Box Office: ‘Oz’ Tracking for $80 Million-Plus Opening

Interest in Disney tentpole is good sign for erratic fantasy genre

Execs with fantasy tentpoles in development, who were spooked over last week’s dismal “Jack the Giant Slayer” debut, should rediscover their courage when Disney’s “Oz the Great and Powerful” bows boffo worldwide.

The $215 million Disney tentpole, which launches day-and-date globally and is tracking in the $80 million-plus domestic range (at 3,912 locations including 307 Imax), represents the most promising fantasy title since “Alice in Wonderland.” It also bodes well for similar family-fantasy tentpoles awaiting a greenlight, like Sony’s Peter Pan project, as well as those already in production (i.e. “Maleficent” at Disney).

The fantasy genre has seen mixed results ever since “Alice,” with mixed results from Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel to a pair of Snow Whites. And while “Jack the Giant Slayer” flopped, its failure will have nowhere near the chilling effect on the genre that an “Oz” bungle would have.

That’s because most of the upcoming fantasy treatments are packaged in the same vein as “Oz”: mixing a beloved global brand with top talent and well-known filmmakers. Consider, for instance, Disney’s “Cinderella,” a classic fairytale (even for the Mouse), which now has Emma Watson in talks to star — or “Maleficent,” Disney’s re-telling of “Sleeping Beauty” from the perspective of its infamous villain, played by Angelina Jolie.

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“We’re in a unique position with the ‘Oz’ brand,” said Disney distribution topper Dave Hollis. “With the ambition of targeting every audience segment, you have to have a message that caters to all of them.”

Disney isn’t the only studio with skin in the fantasy game, however.

Warner Bros. has a pair of pics: “The Seventh Son” is based on Joseph Delaney’s first installment in the popular “Wardstone Chronicles” book series and stars Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore. “Winter’s Tale,” meanwhile, toplines Russell Crowe and Will Smith, from the 1983 fantasy novel by Mark Helprin set in 19th Century and present day Manhattan.

Over at Sony, Joe Roth and Channing Tatum are producing a Peter Pan adaptation as a possible star vehicle for Tatum; Paramount and MGM are in production on Brett Ratner’s summer 2014 release, “Hercules,” starring Dwayne Johnson.

All of those films (including “Oz”) aim to match “Alice,” the recent standard bearer for retellings of classic tales. The film kicked off the recent fantasy resurgence this time three years ago when it beat all expectations with a $116 million domestic opening and went on to become Disney’s second $1 billion worldwide player. Disney currently is developing an “Alice” sequel.

The winning formula of “Alice,” visually creative director Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, was mirrored by “Oz,” which returns “Spider-Man” helmer Sam Raimi to the tentpole business and teams James Franco with Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams.

Also, the comparable day-and-date release shared by “Alice” and “Oz” is no accident; date is a prime lead-up to heightened theater traffic during spring break and Easter. Disney originally dated “Maleficent” for this time but opted instead for summer.

“Oz” should register well overseas, with some market-by-market variance depending on the property’s local popularity. “In those places, you tread instead on the value of Disney or the popularity of the talent,” Hollis said. Disney launches the film this weekend in every major market except France and China, where the pic bows March 29.

Overseas prospects will continue to make many costly fantasy bets worthwhile.

Paramount’s $50 million adult fantasy retread, “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” should land in the black thanks to overseas. Even “Jack” could earn north of $200 million internationally, though it’ll still fall short of solvency, costing $190 million with an additional $100 million worldwide marketing spend. “Jack” begins to expand overseas next weekend.

And braving the Disney tentpole, Colin Farrell adult thriller “Dead Man Down” is tracking in the mid-to-high single digits at 2,188 locations. FilmDistrict acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film from producers IM Global, Original Film and Frequency Films.

Roadside Attractions’ Tommy Lee Jones WWII actioner “Emperor” bows at an aggressive 260 Stateside locations; Fox Searchlight, meanwhile, expands last weekend’s per-screen champ “Stoker” to 17 engagements, up from seven.

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