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?”