First created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912, Tarzan has since swung through dozens of books, films and TV series, both straight and parodied. Tarzan is the quintessential jungle hero: white, but at home in Darkest Africa. Often seen in a leopard Loincloth. Usually somehow clean shaven as well.
In the original books, Tarzan was the son of Lord Greystoke, raised by apes after being orphaned in Africa as a baby. After meeting Jane and learning the basics of human interaction, he left the jungle in search of his true love. They married and settled in England, where they had a son, but eventually grew tired of civilization and returned to the jungle.
Most of the films omit Tarzan's English sojourn and his status as Lord Greystoke. Instead, he has often been provided with a pet chimpanzee and an adopted son — the latter because the film Tarzan never formally married Jane, and thus was not allowed by the Hays office to actually have gotten her pregnant. (In the books, Burroughs actually did have Tarzan and Jane beget a son, Korak, and one of the silents, The Son of Tarzan, featured this character. However, that same film also explicitly had Tarzan and Jane marry ahead of time.)
Tarzan's further adventures generally have one of two plots: either Tarzan discovers a Lost World, or he defends his African friends against European villains. Along the way, Tarzan and his family became immortal, if only in the literary sense.
The quote at the top of the page was a Beam Me Up, Scotty!, as Tarzan did not say it in any of the books, or even, exactly, in any movie - he just slapped his chest and said "Tarzan," then poked Jane and said "Jane." (In the books, Tarzan was very intelligent, and by the end of the series, spoke something like thirty languages; from the late 1950s onwards, the films began to usually depict Tarzan/Greystoke as intelligent and perfectly literate.) However, in the 2013 animated movie the phrase finally does appear.
The earlier Tarzan novels are out of copyright in most countries, but the name "Tarzan" is trademarked by the author's company. Altogether, that explains why The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen only refers to him as "Lord Greystoke".
If you're an author; see Write a Jungle Opera
For details on the novels, see here.
Adaptations of the Tarzan books include:
- Tarzan first debuted in comic books in 1948 in Dell Comics. The Dell series was a fusion of the Burroughs novels and the Weissmuller films with characters such as Boy appearing as well as Cheetah, though not as much as Boy to the relief of Burroughs purists since Cheetah only appeared in the second story of issue 56. The Dell series lasted for one hundred and thirty issues and went from 1948-1962, making it the longest Tarzan comic on record.
- Following Dell, Gold Key took over and steadily moved away from the Weismuller taint with Boy revealing himself to in fact be Korak, "Boy" being a nickname. The series went on to adapt most of the novels and even did stories in the continuity of the Ron Ely television series, in which Cheetah appeared making those stories the last refuge of the Weissmuller taint. The Gold Key run lasted from 1962-1972 with 75 issues, making it the second longest Tarzan comic.
- After Dell, DC Comics took over. Gone was the taint of Weissmuller at long last and in came original stories as well as new adaptations of Tarzan of the Apes, The Return of Tarzan, Jungle Tales of Tarzan, Tarzan the Untamed, Tarzan and the Lion Man and Tarzan and the Castaways. The DC run lasted from 1972-1977 with 52 issues.
- When the DC run ended, Marvel Comics took on the task of creating Tarzan comics. While featuring adaptations of Tarzan of the Apes, Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, and Jungle Tales of Tarzan, the Marvel run provided some strange original stories such as Tarzan on the Titanic. The Marvel run was the shortest, lasting from 1977 to 1979 with 29 issues and 3 annuals bringing it to 33 in total.
- Since 1996, the rights to produce Tarzan comics have been with Dark Horse Comics. They have produced original stories, reprints, adaptations (the Disney film for example) and crossovers featuring the character. These crossovers are:
- Tarzan/John Carter: Warlords of Mars
- Tarzan/Carson of Venus
- Superman/Tarzan: Sons of the Jungle
- Batman/Tarzan: Claws of the Catwoman
- Tarzan versus Predator at the Earth's Core
- Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes
- Groo meets Tarzan
- Outside of the above crossovers, Dark Horse's Tarzan series featured Tarzan meeting Frankenstein's Monster, The Phantom of the Opera, Mr. Hyde and even travelling to the future to fight the Moon Men.
