Box Office Preview: Will Everyone Take Off to See the Wizard?

Just one week into March and we already have our second attempt at a winter/spring blockbuster as Disney jumps into the fray with their reinventing of the classic L. Frank Baum literary classics and a lower profile crime thriller that might get lost in its shadow.

Oz The Great and Powerful (Walt Disney Pictures)
Starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Joey King, Bruce Campbell
Directed by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man and its sequels, The Evil Dead, Darkman and More); Written by Mitchell Kapner (The Whole Nine Yards, The Whole Ten Yards), David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole)
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Rated PG
Tagline: “The land you know. The story you don’t.”

Mini-Review: Batman, James Bond and the X-Men have all gotten the prequel treatment to explore their origins further, so why not the Wizard of Oz, the title character of the 1939 movie who barely appeared in the last act of his own movie?

Like that beloved classic, this one starts in black and white with a closely cropped square screen as we meet James Franco’s Oscar “Oz” Diggs, a traveling circus magician who is more concerned with conning pretty women into falling for him and getting into other trouble. He escapes from his latest escapade by flying away in a hot air balloon, only to get caught up in a twister. When it subsides, Oz’s balloon arrives in a fantastic colorful land as the cropped frame expands to a full screen in color and once landing he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), a good witch who tells him he has arrived in the land of Oz where he’s there to fulfill a prophecy about a great wizard that will defeat the Evil Queen. Thus begins a great adventure filled with magic.

James Franco brings just enough of a wink and smile to the role of Oz that he’s really enjoyable to watch, and he meets lots of fun new characters on his journey including the flying monkey Finley, voiced by Zach Braff–who almost steals the movie–and a porcelain China Girl (voiced by Joey King) who brings real emotion to many scenes. Tony Cox is also funny as always as the trumpet-bearing Knuck.

And of course, there are the witches and unfortunately, Mila Kunis is the weakest of the trio as Theodora, the naïve witch who falls for Oz only to be tricked nto turning against him. Kunis and Rachel Weisz (as her sister witch) are decent during their scenes with Franco but they really go overboard with the overacting in their scenes without him. On the other hand, Michelle Williams is perfectly cast as Glynda the Good, epitomizing the sweetness and light that’s necessary and being the perfect counterpart to Franco’s conniving magician.

The real magician of the movie though is director Sam Raimi, who assembles a fantastic team to create this amazing world that remains beholden to the 1939 movie but also creates its own footprint by bringing all of Raimi’s personality to something that feels like it could be just as lasting. (Fans of the original movie and Baum’s work will appreciate the nods to the original movie for those who miss Dorothy and her traveling companions.) The journey to Oz is as fun and exciting as a theme park ride with the 3D used in playful ways, not only bringing added depth to this fantastic world, but also throwing enough stuff at the screen that those who need that sort of thing should be satisfied.

There are a few questionable plot twists that make little sense like the fact that the “Wicked Witch” Oz is meant to defeat has been hiding in plain sight, and the movie does get very dark with things that definitely may be too scary for younger or more sensitive children including the witch’s flying baboons and a foray into the Dark Forest.

Otherwise, “Oz” delivers the perfect blend of L. Frank Baum, Sam Raimi and Disney to create a magical adventure full of wonder and a movie that’s as entertaining as the 1939 classic.

Rating: 8/10

Just last week, we were talking about how Hollywood seems to be so keen on taking classic fairy tales and turning them into big budget action movies, but this one is a little bit different because it isn’t a fairy tale so much as a movie based on one of the famous series of fantasy novels by L. Frank Baum as well as the groundbreaking 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz. Rather than being a straight remake though, this movie is meant as a prequel that shows us where the wizard from that movie came from and playing the role of that magician is James Franco.

Directing the movie is Franco’s frequent collaborator Sam Raimi, who hired Franco to play Harry Osborn in his three “Spider-Man” movies, and it’s a return to big budget movies for the actor for the first time since 2011′s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Other than that, Franco has been doing lots of odds and ends including low-profile indie movies and things like Harmony Korine’s edgy Spring Breakers, which opens next week, and that’s all following Franco receiving an Oscar nomination for his performance in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. Franco is joined by three lovely actresses playing various witches: Oscar winner Rachel Weisz, Oscar nominee Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis—who hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar but is considered one of the sexiest women in Hollywood, so who needs an Oscar?

Disney has done a decent job getting the word out on the movie, hoping to have a hit on par with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which opened in March 2010 with $116.1 million–at the time, the biggest March opening–on its way to $334 million domestic and over a billion worldwide. While Raimi’s name might not have the weight of a Tim Burton and James Franco is no Johnny Depp, the “Oz” name is a strong brand that’s well known and without there having been a significant box office hit in some time other than Identity Thief, moviegoers are definitely looking for something to see and an event movie like this will certainly be appealing.

