Starring James Franco as the eventual Wizard of Oz, Oz the Great and Powerful may reach $85 million at the U.S. and Canada box office this weekend – that would be one of the biggest March openings ever. According to Disney estimates found at Box Office Mojo, the Sam Raimi-directed fantasy adventure took in $24.11 million at 3,912 locations on Friday, including $2 million from late Thursday and midnight screenings. Disney itself is (officially) expecting at most $74 million – perhaps so once Oz the Great and Powerful reaches $80 million the studio can claim their The Wizard of Oz prequel "overperformed." (Image: Oz the Great and Powerful James Franco, Michelle Williams as the Good Fairy Glinda.)
For comparison's sake: Last March, another 3D PG-rated entry, the animated Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, featuring the voices of Danny DeVito, Zac Efron, and Taylor Swift, opened with $17.52 million on Friday, going on to collect $70.21 million by Sunday evening. Starring Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska, Tim Burton's 3D fantasy Alice in Wonderland raked in an astounding $40.8 million on its first day out in March 2010, ultimately scoring $116.1 million on its debut weekend.
Now, Disney's own John Carter, which opened in March 2012, isn't a very good comparison to Oz the Great and Powerful, as the PG-13 adventure sci-fier was perceived as a teen / young adult flick instead of a "family movie," i.e., a movie made for little children whose parents or "guardians" are obligated to take to theaters (and to buy them popcorn, tooth-rotting sodas and candy, etc.). For the record, whereas The Lorax quadrupled its Friday take on its first weekend out, John Carter managed to only triple its $9.81 million Friday gross.
Alice in Wonderland, for its part, failed to even triple its Friday earnings. Having said that, one must bear in mind that its $40.8 million gross on a single day clearly meant the Burton movie was quite frontloaded. It's nearly impossible for a movie to maintain such high level of interest; just look at the opening Friday/opening weekend ratios of Joss Whedon's The Avengers, the Kristen Stewart / Robert Pattinson Twilight movies, and Daniel Radcliffe's Harry Potter movies.
In other words, Oz the Great and Powerful's more modest beginning gives it the chance to soar on Saturday and have a cushioned drop on Sunday. We'll see if that's what happens when domestic weekend box office actuals are released on Monday.
Of note: Oz the Great and Powerful currently has a mediocre 5.1/10 average rating among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics.
Whether or not Oz the Great and Powerful reaches the $85 million mark, it will certainly surpass every other debut at the North American box office this year. In fact, Oz the Great and Powerful will in all likelihood gross more on its first weekend than nearly all other domestic 2013 releases have earned during their entire run. The one exception is the Melissa McCarthy / Jason Bateman comedy Identity Thief which to date has an estimated $112 million cume. Barring a catastrophic Saturday and Sunday for Oz the Great and Powerful, the Jessica Chastain thriller Mama, currently with a $70.96 million cume, shouldn't be a real threat.
Oz the Great and Powerful vs. Jack the Giant Slayer, Snow White and the Huntsman
Here are a couple more comparisons in the fantasy / adventure genre: Starring Nicholas Hoult and Ewan McGregor, Bryan Singer's $195 million-budgeted Jack and the Giant Slayer scored a measly $27.2 million when it opened last weekend. Partly thanks to competition from Oz the Great and Powerful, Singer's 3D film plummeted 67 percent this past Friday, collecting only $2.52 million. Jack and the Giant Slayer's cume after 8 days stands at $36.3m; Oz the Great and Powerful should be able to earn about that much today.
And last spring, Snow White and the Huntsman, Rupert Sanders' adult-oriented 2D revamping of the old fairy tale earned a better than expected $56.21 million on its debut weekend. The film starred Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, and Charlize Theron.
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Oz the Great and Powerful James Franco image: Merie Weismiller Wallace / Walt Disney Enterprises.