4th WRITE-THRU, Saturday 8:36AM: Given how lucrative Valentine’s Day, Easter and April have lately proven to be as tentpole launches for Deadpool, Batman v. Superman and The Jungle Book, it’s a wonder whether more traditional summer slots like the Independence Day and Memorial Day weekends even matter anymore.

Last year at this time, Paramount/Skydance’s Terminator: Genisys failed to recharge the Arnold Schwarzenegger series with a $29M opening and was pushed to third place by hefty holdovers Inside Out ($29.8M) from Disney/Pixar and Jurassic World ($29.2M) from Universal.

We have a similar situation this year with another Pixar film, Finding Dory, taking the top spot with an estimated four-day of $53.4M and three-day of $44.3M – the best third weekend for an animated film – flying above two very expensive, seemingly antiquated properties: Warner Bros./Village Roadshow’s CGI-infused, live action adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ early 20th century lit series Tarzan of the Apes and Disney/Walden Media’s Steven Spielberg adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG.

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While we saw The Purge: Election Year beating both during Friday matinees, The Legend of Tarzan is stronger than we thought with a $14M Friday and four-day of $43.1M. But still that’s not enough stateside to swing this $180M production into the black. Contributing to Tarzan’s improved ticket sales is the A- CinemaScore it received from moviegoers, a relief to Warner Bros. after receiving a 33% Rotten Tomatoes score from critics. Tarzan also scored an A+ with the under-18 bunch who repped 20% of the crowd. Alexander Skarsgard reeled in the women who turned up at 51%, 55% over 35.

purge election year

In third, there’s Uni/Blumhouse/Platinum Dunes’ The Purge: Election Year – the youngest of all the wide entry July 4 brands, and the one that will clear breakeven the fastest with an estimated four-day of $37.7M off a $10M production cost. P&A for Purge: Election Year was largely relegated to digital with a low TV ad spend of $12.3M, per iSpot TV. Purge: Election Year earned the best CinemaScore in the series, a B+, which, for a horror film, is like having an A. PostTrak total positive score of 79% for Purge: Election inches out the 76% total positive score from audiences for both The BFG and The Legend of Tarzan. Fifty-eight percent of those polled by PostTrak say that they’d give Purge: Election Year a definite recommend to their friends. The audience for the R-rated threequel was split down the middle 50/50 men-to-women with 57% under the age of 25.

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Election Year is pegging ahead of The BFG which, though also embraced by audiences tonight with an A- CinemaScore, is bound to arrive outside of its $30M forecast with a Friday-Monday take of $24.4M. Out of this weekend’s major studio titles, critics like BFG the most with a 72% fresh Rotten Tomatoes score. Fifty-eight percent of BFG‘s audience was comprised of women with 52% under 25 according to PostTrak.

Despite the blasé offerings this year, the studios haven’t bailed on Independence Day, especially if you look ahead to the next few years, which predict a return to tentpole-strong normalcy. Next year, book-ended around July 4 there’s Universal/Illumination’s Despicable Me 3, Warner Bros./New Line’s Will Ferrell-Amy Poehler comedy The House on June 30 and then Sony/Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming on July 7. In 2018 comes Disney/Marvel’s Ant-Man and The Wasp on July 6, and in 2019, Will Smith finally returns to the Independence Day period with Bad Boys 4 on July 3. There’s also an untitled Uni/Illumination toon on that date.

The reason why Tarzan and BFG were booked at theaters this weekend is pretty simple. These films are so expensive that in order to get as much of their cash back, they needed to launch when massive amounts of people hit the multiplex. Yes, Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory or Star Trek Beyond could have launched here, but those titles are strong enough to open on other three-day weekends. Tarzan and BFG needed an attempt to mitigate risk with holiday debuts. In regards to Purge: Election Year’s dating, the distribution plan with horror films is to basically space them out on the calendar and it’s been three weeks since Conjuring 2.

Another factor contributing to the slowdown of BFG and Legend of Tarzan is that they’re both after a family audience. With an embarrassment of family-title riches this year, Disney continues to step on its own toes, opening BFG in the shadow of Finding Dory. Perhaps there was a better spot on the schedule to give BFG more life. Some even believe that Tarzan is being hurt by the fact that audiences overdosed on Jungle Book and don’t want to see another CGI rainforest movie.