- Dynamite Entertainment created a series called Lord of the Jungle and later did a crossover with Sheena called Lords of the Jungle, unfortunately hailing Cheetah's return to comics. They have also done a crossover with Red Sonja.
- The first Tarzan films were silents, beginning in 1918 with Tarzan of the Apes starring burly Elmo Lincoln. Lincoln made two more films as Tarzan (one of them a serial). His successors were fireman-turned-actor Gene Pollar, middle-aged P. Dempsey Tabler (in a supporting role in The Son of Tarzan), James Pierce (who later married Edgar Rice Burroughs' daughter and co-starred with her in a popular Tarzan radio series in the 1930s) and Brandon Routh lookalike Frank Merrill who appeared in two silent-sound hybrid productions and was the first to issue a version of the Tarzan yell.
- Johnny Weissmuller starred in the best known film series, starting in 1932, with twelve films in total until 1948. Weismuller's films were known for their Fanservice - male and female - and so much UST with his co-star Maureen O'Sullivan that MGM was forced to add an adopted son to the series to break it up.
- Tarzan the Fearless (1933) was released as both a movie and a serial. It starred Buster Crabbe, making him the only actor to play Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers. Crabbe, like Weissmuller, was an Olympic gold medalist in swimming, and a rivalry between the two was publicized. (In truth they had been friends for years.) Crabbe's production was released in competition with the Weismuller films due to a technicality that allowed other studios to make Tarzan films at the same time as the Weismuller series.
- The New Adventures of Tarzan (1935): Another movie serial, 12 episodes featuring Herman Brix as Tarzan.
- From 1955 to 1960, Gordon Scott, a bodybuilder turned actor, would star in six Tarzan films, starting with Tarzan's Hidden Jungle and ending with Tarzan the Magnificent.
- Also included; ‘’Tarzans Fight For Life‘’
- 1981's Tarzan, the Ape Man starred Bo Derek and Richard Harris in a more adult look at the Tarzan mythos, focusing mostly on Jane and featuring a large supply of Fanservice. This is also the first film to treat Tarzan as a late-Victorian-to-Edwardian Period Piece, which is the approach of almost all subsequent adaptations.
- 1984's Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes starring Christopher Lambert was an attempt at both a more naturalistic and slightly more faithful adaptation of Burroughs' work, including a depiction of Tarzan's returning to England. Notable that except in the film's subtitle, the name Tarzan is never used in any dialog. Generally acclaimed critically, insofar as it was considered a more dignified film than the Bo Derek one.
- 1998's Tarzan and the Lost City starring Casper Van Dien and co-produced by Stanley S. Canter, one of the producers of Greystoke The Legend of Tarzan Lord of the Apes. Filmed on a modest budget and aiming to be a throwback to the serials of the 30s, it was a Box Office Bomb which made 2 million back from its 20 million budget and irreparably damaged Casper Van Dien's career as a leading man in Hollywood.
- The Legend of Tarzan is a 2016 film directed by David Yates with Alexander Skarsgård as the lead, Margot Robbie as Jane, Christoph Waltz as the bad guy and Samuel L. Jackson as a friend of the hero. It takes place years after Tarzan went back to civilization with Jane, as adventure calls them back to Africa.
- The Disney feature-length Tarzan cartoon was relatively free of gross instances of the studio's usual Disneyfication, although it did turn Jane from an American to a Brit among other things. It also had a villain named Clayton (note that Tarzan's real name in the book was John Clayton, not to be confused with this character who was Jane's fiancé, William Clayton, as well as Tarzan's cousin). The Disney Tarzan franchise also spawned an animated Spin-Off TV series (The Legend of Tarzan) and a stage musical (Tarzan: The Musical).
- Tarzan of the Apes: A Mockbuster of Disney's version by Golden Films, from 1999.
- Tarzan: A 3D animated film released in 2013, featuring Tarzan defending an ancient meteor crash site from the Corrupt Corporate Executive who killed his parents.
