But what was originally supposed to be a clash of two of the summer’s biggest blockbusters, is shaping up to be something a lot less titanic. Both films are struggling to grab audiences’ attention and interest, despite their hefty budgets and the involvement of A-list directors such as Steven Spielberg and David Yates.
“The Legend of Tarzan” is on pace to debut to between $25 million and $33 million over the four-day holiday weekend, while “The BFG” is projected to launch to between $22 million and $32 million. That’s a weak result given that “Tarzan” reportedly cost Warner Bros. and co-financing partners such as Village Roadshow and RatPac-Dune $180 million to make and tens of millions more to market. For a film like “Tarzan” to break even and justify a sequel, it would need to do more than $400 million. Disney, which is handling the distribution of “The BFG” for Amblin Partners, did not provide a budget, but films of this size usually cost well in excess of $100 million.
“The Purge: Election Year” is also debuting in wide release that weekend. The horror film is expected to do roughly $25 million for the four-day holiday, a strong result given its $10 million budget.
“The BFG’s” struggles are a disappointment for Spielberg. The man who ushered in the summer blockbuster era with “Jaws” hasn’t done as much escapist fare in recent years, preferring to spend his time on historical dramas such as last winter’s “Bridge of Spies” and “War Horse.” That may have been artistically fulfilling, but didn’t result in many financial windfalls. Of the director’s last four films, only “Lincoln” crossed $100 million at the domestic marketplace. His next project, “Ready Player One,” an adaptation of a best-selling science-fiction book, appears to be more mainstream.
“I’m not sure there’s a huge demand for ‘Tarzan,’ but I’m surprised about ‘The BFG,'” said Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. “When Steven Spielberg directs, people usually take notice.”
The failure of sequels such as “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” has led some analysts to suggest that audiences are rejecting the overly familiar and are desperate for more original entertainment. That doesn’t seem to be helping either “The BFG” or “The Legend of Tarzan,” neither one of which hails from an existing franchise. Of course, neither movie is truly original. “The BFG” is based on a Roald Dahl children’s book and Tarzan has been swinging through the jungle canopy since the early days of film.
“It’s hard to understand the reason the marketplace is the way it is,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore. “Sometimes the zeitgeist embraces a certain movie and makes it a hit. Other times it ignores it and tosses it aside.”
Sources close to both films caution that the bulk of their advertising campaigns have yet to be unveiled and with two weeks left before the movies premiere, there’s an opportunity to make up ground. Last summer, for instance, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” was struggling to find its footing leading up to its premiere, but it ultimately bowed to $55.5 million, aided by strong reviews.
“The BFG” could also benefit from having its trailers run in front of another family film, “Finding Dory.” The Pixar sequel hits theaters on Friday and is projected to gross a massive $115 million.
Both films may also find a warmer embrace overseas. “Tarzan” will launch in 16 markets on the same day it swings into North America, including such major territories as Russia and South Korea. The big prize for the film will be China, where it debuts in July. “The BFG” is also planning a massive global bow, debuting concurrently in the likes of Mexico, Australia, and Russia.
In an increasingly globalized film business, domestic results aren’t the final measure of success. Just look at “Warcraft,” which bombed domestically, only to break records in China.