It’s a new year and we’re back with our latest look at the box office potential for movies not hitting theaters for a few more months. This week, we examine and analyze two movies opening in early March that have much in common, Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Slayer (Warner Bros. – March 1) and Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great and Powerful (Disney – March 8). Obviously they’re both takes on classic fairy tales meant for family audiences (going by their PG rating), but they’re also both by visionary filmmakers who made a name for themselves by re-envisioning popular superheroes, Singer with X-Men and Superman and Raimi with Spider-Man. Oh, and of course they’re both big budget fantasy epics being released in early March.
Both Warner Bros. and Disney have quite a bit of experience releasing huge blockbuster hits in March. Before The Hunger Games last year, they had the two biggest openers for the month, Warner Bros. first with 300 in March 2007 which opened with $71 million and then three years later, Disney opened Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to $116 million, setting a new record. These big successes, joined by The Hunger Games and animated movies like Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax has driven more studios to try to release movies in the month where there isn’t a single national holiday though there are quite a few school breaks.
Jack the Giant Slayer is based on an 18th century fairy tale called “Jack the Giant Killer” and it’s the first movie based on the character in fifty years, the last one showing off the effects work of the legendary Ray Harryhausen. This one stars Nicholas Hoult, best known for playing the boy in About a Boy, Beast in X-Men: First Class and who takes on a leading role in the upcoming zombie comedy Warm Bodies. If that does well, then having him in the lead as Jack will be good for this movie, especially when Warner Bros. moved it back from last summer to the March release. The oddball cast also includes Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Bill Nighy, Ian McShane and Eddie Marsan, the latter two who played dwarves in last summer’s fairy tale hit Snow White and the Huntsman. What’s interesting is that Singer has given the film a whimsical comic tone that may pose some of the same problems as last year’s Mirror Mirror by Tarsem Singh, only that it has a much more respected filmmaker and a stronger studio in terms of marketing.
Based on the Frank L. Baum stories that already inspired the hugely popular classic film The Wizard of the Oz, Sam Raimi’s movie Oz The Great and Powerful has a lot more going for it including its lead James Franco who has been in the public conscious quite a bit in recent years. Part of that is due to his odd decisions over the past few years like appearing on “General Hospital,” but he also was the lead in the 2011 hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes and received an Oscar nomination for 127 Hours. He reunites with Raimi after appearing in the three “Spider-Man” movies as Harry Osborn, and he’s joined by three hot co-stars in Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis as various witches. Each of those has gracefully been moving closer to the A-list in recent years due to various successes.
The question now is whether either director or cast has the sort of pull that can get people into theaters and in both cases, we’ll have to give the advantage to Raimi and his cast. It’s been a while since Bryan Singer directed a well-loved movie geared towards older moviegoers and few of them will care enough about his name to give this a look. Raimi on the other hand has built himself quite a fanbase from the “Spider-Man” movies–he’s only done generally respected horror movie since then–and that trilogy gives Raimi a lot of weight among parents and teenage and older audiences that should be interested in this.
Both movies are opening in weekends with two or three others movies but neither the more adult-oriented comedy Admission, starring Tina Fey, nor the crime thriller Dead Man Down will have much of an effect on “Oz.” On the other hand, thrillers like The Last Exorcism Part II and Stoker and teen-oriented comedy 21 and Over could be draws for teen and older audiences, which means that it’s relying solely on kids and their parents for “Jack” to find an audience.
Disney definitely has more experience with the fairy tale genre, especially marketing them to family audiences, and Alice in Wonderland is proof positive of that. Other than Oscar campaigning for Spielberg’s Lincoln and their three nominated animated feature, they also have a fairly clear January and March, so that can put their entire focus into marketing Raimi’s movie. And that’s exactly what they’re going to do, so you should expect a lot of commercials in the coming weeks. It will be interesting to see which movie (if either) feels it’s worth shelling out big bucks for a Super Bowl commercial as well, since that’s going to raise awareness immensely.
It will also be interesting to see if the upcoming Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (out Jan. 25) has any effect on the public’s opinion of fairy tale movies, although that’s more of an R-rated action movie for teen guys ala Underworld then a family film. Just having “Oz” in the title will be a big draw for casual moviegoers who see the name on the marquee, confirming the importance of a strong title. After their decision to move the film from its summer ’12 release to early March, probably done to take advantage of the lack of family films, maybe the oddest marketing decision by Warner Bros. was changing the title of their movie from “Killer” to “Slayer” as if maybe that would be friendlier for kid audiences.
Bearing all that in mind, we think it’s no contest that Oz the Great and Powerful will do significantly better between the two, making anywhere between $45 and 55 million opening weekend and probably grossing over $150 million total domestically, compared to Jack the Giant Slayer, which probably will open in the $25 to 30 million territory. The latter won’t be helped by opening a week before the former, which could cut down on its legs as well, so we don’t expect Singer’s movie to even reach $100 million.
Next time, we’re going to look at another sequel that was delayed from last summer, G.I. Joe: Retaliation.