The first two months of the box office season have been Kansas. Moviegoers are now ready to head to Oz.
By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower
March 8, 2013
Yes, the unending onslaught of low-budget horror films is finally interrupted by a big-budget Walt Disney film that will take viewers back to the beloved land of Oz. The Wizard of Oz, released in 1939, has been a staple of childhood movie-watching for generations. Parents share their love for the film with their children, which makes this the perfect franchise for Disney to take over. They’ve spared no expense in re-creating the world of Oz in an all-new story, as The New York Times reports that Oz the Great and Powerful represents a $325 million investment for the studio. Fortunately, this is not John Carter all over again…we don’t think.
The most natural comparison for Oz the Great and Powerful is 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, which Disney also released during the same weekend in March. Only three years ago, the Tim Burton film became a shocking global sensation. Thanks to the international appeal of Johnny Depp, it became only the fifth film to gross $1 billion worldwide. Released only three months after Avatar got audiences excited about the possibilities 3D could offer, Alice in Wonderland seemed like a film that offered the same sort of exciting visual effects. Disney took advantage of the trend and the film rode the wave to a $116.1 million opening weekend.
Now, Disney is looking to take the Alice in Wonderland model and expand it to a project that can become a franchise. Who better to put at the center of its development than Sam Raimi, who similarly guided a big-time series to massive success during the 2000s. The Spider-Man trilogy he directed earned more than $2.5 billion worldwide and was itself known for showy visuals and exciting action.
For Raimi’s journey to Oz, rather than spend big bucks on a bankable lead like Depp, he went with a combination of recognizable and talented performers. James Franco (who was one of the three key players in the Spider-Man films) was coming off his Academy Award nomination for 127 Hours, while Rachel Weisz is a recent Oscar winner and Michelle Williams is a three-time nominee. Mila Kunis recently starred in the surprise blockbuster Ted. All of them together probably didn’t cost as much as Depp, yet they provide credibility for a project steeped in fantasy.
The big draw for Oz the Great and Powerful, besides the nostalgia factor, is clearly going to be the effects. Like Alice in Wonderland, Oz is showing in 3D theaters and IMAX, which means there will be a premium on a large percentage of the tickets sold. If Disney can spend $325 million, they figure you can spend $15 on a ticket.
Consumers have become blasé about 3D recently, as saturation has become an issue over the past few years. Still, one of the most consistently proven rules in movie making is that people will always support state-of-the-art visuals. Our primary concern is the inscrutable nature of the trailers. The Wizard of Oz is a well-known story about a witch-killer, a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion who go for a leisurely stroll along a yellow brick road. We’re not sure that James Franco knows what Oz the Great and Powerful is about, although that could be because he’s still buzzed from that Academy Awards hosting gig a couple of years ago. Early reviews fall into the category of “Sure, why not?” so it’s at least doing better than Sim City.
A hidden aspect is something we track from time to time at BOP. When film quality is this bad for this long, any title perceived as elite has a tendency to open better than expected. This knowledge is tempered by the fact that we get a Kate Upton vibe from Oz – sure, it’s pretty, but is there really anything there? We expect about $78 million worth of consumers to find out for themselves. Some industry analysts are tracking the film as high as $100 million. Such a performance would not shock us; however, it’s hard to see the light after this much box office darkness. Prove us wrong, Professor Franco.
Let’s take you back to 1999, when a movie called The Love Letter opened against Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace. We call these movies “sacrifices to the box office gods.” We’re sure that the people who made the movie were really proud of it, and that’s swell. We have another one of those situations in the offing this weekend, as Dead Man Down will be playing in 2,188 locations. The movie marks the North American directorial debut of Niels Arden Oplev, who is previously known for having directed the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels. Like those films, Dead Man Down stars Noomi Rapace, and teams her up with Colin Farrell and Terrence Howard. Despite some decent looking commercials, the movie is getting pretty substandard reviews, and about the best it can hope for is a $5 million weekend before falling off the charts altogether and finding an audience on home video.