Why Warner Bros. Created Another ‘Tarzan’ That No One Asked For
Alexander Skarsgard

Why Warner Bros. Created Another ‘Tarzan’ That No One Asked For

Alexander Skarsgard may be wondering, “I ate nothing but chicken and broccoli for nine months for this?” right about now; The Legend of Tarzan is not performing well at the box office. According to The Wrap, the vine-swinger made just $2.55 million on Thursday compared to The Purge: Election Year which managed to pull in $3.6 million. That may not sound like a huge difference, but consider this: the Blumhouse horror sequel cost the studio just $10 million to create while The Legend of Tarzan cost Warner Bros. a hefty $180 million. Warner Bros. does have hopes that the movie will still bring in over $30 million after the 4-day weekend, but with the film’s poor reviews, even that seems doubtful.

With its current “rotten” rating of just 34 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, The Legend of Tarzan is not a hit with critics. A “bungle in the jungle” is Mick LaSalle’s summary of the film in his movie review for Chron.

“As presented here, Tarzan is a large, dull fellow, lacking in conversation or humor, so unless he’s doing something particularly interesting – such as nuzzling with jungle cats or communing with elephants – he is pretty much a wash-out on screen. Skarsgård is physically impressive, however, and he clearly spent hundreds of hours in the gym in preparation for taking off his shirt,” says LaSalle.

Dwight Brown of the Huffington Post says of the film, “Some things should be left in the past and forgotten … This modern version, The Legend of Tarzan, adds some politically correct touches to an old-fashioned (dated) story. But even with new gloss and a fresh scent, the central problem still remains: a near super human white man lording over apes, animals and Africans. It’s an image that is dubious at best, and repulsive at its worst, even if well intentioned.”

Two questions come to mind:
1. Did Warner Bros. put too much faith in the abs of Skarsgard to bring in the crowds?
2. Who was asking for another Tarzan reboot anyway?

Not the fans, says Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations. He told TheWrap that many of Hollywood’s recent reboots and sequels were made “more for studio glory” than anything else. “They thought they could make a quick buck.”

Sequels and reboots have always been risky for movie studios. For every Finding Dory, there is a Zoolander 2. But there is a difference between creating a sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding and trying to revive an older property like Tarzan.

Meriah Doty says that “Intellectual property with built-in awareness is cheaper for studio marketing departments — it’s one less hurdle to cross when building hype among fans. Even cheaper still: public domain IP for which you don’t have to pay an author or creator. And Tarzan is just that.”

Ironically, this isn’t the first Tarzan flop that Warner Bros. has been a part of. In 1998, the studio presented Tarzan and the Lost City that starred Casper Van Dean with even worse reviews. It made only $2.2 for a film that cost $20 million to make. The studio also produced the big budget film, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes in 1981. It did much better, but still not a huge success.

Working with public domain material is certainly cheaper and easier to work with, but the trick is picking which properties and stories people really want to see.

The Legend of Tarzan is like The Lone Ranger and Pan — nobody was asking for those,” Bock says.


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The Lone Ranger was Disney’s biggest mistake of 2013, trying to revive the old western tale using the star power of Johnny Depp to do it. It was clear that Disney was hoping to create another Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but it failed miserably. Then, last year, Warner Bros. took a chance on another known property, Peter Pan, and tried to create something new with it. The $150 million film grossed just $128.4 million worldwide.

“There is definitely an over-reliance on ‘name brand’ properties right now,” said Bock. “They’re getting the green light much quicker than original productions and that’s really hurting Hollywood.”

Other reboots and sequels yet to make an appearance this year include Ghostbusters, Pete’s Dragon, Ben-Hur, Bridget Jones’ Baby and The Magnificent Seven. Will they fare any better? In the words of another famous vine-swinger, “Watch out for that tree!”

[Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.]

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