will swing into 19 markets, including South Korea and Russia.

As this pair of blockbuster hopefuls falters, Universal’s “The Purge: Election Year” is looking like a winner. The micro-budget sequel from producer Jason Blum (“Insidious,” “Paranormal Activity”) should debut to $27 million across 2,787 locations over the four days. That’s a solid result given its $10 million price tag. The other two films in the series — “The Purge” and “The Purge: Anarchy” — kicked off with $29.8 million and $35.1 million, respectively. The new film follows a presidential candidate (Elizabeth Mitchell) whose platform includes eliminating the purge, an annual evening of lawlessness. The election hook could help the film appeal to audiences who have been captivated by this year’s battle for the White House between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

When the dust clears on Monday, it’s likely that Disney’s “Finding Dory” will retain its box office crown, finishing in first place for a third consecutive weekend with more than $40 million. The “Finding Nemo” follow-up has been the rare sequel that has worked this summer, becoming the fastest animated film to pass the $300 million mark domestically this week.

The nation’s birthday is another somber note in a downbeat summer for the film business. One by one, sequels, spinoffs and reboots such as “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,” “Independence Day: Resurgence” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass” have received a cold shoulder from audiences. Last summer was a record-breaking one, but as this year’s popcorn season stumbles to midpoint, revenues for the quarter are down nearly 10%. It’s now up to the likes of “Ghostbusters,” “Jason Bourne,” “Suicide Squad” and “The Secret Life of Pets” to turn things around.

“Do we really need to see some of the sequels and franchises that we’re seeing,” asked Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. “Did we really need an ‘Independence Day’ sequel? Do we need a new Tarzan film?”

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  1. BFG stands for “Big Friendly Giant” and is based on a kids book. Tarzan has actor appeal with Margot Robbie and Alexander Skarsgard but I don’t think July 4th is a great weekend for these to release. Neither strike me as “summer blockbusters” although I’ll watch both on home video.

  2. nick edwards says:

    I have no idea what BFG is, what it’s based on, or what the title even means. Skip.
    I have no desire to see Tarzan in the wake of such modern day heroes as Bond. Skip.
    Was excited about ID4 until it got terrible reviews. Skip.

  3. Austin Whitley says:

    Your analysis is always so pathetic and low. Maybe the U.S should start appreciated that both of these are original movies. First-ever Tarzan live action movie and never heard of BFG. And y’all keep wondering why the originality is lost its because you all keep not watching the movies. And they really are awesome it’s just not the time to be picky anymore. That’s why we are dipping in box office rates and other countries are getting bigger. Your loss is someone else’s gain. And cgi is the future so suck it up and shut up. Go to the movie and enjoy. One day when there is absolutely no originals anymore It’s because of all of you. Not the film studios but the people who dont go to see the originals when they come out. Because they don’t look good or are wierd. Oh well, get over it. Go ahead and start patting yourselves on the back cause that day has come and it’s your fault. Look in the mirror and blame yourselfs.

    • Rex says:

      How the hell old are you, Austin? Like, seven? This new Tarzan movie puts the total count of LIVE-ACTION adaptations well past FIFTY! You REALLY need to expand your knowledge before mouthing off, son.

      And no, other countries are not getting bigger in any way that will challenge U.S. domination in terms of budgets, available stories, quality of screenwriting, acting, etc. They’re getting better, and have more visibility thanks to DVD, Blu-ray and especially streaming, but they’ll never REPLACE what Hollywood is capable of. Most likely you’re trying to suggest that China will one day outpace the U.S. for consumption of movies, but the fact is China — and many other countries for that matter — is a HOMOGENOUS culture that can’t possibly make the sheer variety of movies that Hollywood can, especially without a rich pop cultural history from which to draw endless stories. China in particular doesn’t have that, which is why Chinese movies don’t play outside of Asia unless they’ve got exploitable elements that home video distributors in North America can work with: i.e. swordplay, martial arts, epic battle scenes, and special effects sequences. Truthfully, MOST other countries can’t afford to crank out movies like that with any regularity the way the U.S. does, and whenever they try, the results have very little global appeal.

      Tarzan is probably not a truly awful film. It’s probably quite good. It may even make more money overseas than it does here, but it’s a property that has failed to find an audience nearly every time it’s been adapted in the past 40 years with the exception of the Disney version, and even THAT wasn’t a runaway smash. Remember Greystoke? Remember Tarzan the Ape Man? Remember Tarzan and the Lost City? Tarzan was a massive hit series in the 1930’s and early 1940’s, and it continued, with diminishing returns, well into the 1960’s. Since then, flop, flop, flop, from filmmakers who seem bound and determined to make it work in the face of all expectations to the contrary.

  4. navtej singh says:

    it’s time hollywood invest in original story, there are very few fresh original content, it’s all huge budget cgi mindless movies being made, it’s getting boring

  5. Andrew says:

    It’s hard to imagine movies like ‘Ben Hur’ doing any better come August. Studios are in a tough spot partly of their own making. By trying to rely on giant, bloated brands, they’ve had to grow to unsustainable sizes, creating one size fits all content. I would love the idea of more mid-range budget movies, but the big studios can’t survive on those alone. They need massive hits to serve their bottom line. I can imagine at least 1 studio (and maybe 2) disappearing from the landscape over the next few years. It is sad, but we’ve seen it coming. And while certain oversees markets over-perform now, it won’t last forever.

    But perhaps it’s not all bad. There’s room for smaller production companies like STX and A24 to fill a much needed niche, alongside more options from Amazon, Netflix, Vimeo, etc… Good stuff is still getting made.

  6. solletaire says:

    There are TV and streaming services for the artistic movies of yore. It’s time for movie making to evolve and stop frowning at TV and streaming services as a medium. Considering how the few artistic and big movie star movies have performed this year, that is not necessarily what the majority of the audience is looking for.

