We need a hit and we need it now. With year-to-date box office revenues down as much as 15% (depending on how it's calculated on the calendar), the industry has been searching for the secret formula to get us back on the yellow brick road of prosperity after a slew of (quite frankly) pretty awful films. Audience disinterest has been reflected in the numbers and six straight weekends of downtrending revenues versus the same period last year tell the dismal tale.
Thankfully we have Disney's Oz The Great and Powerful — opening in a whopping 3,912 theaters — coming to the rescue. The PG-rated epic boasts incredible production values, a stellar cast, a visionary director, and, of course, the beloved Oz branding all thrown into the mix (along with gorgeous 3D and IMAX presentations) to ensure its success. Not a remake but a prequel, Oz gives the backstory of how the great and powerful Oz came to be. The film stars James Franco as Oscar Diggs (aka Oz), Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch and Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis as her sisters Evanora and Theodora. We can't think of three hotter witches than these, and audiences who grew up watching the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz on television will respond to the newly updated take on these characters. Director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man franchise, Evil Dead, Darkman) takes the visuals to a whole new level and the excitement surrounding the release should propel it easily beyond the $70 million that the studio is expecting this weekend. Estimates ranging from $75 million to $100 million for the North American debut have been bouncing around the interenet and we are not inclined to disagree, with mid-$80 millions the likely result.
Speaking of big-budget epics, Warner Bros.' Jack the Giant Slayer, which has been the subject of much negative press of late (due to its high reported budget and $27.2 million debut), is expected to take the second spot this weekend with a gross in the low teens and a total gross approaching $50 million by Sunday night. The PG-13 updated take on Jack and the Beanstalk stars Nicholas Hoult and Ewan McGregor and is directed by Bryan Singer. Hopefully overseas numbers will bolster the bottom line for the film in the coming weeks.
The other wide release debut this weekend is FilmDistrict's R-rated action thriller Dead Man Down starring Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, and Terence Howard. Serving as a counterprogrammed alternative to the family-friendly Oz, the film will open in 2,188 theaters this weekend and is expected to perform in the mid- to high-digit millions. R-rated action films released in 2013 have provided very little action at the box office and have met a moviegoing public that has seemingly no interest in the genre. Hopefully, the solid cast and the aforemetioned counterprogramming strategy will pay off and make this a profitable entry this weekend.
That leaves Universal's Identity Thief (the first $100 million-grossing film of 2013), starring Melissa McCarthy, Relativity Media's college-aged comedy 21 & Over, and Lionsgate's action film Snitch, starring Dwayne Johnson, to battle for the next three spots on the chart with grosses in the mid-single digits.
This is a key weekend for Hollywood and could prove to be the turning point in a year where good box office news has been scarce (if not non-existent). We are counting on Oz to be the wizard of the box office comeback!
[Photo Credit: Disney]