- Several TV series. The best known in the United States is the 1966 series Tarzan, starring Ron Ely, which lasted for two seasons on NBC.
- Tarzán was a French-Canadian-Mexican series that ran from 1991 to 1994, set in the present day and turning Jane into a French ecologist. With 75 half-hour episodes, it's actually the longest-running Tarzan TV series to date.
- Tarzan: The Epic Adventures ran in syndication from 1996 to 1997, and drew more from Burroughs' books than most adaptations. It was preceded by a TV movie, Tarzan in Manhattan starring the same actor, Joe Lara.
- A daily newspaper strip from 1929 to 1972 and a Sunday paper strip from 1931 to 2000, both distributed by King Features Syndicate and featuring the work of a variety of writers and artists, the two best known probably being Hal Foster (before he went on to create Prince Valiant) and Burne Hogarth (best known for his popular books on anatomy and lighting for artists).
- Tarzan the Musical, a Screen-to-Stage Adaptation of the Disney feature, premiered on Broadway in 2006.
- Tarzan: Untamed, a sequel video game to the Disney film.
- Kingdom Hearts (2002): The world Deep Jungle is based off of the Disney film.
- Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure (2003): based on the Disney film, young versions of Tarzan, Tantor, Jane and Terk appear as playable skaters while the Jungle Treehouse, Human Camp and Clayton's Ship appear as skatable levels.
- The 1976 Filmation Saturday morning cartoon series, Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, was among the most faithful of the adapatations; the writers (including Paul Dini) had actually read the books.
Various adaptations provide examples of:
- Adaptational Species Change: Starting in the 90's, some adaptations have changed the apes that raised Tarzan from the fictional Mangani to the real gorillas. In some cases it might have to do with budget with it being easier to use stock footage of gorillas or a general lack of creativity in designing a fictional species, but with the Planet of the Apes crossover "Mangani" is treated as a blanket term for apes in general and so Kerchak, Tublat and the rest are Bolgani, gorillas, due to the fact that the other franchise only has three species of apes.
- Awesome by Analysis: Because Tarzan is technically only a highly skilled human with peak human strength, this trope usually functions as his primary power, especially in the books. He taught himself how to read from books and can determine exactly what happened in a scene by observing. His tightened senses of sight, hearing and smell help him hunt, and his keen sense of touch is invaluable for the acrobatics he uses to get around the jungle. Copying him, other Tarzan Boy or Jungle Princess characters often have heightened senses like smell, touch or sight.
- Barbarian Longhair: Being raised by apes, Tarzan doesn't pay much attention to how his hair looks. Though in the book series, after learning about "civilized" humans through his father's old books, he cut his hair with a knife to set himself apart. Early silent films alternated between Tarzan being unkempt and clean-cut. Beginning with Weissmuller's films, Tarzan was clean-cut and short-haired. It wasn't until the 1984 film Greystoke that the long-haired version of Tarzan returned to cinema and most adaptations since have him keep his long hair.
- Crucified Hero Shot: In Tarzan's Fight for Life (1958) subverted the Tribal Cary trop when Tarzan was captured by natives and tied to a wooden yoke with his arms screeched out and away from his body, mirroring the classic position of Jesus being crucified on a cross, with possible bonus points for simultaneously mirroring Jesus carrying the beam of the cross to Golgotha, as Tarzan was still able to walk. It was also used all over the promotional art and posters for the film.
- Darkest Africa: A romanticized version of the jungle.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: Applies to the pre-Weismuller films. The Tarzans played by Elmo Lincoln, Gene Pollar, P. Dempsey Tabler and Frank Merrill are about as far from the image established by Weismuller and his successors as you can get (Lincoln was barrel-chested and burly; Pollar was nerdy and clean-cut; Tabler was middle-aged; Merrill wore a head band and looked more like Valentino than an ape man). In addition, since the famous Tarzan Yell was not perfected until Weismuller, the couple of times it was heard prior to him, it was very different.
- Earthy Barefoot Character is often used for natives and the Ape Man himself to demonstrate how distant they are to modern society and how much they embrace the jungle.
- Evil Poacher: Illegal hunters are a recurring villain, especially since he became a conservationist in the 90s.