Another similarity between BFG and Legend of Tarzan is that they’re both passion projects, willed into existence by their producers and based on classics that a majority of moviegoers, arguably the under 25 bunch, are out of touch with. Dahl’s BFG was nurtured by Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy since the 1990s at Paramount. Robin Williams was even buzzed to play the lead giant. Robin Swicord and Nicholas Kazan took a stab at the script. By September 2011, DreamWorks acquired the rights from the Dahl estate with late E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison adapting. Marshall and Kennedy wanted a solid script before pitching it to Steven Spielberg who committed to the project in September 2015.

Late legendary producer Jerry Weintraub was developing a reboot of Tarzan with the gusto of Wolverine and DC Superheros since 2003. By 2008, Stephen Sommers was in talks to direct and co-write, and by November 2012 Harry Potter franchise director David Yates committed with True Blood‘s Skarsgard in the title role. But in April 2013, Warner Bros. stopped production on Yates’ Tarzan because of its spiraling budget, before jump-starting in February 2014.

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When it comes to re-introducing these dusty Hollywood classics and ancient adventure novels to the big screen, the writing was already on the wall for Warner Bros (and Disney) in regards to their potential B.O. challenges. Many of the feature adaptations had production costs well north of $200M, and repeatedly failed to open to $50M-plus at the domestic B.O, i.e. Ridley Scott’s 2010 Robin Hood ($36M opening, domestic take of $105M and $321.7M worldwide) and Disney’s $250M sprawling 2012 sci-fi adaptation of another Burroughs title John Carter ($30M opening, $73M domestic, $284M global). While Disney’s The Lone Ranger opened after Tarzan returned to production, many knew that picture was already in danger. The $215M production tanked with a $29.2M opening, domestic B.O. of $89.3M and global of $260.5M.

As one rival studio executive snarked about BFG and Legend of Tarzan, “If you’re going to spend millions of dollars to bring an old property to the screen, well, you better make damn sure there’s a gut-level want for these titles before you invest in them. Neither film was Harry Potter at the script stage, arriving on production executives’ desks with a built-in legion of fans.”

A24’s quirky Sundance Film Festival acquisition Swiss Army Man widened from three theaters to 636. It will turn in a three-day gross of $2M, which is far better than Broad Green/Amazon’s offbeat Neon Demon opening last weekend, which died with $589K at 783 theaters. Neon Demon drops down to 185 runs with a projected 3-day of $153K, -74% and an 11-day cume by the end of Monday of $1.14M.

The top films per late night industry estimates for the weekend of July 1-4:

1). Finding Dory (DIS), 4,305 theaters / 13.4M Fri. (-42%)/ 3-day cume: $44.3M (-39%)/4-day: $53.4M/Total cume:$383.7/Wk 3

2). The Legend of Tarzan (WB), 4,068 theaters / $14M Fri. (includes $2.55M previews) / 3-day cume: $36.8M/4-day: $43.05M/Wk 1

3). The Purge: Election Day (UNI), 2,796 theaters / $14.5M Fri. (includes $3.64M previews) / 3-day cume: $33.2M/4-day: $37.7M/Wk 1

4). The BFG (DIS), 3,357 theaters / $7M Fri. (includes $775K previews) / 3-day cume: $20.6M/4-day: $24.4M/Wk 1

5). Independence Day: Resurgence (FOX), 4,091 theaters (+23) / $4.7M Fri. (-72%) /3-day cume: $16.3M/4-day: $19.7M (-54%)/Total: $75.9M/ Wk 2

6). Central Intelligence (WB/NL/UNI), 3,166 theaters (-342) / $3.7M Fri. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $12.6M (-31%)/4-day: $15.2M/Total: $94.6M/ Wk 3

7). The Shallows (SONY), 2,962 theaters (0) / $3M Fri. (-57%)/ 3-day: $9.5M (-43%)/ 4-day: $11.3M / Total: $37.6M/Wk 2

8). Free State of Jones (STX), 2,781 theaters  (-34)/ $1.2M Fri. (-56%) / 3-day cume: $4.1M (-45%)/4-day: $5M/Total: $16.1M/Wk 2

9).  Conjuring 2 (WB/NL), 2,008 theaters (-1,025) / $1.2M Fri. (-53%) / 3-day cume: $3.8M (-50%)/4-day: $4.5M/Total cume: $96M/Wk 4