The good thing going for Disney’s first release of the year is that this is the definition of a four-quadrant movie, one that will appeal to kids, both girls and boys, as well as their parents who will be well aware of the original movie. It also should bring in more teen and older guys than might normally not be interested in this sort of fantasy, because of the cast. Raimi also has a lot of fans from the “Spider-Man” and “Evil Dead” movies he’s done and they’ll be curious for that reason.

Oz The Great and Powerful should be able to bring in as much business this weekend as the rest of the Top 10 put together, and with few strong movies opening over the next few weeks, it should have a guaranteed #1 spot next weekend as well even if we don’t think it will fare quite as well as Alice in Wonderland.

Weekend Est.: $76 to 81 million; Est. Total Gross: $240 million

Dead Man Down (FilmDistrict)
Starring Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Dominic Cooper, Terrence Howard, Isabelle Huppert
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo); Written by J.H. Wyman (The Mexican, upcoming The Warriors remake, “Fringe”)
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rated R
Tagline: “Revenge is Coming”

Although there are only two wide releases this weekend, the clear underdog is this crime thriller that marks the American language debut of Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev, best known for directing the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It’s a crime thriller starring Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Dominic Cooper and Terrence Howard, which is being released with very little buzz against a potential powerhouse.

Farrell’s career has been up and down over the past few years with last year’s Total Recall remake being an attempt to revive his career as an action star, but it failed to make as much as the comedy Horrible Bosses a year earlier where Farrell played a very different, almost unrecognizable, role. Otherwise, he’s continued to work with Irish filmmakers like Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths) and Neil Jordan (Ondine) and the likes of Terry Gilliam.

At this point, there’s a good chance that Rapace is a bigger draw among mainstream audiences, having starred in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and the “Sherlock Holmes” sequel, but few will care that this movie reunites her with the director of her breakout movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The main cast also includes Terrence Howard who has certainly appeared in popular movies like last year’s Red Tails and of course the original Iron Man, but he hasn’t really been able to capitalize on an earlier Oscar nomination to turn himself into any sort of box office draw.

This is the first release of the month by FilmDistrict, the fairly new distributor who has had a couple moderate hits–James Wan’s Insidious is one of their biggest to date–but their most recent release, Jason Statham’s Parker didn’t do particularly well, and Statham is more of a proven box office draw then Farrell. (It’s also the first movie of the month co-produced by WWE Studios who is also involved with next week’s The Call – might we see one or both advertised during WWE’s primetime shows?) Dead Man Down has been given a moderately wide release but not enough theaters to really have much of an impact and we think it will be struggling to make $7 million in a weekend where it’s facing a bigger event movie like “Oz.” Unfortunately, this looks like one of those movies that’s released to fill theaters without much time or money put into marketing.

Weekend Est.: $6 to 8; Est. Total Gross: $20 million tops

This weekend last year saw the release of the big budget blockbuster John Carter (Walt Disney Pictures), but it failed to dethrone the previous week’s #1 hit Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, which remained on top with $38.8 million. The action-adventure starring Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins opened in second place with $30.2 million. Sundance darling Elizabeth Olsen returned with the single shot horror film Silent House (Open Road Films), which failed to find an audience, opening in fifth place with $6.66 million (ooo… scary). Eddie Murphy’s long-delayed comedy A Thousand Words (Studio) finally saw the light of day but barely, as it opened in sixth place with $6.2 million. The Top 10 grossed $116 million and considering how well “Oz” should do, we will possibly see the first up weekend from last year in quite some time.

This Week’s Updated Predictions -

UPDATE: Not too many changes although we’re feeling that “Oz” may do even better than w e expected and may even push $80 million or more. It’ll be close and it’ll depend on how frontloaded it is to Friday with some schools out for Spring Break as well as how the current snowstorm on the East Coast affects moviegoing.

1. Oz the Great and Powerful (Walt Disney Pictures) – $79.4 million N/A (Up 4 million)

2. Jack the Giant Slayer (New Line/WB) – $14.1 million -48% (up .6 million)

3. Dead Man Down (FilmDistrict) – $7 million N/A (up .2 million)

4. Identity Thief (Universal) – $5.6 million -43% (same)

5. Silver Linings Playbook (The Weinstein Company) – $4.4 million -25% (up .1 million and one spot)

6. Snitch (Summer Entertainment) – $4.3 million -45%

7. 21 and Over (Relativity Media) – $4.2 million -51%

8. Escape from Planet Earth (The Weinstein Company) – $4.0 million -38% (up .2 million)

9. Safe Haven (Relativity Media) – $3.3 million -47%

10. The Last Exorcism Part II (CBS Films) – $2.8 million -64%

This week’s “Chosen One” is another film we saw at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which is Ramona Diaz’s Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey (Cinedigm, Docurama Films), which as you might be able to guess from the title is a documentary about the ‘70s rock band Journey and how they were looking for a singer to replace Steve Perry for a reunion tour and how they came upon the remarkable sound-alike Arnel Pineda when they heard and saw him singing on YouTube.

