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.”
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.) ….
I don’t know, but I like the fact that Mendelson said “alleged $180M budget.”
If nothing else, it helps keep hope alive.