    The one lesson the studios could learn is that the audience is pretty savvy now a days. If you want a big budget movie to succeed, it needs to have a clear marketing campaign (BFG, I’m looking at you) and most importantly needs to be, you know, a good movie.

    I feel overseas audience, esp. China, has a lot less experience with Hollywood blockbusters and is less savvy as a result. In oder words, it will not be the bad big budget movie saviour for long.

  7. Movie lover says:

    Both “BFG” and “Tarzan” have had lackluster trailers, with images that seem to have come from a myriad of movies we have already seen. Nothing new, nothing original. Why spend money on something that feels tired and unappealing?

    It´s not that Spielberg does not interest younger moviegoers anymore. It´s movies that feel forced and recycled. And this “Tarzan” looks drenched of any colour, just not the kind of fun adventure that “Tarzan” should be. The apes we have already seen better in the “Planet of the Apes”-reboot. The soundtrack is just the usual Hans Zimmer-wallpaper. And do we really need another villain played by Waltz, another hero´s friend played by Sam Jackson? Another fitness-studio-with personal trainer and diet-actor in the title role?

    Give us something fresh and not dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, Hollywood. And stop using the marketing “experts”. Audiences will be there if they don´t feel treated like con-man-bait.

  8. alex says:

    So people are finally getting sick of these homogeneous cgi-laden movies that try to appeal to every demographic. Good. Hopefully this leads to an era of actual artists being given control again, rather than producers and uncreative moneymen.

  9. stu freeman says:

    How does anyone know what a movie is going to rake in even before it opens? Let’s stop publishing these box-office forecasts and, if absolutely necessary, just report the postmortems. Who needs self-fulfilling prophecies based on hunches and phone calls to mysterious studio execs and publicist?

    • jhein says:

      They poll people mostly. It’s weird how defensive people get over this, like it’s Variety’s fault that no one wants to see this dreck. It’s the fault of the movie companies and thier fear of anything different, nuanced or subtle. If you want to bitch at someone, bitch at them for removing the art from an artistic medium.

  10. Ed Day says:

    Please just go Tarzan and just enjoy! Damnit you people need to get a life dumb ass

  11. Audiences are sick to death of sequels, and their taste for animation is starting to wane as well. Why should they watch that stuff, when they can go on the TV / internet and see original material.

  12. Omega says:

    That’s a shame for BFG, everything I’ve heard is that its a fun family movie. If its good, i hope it finds its audience

  13. Lew says:

    If the trades keep pumping out stories that movies will do lousy, before they ever open, then these stories seep into the mainstream media. Consequently, the trades are almost guaranteeing that movies will fail. Instead of cheerleading for a failure the trades should shut up with their projections.
    Let the public make its own movie-going choices. The trades can report on a failure afterwards. Why shit where you live?

    • Rex says:

      Lew, you DO realize that Variety has been doing this for decades, right? Some of us actually read it decades ago, when they made they’re projections in PRINT, long before the internet allowed everyone and their mother not only to comment on such reviews and box-office projections, but run their own websites essentially parroting the experts at Variety, THR, etc. The practice of gaming the box office is NOT new; only your access to it is.

    • jimy.chazzy@gmail.com says:

      Variety is not at fault. The average movie goer is much smarter than they were 10 years ago. Thats why Will Smith didnt do ID4. Big names, special effects, and marketing wont draw people to spend money anymore.

    • Jerrell says:

      How much of the general public religiously reads Variety, Hollywood Reporter, or Deadline?

      And you grossly exaggerate the power of the trade magazines. The writers are simply reporting the clear lack of interest from the public over these dull films.

      • EricJ says:

        They read analysts who READ Variety and Hollywood Reporter and believe it themselves because they don’t know any better.
        Sometimes you have to stop the telephone-game at the source.

    • BBGun72 says:

      I agree, self-fulfilling prophecy at its best.

  14. Dunstan says:

    Analyst Handler put it well. Too many sequels, even though some, like the Marvel stuff, do work. I have no interest in comic book movies anymore; they’re all the same thing. Cities get destroyed, cars are overturned etc. How much of that crap can anyone take?

  15. Michael Starks says:

    WB once again proves how out-of-touch they are with moviegoers. Tarzan? Really??? Which executive actually thought ANYONE wanted another Tarzan movie? Still hoping they right the derailment of their DC properties but I’m not holding my breath. WB has hands-down the most idiotic decision makers of any studio.

    • Ronnie says:

      Tarzan is turning out to be a sleeper hit.

    • Manuel Nogueira says:

      Uh, I do, and so does anyone who likes good adventure movies which do not involve guys with special powers in spandex or leather suits, fighting one dimensional villains with moronic names like Apocalipse – you know, a good old fashioned swashbuckling adventure with a hero who has nothing for himself but his natural skills and strengh and a real mean and resourcefull villlain.

  16. Thetoxicavenger says:

    jasom Blum is the only smart one whilst the studios keep churning out this boring tentpole pg content that people don’t care to see anymore. Wether you like it or not there is a strong disconnect between what consumers want and what the studios are offering.

  17. EricJ says:

    Okay, I can appreciate that Cannes reviews thought BFG was a bit…”leisurely” in its first-half setup, but why has there been this massive demonizing lynch campaign to default depict it as a Dead Movie Walking, and that it’s doomed to failure upon opening, just to “prove” that the early buzz must have been right?
    (If any big-studio movie this July is truly deserving of pre-release lynch mobs, we all know which one it is, and it ain’t Spielberg’s…)

    I think I’m not alone in expressing my moviegoer preference between Spielberg and Tarzan, and after the summer we’ve gotten so far, we’ll take it, we’ll TAKE it!

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