- Flanderization: Book!Tarzan is not only a wild jungle man, but fiercely intelligent (he taught himself to read and write two languages in spite of being unable to speak either), an avid prankster with a well-developed if somewhat morbid sense of humor, and (even in his jungle days) a snappy dresser with a dandy-ish streak. Adaptations only copied his fondness for jungle life.
- Fur Bikini: Jane often wears a variety of this after settling down in the jungle with Tarzan. Most often it's a one-piece minidress, though in the more Fanservice-y examples it's a midriff-baring two-piece. The Bo Derek version went even further, showing Jane topless in a tiny loincloth.
- Hollywood Natives: In the older movies, before it became a Discredited Trope.
- Hulk Speak: In the various movies, the ape man talks like this. Adaptations that hew closer to the books depict him becoming fluent in English (and other languages) in the years after his contact with civilization. In addition, beginning with the 1959 film Tarzan's Greatest Adventure starring Gordon Scott, and continuing through the James Bond-influenced late-60s films starring Mike Henry and the 1960s TV series, Tarzan was depicted as literate and spoke normally, averting the trope completely. Some later portrayals would bring it back and play with it, such as the Wolf Larson series which revealed in an Out of Character Is Serious Business moment that he can actually talk normally and implies he only speaks the way he does due to conforming to how the apes speak while the Disney film would have it be used during his early period of learning English.
- Hungry Jungle: Tarzan's home is full of dangerous wildlife.
- Jungle Princess: Jane, in most versions, becomes one after leaving her civilized life behind and marrying Tarzan. In films that did not feature Jane, there was usually a female lead who became this.
- Jungles Sound Like Kookaburras: The Trope Codifier, as this franchise, set in the African jungle, used the kookaburra sound effect first in the 1930s.
- Killer Gorilla: A common adversary of Tarzan. In some versions Tarzan's own ape family has members who fit this trope, and sometimes they are outsiders and enemies of Tarzan's tribe. The original books have both: Kerchak and Terkoz are evil members of Tarzan's tribe, the Mangani (a fictional species of great ape), and the Bolgani (gorillas) are enemies of the tribe.
- Tarzan wears one. In some versions, the loincloth also has a strap across his shoulder.
- Jane occasionally wears one too, depending on the permissiveness of the time the film was made.
- Low-Tech Spears: In the television series from 1966 starring Ron Ely in the title role. This Tarzan left civilization to return to the comforts of the jungle. However, greedy poachers and other nogoodniks would try to exploit the land and its riches, so Tarzan would have to thwart them. One or two villains were no match for Tarzan alone, but multiples with firearms meant bringing in a tribe of natives, complete with spears, torches, and warpaint, to outnumber them. Rifles may be greater than spears, but "bigger army diplomacy" means the villains won't survive a shootout, so they surrender instead.
- Misplaced Wildlife:
- The black-and-white movies often placed weird animals in the African jungle. The elephants for instance were Indian, but the film makers just provided some fake ears to them to make them appear more African.
- The Wolf Larson series may have been even worse by featuring a cougar as native to Africa.
- Mr. Fanservice: The lead character's standard mode of dress is a loincloth, and sometimes even less; spectacularly displayed by Johnny Weissmuller and Mike Henry). Often averted, however, in regards to earlier films in the series (particularly the silents) where the actors chosen to play the role weren't exactly fanservice-friendly, such as the burly first film Tarzan, Elmo Lincoln, and in Son of Tarzan, a middle-aged actor was cast as an older version of the character yet still had a few scenes in Tarzan's standard "uniform".
- Ms. Fanservice: Occasionally Jane (though far less often than Tarzan) was seen wearing very little. Most notable examples: Maureen O'Sullivan in the Weissmuller series (most notably in Tarzan and His Mate) and Bo Derek in the 1981 film.
- Noisy Nature: That infamous kookaburra sound that you hear in EVERY jungle environment nowadays? Introduced by the 1930s Tarzan films.
- Non-Human Sidekick: Usually a monkey or ape (Cheetah the chimpanzee from the Johnny Weissmuller films being the most famous one), sometimes also an elephant, big cat or bird.