The rest as they say is history as Pineda got to fulfill his dream of singing in a famous rock band while at the same time, the band’s profile and status is raised among Filipino audiences due to Pineda’s presence. Pineda is an incredible subject matter for a film, being somewhat naive about his sudden fame but also taking it well and bringing a freshness to the tired old rockers.

I’ve never really been a big Journey fan and that didn’t change with this movie, but Pineda’s story is pretty amazing because here’s this guy who was living on the streets of Manila as a youth, started playing in bands and got into trouble with drugs and stuff, but boy, could he sing. And Journey guitarist Neal Schon gave him the opportunity of a lifetime to sing with the band responsible for so many classic radio rock songs. The film culminates in Journey’s trip to Manila to play in front of thousands of adoring new fans.

It feels like the movie has been changed, possibly edited down, since I saw it last year at Tribeca, but not significantly–I seem to remember a scene of the band writing a new song that’s inspired by Pineda’s city–but it still flows smoothly between interviews and concert footage.

If you’re a fan of the band and want to learn more about its relatively new frontman, then the film is a must-see, but if you just want to see an inspirational movie that gives hope to anyone that’s ever been a struggling musician, Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey works in that context as well. It opens in select cities on Friday.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days director Cristian Mungiu returns with Beyond the Hills (Sundance Select), a drama taking place in a remote Orthodox convent in the Romanian countryside where two childhood friends, Alina (Cristina Flutur) and Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), are reunited with the former shocked by how repressed her friend has become while training as a nun. As Alina pushes her friend to leave, the priest of the convent worries about her mental state and thinking she’s possessed, he holds a exorcism. Based on the events of a true case of an exorcism gone wrong from 2005, it opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.

Interview with Cristian Mungiu

Matthew Fox and Tommy Lee Jones star in Peter (Girl with a Pearl Earring) Webber’s WWII drama Emperor (Roadside Attractions) about the last days of the war with Japan as Fox plays a military liaison trying to smooth the transition by reaching out to Japan’s untouchable Emperor. It opens in select cities.

Director Michel Gondry also returns with The We and the I (Paladin Films), a project that has him collaborating with the students of a Bronx art school on creating a film that takes place entirely on a bus and the interaction of the students on the last day of school before summer. It opens in New York at the IFC Center on Friday.

26 international filmmakers were assembled to make the horror anthology The ABCs of Death (Magnet Labs) made up of 26 short films, all based on a single letter and word starting with that letter. The list of directors include Ben Wheatley (Kill List), Adam Wingard (You’re Next), Jorge Michel Grau (We Are What We Are), Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun), Ti West (The Innkeepers) and Xavier Gens (Frontier(s)). After a month On Demand, it opens in select theaters and you can find out where by clicking here.

Abbie Cornish isn’t The Girl (Brainstorm Media) of David Riker’s drama but rather she’s a 20-something Texas mother trying to gain back custody of her son while struggling financially until she realizes that one way of making money is to smuggle illegal immigrants across the border… and THAT is where “the girl” comes in.

Baran do Odar’s German crime thriller The Silence (Music Box Films) involves the search for a missing 13-year-old girl whose bicycle is found on the same spot as where a young girl was brutally murdered 23 years prior, as the investigator of the original case works with a younger colleague to try to solve the parallel crimes. It opens in select cities on Friday.

Opening at the Quad Cinema in New York is The Other Side of the Ice (Hole in the Wall Productions), Sprague Theobald’s documentation of his family’s cruise to the arctic over five months that became incredibly dangerous and trecherous.

Vincent Cassell stars in Dominik Moll’s 19th Century supernatural thriller The Monk (ATO Pictures), adapted from an 18th Century novel about a Capuchin Monk in 16th Century Madrid named Brother Ambrosio who was raised by friars and tries to avoid temptations until an apprentice shows up who tests his will. It opens in select cities.

Next week may be a slimmed-down column since we’ll be at SXSW 2013–look for our preview soon– but we’ll get new releases that include the Steve Carell-Jim Carrey reunion in the magical comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (New Line/WB) and the Halle Berry thriller The Call (TriStar Pictures/Sony).

You can read stuff like this and regular box office, awards and festival coverage on the new Weekend Warrior Blog and to keep up with the latest articles and posts, you can follow us on Twitter.

Copyright 2013 Edward Douglas

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