10). Now You See Me 2 (LG), 1,788 theaters (-957)/ $871K Fri. (-49%) / 3-day cume: $3M (-46%)4-day: $3.7M/Total cume: $59.4M/Wk 4

11).  Swiss Army Men (A24), 636 theaters (+633) / $531K Fri. (+1,001%) /3-day cume: $2M (+1,778%)/4-day: $2.4M/Total: $2.6M/Wk 2

12)Our Kind Of Traitor (RSA), 373 theaters / $298K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.1M /4-day: $1.4M/Wk 1

 

2ND UPDATE, 11:55 PM: Weekend projections from matinees are in, and as we expected, out of the new crop Universal/Blumhouse/Platinum Dunes’ The Purge: Election Year is killing it with a No. 2 estimated weekend take of $27.5M over three days and $31.5M over four days at 2,796 runs. Today alone, the Purge sequel will gross $12M inclusive of its $3.64M Thursday night money. In a summer where few franchises have taken off, the horror genre is owning the season with Warner Bros./New Line’s The Conjuring 2 headed to $100M this weekend and Sony’s shark thriller The Shallows finding an audience in a crowded market with a week’s take of $26.3M.

Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory is ruling No. 1 with an estimated $42M three-day and $52M four-day at 4,305. The sequel entered the weekend with $330.3M and is set to bank $13M today. That easily puts it past Minions ($336M), and by Monday, Dory will have beaten Despicable Me 2’s stateside take of $368M.

Disney/Walden Media’s Steven Spielberg movie The BFG and Warner Bros./Village Roadshow’s The Legend of Tarzan are wrestling for third. At 3,357 theaters,  BFG is looking at an estimated $8M today, Friday-Sunday take of $23M and a four-day of $28M. Tarzan at 3,561 is on track to make $8.5M today, $23M over Friday-Sunday and $27.5M by Monday.

As we mentioned heading into the weekend, The BFG and Tarzan are cancelling each other out audience-wise because their primary targets are families. And that certainly doesn’t help coming in the wake of Finding Dory.

It pays to play it cheap: Purge: Election Year cost a reported $10M to make, while BFG and Legend of Tarzan combined carry a production cost before P&A of $320M.

1st UPDATE, 7:45AM:Universal’s/Blumhouse/Platinum Dunes threequel Purge: Election Year scored the most dough last night with $3.64M at 2,343 theaters; the biggest preview night for any Purge movie. This blew away Warner Bros./Village Roadshow’s The Legend of Tarzan which made $2.55M and Disney/Walden Media’s The BFG which grossed $775K.

legend of tarzan

Even though tracking has both Tarzan and The BFG with an opening in the low $30Ms, some are expecting Purge: Election Year to surprise, and to be the best of the wide entries, despite the fact that it has been tracking in the mid to high $20Ms for four-days. The first two Purge movies have grossed over $201M worldwide. Believe it or not, the fact that it has been a wild election year; that’s one of the touchstones here in regards to the third title’s appeal. The first Purge made $3.44M in previews before surprising June 2013 moviegoers and the industry with a $34M opening (final domestic $64M). The Purge: Anarchy in July 2014 made $2.64M in previews, a slightly smaller opening weekend of $29.8M and more in the end stateside with $72M.

Election Year has the best reviews at 57% rotten out of the horror trilogy, but let’s face it, that genre is the last vestige of critic-proof movies in this day and age.

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BFG‘s Thursday night is being comped to Sony’s Angry Birds which made $800K on its first night before raking a $38M opening weekend. BFG and Tarzan hit theaters with huge pricetags, respectively an estimated $140M and $180M before P&A. BFG has the best reviews of this weekend’s new titles with 73% fresh, while Legend of Tarzan is at 34% rotten. Despite that rip in Tarzan’s loincloth, general buzz around town is that the David Yates movie is pretty good. It wouldn’t be surprising to see another scenario this weekend where the audience reaction outshines critics’ poor word of mouth.

Similar to last year when Disney’s Inside Out topped the Independence Day stretch, another Pixar title, Finding Dory, will do so this year with a Friday-through-Monday haul between $45M-$50M. Dory was the top seller yesterday with $8.8M and a running two-week cume of $330.4M.