- Omniglot: In the original books he speaks at least a dozen languages. Depending on the adaptation he also sometimes understands animals.
- Panthera Awesome: Big cats such as lions and leopards (and sometimes tigers) are among Tarzan's most common opponents. Lions live on the savannah, so are Misplaced Wildlife, but thankfully the tigers only occurred in Tarzan and the Foreign Legion, which was set in Sumatra, and an early version of Tarzan of the Apes, which had "Sabor" as the blanket term for tigers instead of lionesses.
- Primal Chest-Pound: Tarzan, being a man raised by apes, sometimes performs one, usually combined with his Signature Roar.
- Signature Roar
- Tarzan's yell, described in the book as "the victory cry of the bull ape" but never written out. By far the most famous version is Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan yell in MGM films, so that most later Tarzan adaptations still use the actual recording or a variant or imitation (this includes the Disney version); it is so well-identified with the character that different roars heard in some films (including those pre-dating Weissmuller, or made by other studios) just sound wrong. The Tarzan yell of pop culture is trademarked by MGM, and thus Tarzan films from other studios (some competing with MGM's, or made after) had to use different yells.
- Tarzan the Fearless had a less yodeling yell, "AH-AAAAH-AH!"
- Burroughs himself produced his own Tarzan movie attempting to be Truer to the Text than MGM's series, with a different yell based on his ape language in the books: "AAAH-MANGAAAANIIII!", "Mangani" being the fictional ape-kind which adopted Tarzan. A similar yell had first appeared in a Tarzan radio series: "TAAR-MANGAAAANIIII!", where Tarzan was played by one of the earlier silent movie Tarzan actors who had since become Burroughs' son-in-law (and Burroughs's daughter played Jane).
- When the Weissmuller film series moved to rival studio RKO, he had a similar but distinctly different, higher-pitched yell.
- The very first Tarzan sound film, Tarzan the Tiger, predates Weissmuller's first Tarzan film Tarzan the Ape Man by three years, and so it had the cry as "YAAH! YAAH! YAAH!"
- The very first Tarzan movie was silent, so the yell was only acted out.
- Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes had "HRAAH! HRAAH! HRAAH!", going for more of a roar and entirely forgoing the familiar pattern.
- The Legend of Tarzan went for a variation of the Weissmuller yell delivered more like a roar than a yodel.
- Disney's animated Tarzan imitates the Weissmuller yell, but uniquely starting with a Y sound, "YAHH-EE-AAH" etc.
- Filmation's animated Tarzan series imitates the Weissmuller yell, performed for the series by Burroughs' own grandson.
- Textplosion: Burne Hogarth, who had done the Newspaper Comic version for many years, published a couple of Graphic Novels using text taken directly from the original Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. The art is gorgeous, especially in Jungle Tales of Tarzan
- Tribal Carry: Often the side character a get captured by natives and Tarzan himself has a bit of bad habit of becoming a Badass in Distress, so it’s common for him to find himself tied to poles. There was a lot a variety with it, most iconically the Crucified Hero Shot version in Tarzans Fight For Life.
- Bound and Gagged is also common with outsider villains.
- Surefooted Barefooter: Tarzan usually Prefers Going Barefoot to use unhindered grip and acute sense of touch to help him in climbing, navigating and doing extreme acrobatics through the jungle canopy.
- It was especially evident in the Disney adaptation, where Tarzan embraces having Handy Feet to grip and climb on everything.
- Jane also usually embraces going barefoot to help in climbing, but she is also frequently portrayed in sandals or flats.
- The trope dropped for Tarzan’s live action television series in the 90s (Similar to his distaff counterpart Sheena, another Surefooted Barefooter in most media accept for her 90s series.
- Vapor Wear: Jane's jungle dress, especially the midriff-exposing version.
- Vine Swing: Tarzan's preferred transportation method, so much that he's the Trope Codifier. Surprisingly Averted in the original books, but done in just about every single other appearance.
- Wild Child: Tarzan as a child. His children be they his biological son Korak or his adopted stand-in Boy, also count.