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One of Biggest March Openings Ever: James Franco OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL

James Franco Oz the Great and Powerful Michelle Williams Fairy GlindaJames Franco Oz the Great and Powerful weekend box office slightly below expectations, but still one of biggest March openings ever (above, Franco with Michelle Williams)

Starring James Franco as the magician who becomes The Wizard of Oz, Sam Raimi’s $200m+-budgeted Oz the Great and Powerful grossed $79.11 million at 3,912 North American locations this past weekend according to box office actuals found at Box Office Mojo. Although that’s easily the best opening weekend so far in 2013 and one of the best March openings ever (see more details below), Oz the Great and Powerful fell short of the $80m-$85 million mark some had been expecting following Friday/late Thursday estimates of $24m. Distributor Walt Disney Studios, for its part, (officially) expected at most $74 million — an obviously much too modest prediction that was bound to be surpassed. (Photo: James Franco in Oz the Great and Powerful, with Michelle Williams as the Good Fairy Glinda.)

Here are a few comparisons to Oz the Great and Powerful’s box office performance: In March 2012, the PG-rated animated 3D feature Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, featuring the voices of Danny DeVito, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, and Betty White, debuted with $70.21m. Two years earlier, Tim Burton’s Disney-distributed 3D fantasy Alice in Wonderland, featuring Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, and Anne Hathaway, scored a phenomenal $116.1 million on its first weekend out — largely assisted by the fact that Alice in Wonderland was the first major 3D release (though actually shot in 2D) since James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar. In fact, according to Box Office Mojo’s Ray Subers, 3D represented 70 percent of Alice in Wonderland’s initial box office take vs. 53 percent for Oz the Great and Powerful this past weekend.

Another 3D Disney entry, the PG-13-rated, Andrew Stanton-directed John Carter, starring Taylor Kitsch, opened in March 2012, earning a mere $30.18m. Without the assistance of 3D surcharges, Rupert Sanders’ more adult-oriented Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, and Charlize Theron, took in a better than expected $56.21 million on its debut weekend in June last year. And the weekend before last, Bryan Singer’s $195m-budgeted Jack and the Giant Slayer, starring Nicholas Hoult and Ewan McGregor, raked in a disastrous $27.2 million. (Compounding matters, Jack and the Giant Slayer was down a whopping 63 percent this weekend, undoubtedly as a direct result of competition from Oz the Great and Powerful.)

Oz the Great and Powerful: One of the biggest March openings ever

Oz the Great and Powerful may have failed to meet expectations this past weekend, but it has easily surpassed every other debut weekend at the U.S. and Canada box office so far this year. In fact, Oz the Great and Powerful grossed more in its first three days (plus late night Thursday screenings) than nearly all other domestic 2013 releases have earned during their entire run to date. The single exception is the Melissa McCarthy / Jason Bateman comedy Identity Thief which currently has a $116.54 million cume.

Not adjusted for inflation, Oz the Great and Powerful boasts the third biggest March opening ever, trailing only Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games, a futuristic adventure in 2D starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth, and which collected $152.53 million, and the aforementioned Alice in Wonderland. Once inflation is taken into account — as it always should, to better reflect actual ticket sales — Oz the Great and Powerful drops one spot, falling behind Zack Snyder’s 300; adjusted for inflation, the pseudo-historical war epic featuring Gerard Butler, Dominic West, and Michael Fassbender collected approximately $83m.

Also of note: Apart from the three Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man movies, Oz the Great and Powerful had by far (even when factoring in inflation) the best domestic opening of a James Franco movie. The runner-up is Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with $54.8 million in August 2011.

Internationally, Oz the Great and Powerful took in an estimated $69.9m.

James Franco leads Oz the Great and Powerful cast

Besides James Franco, a Best Actor Academy Award nominee for Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful features Mila Kunis (Black Swan, Friends with Benefits) as Theodora, Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Rachel Weisz (for Fernando MeirellesThe Constant Gardener, and recently seen opposite Jeremy Renner in The Bourne Legacy) as Evanora, and three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine, Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn) as the Good Fairy Glinda (played by Billie Burke in the 1939 version). Also in the Oz the Great and Powerful cast: Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, and Joey King.

David Lindsay-Abaire (Rise of the Guardians, Rabbit Hole) and Mitchell Kapner (Days of Wrath, The Whole Nine Yards) received credit for the Oz the Great and Powerful screenplay. The producer of this latest big-budget fantasy adventure is Joe Roth, whose credits include the aforementioned Alice in Wonderland and Snow White and the Huntsman, in addition to Robert Stromberg’s upcoming fantasy Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning, and the Tom Cruise / Cameron Diaz actioner Knight and Day (which, despite its title, is not a fantasy movie).

Like most of its fellow fantasy movies, Oz the Great and Powerful hasn’t been warmly embraced by critics. Sam Raimi’s film currently has a mediocre 5.1/10 average rating among Rotten Tomatoes’ top critics and 45/100 rating at metacritic.com.

Oz the Great and Powerful James Franco, Michelle Williams photo: Merie Weismiller Wallace / Walt Disney Enterprises.

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