Domestic box-office projections for the debut weekend of "Oz the Great and Powerful" are going as high as $85 million, and Disney's prequel to the 1939 classic could do even better than that overseas.
The studio will roll out its 3D CGI extravaganza in nearly every major foreign territory this weekend -- France comes next week, China on March 29 -- and analysts say it could exceed its domestic haul at the international box office. It debuts Thursday in 27 territories, including Russia, Germany, Australia, South Korea and Italy. By Friday it will be in 46 markets, including openings in the U.K., Japan, Mexico, Spain and Brazil.
The domestic and foreign debuts make this first weekend critical for Disney, which has very much front-loaded its box-office gamble on "Oz," which carries a $200 million production budget and a marketing budget at least half that size.
Disney's head of distribution Dave Hollis acknowledged that the stakes are high.
"With the Disney brand and an iconic, revered property like this, of course it's a big bet," Hollis told TheWrap. "But when you ally yourself with filmmakers like Sam Raimi and Robert Stromberg, you reduce some of the risks. We feel really good about this."
Raimi, director of the first three "Spider-Man" movies, is at the helm of "Oz." James Franco stars as a circus magician sucked via tornado to Oz, where the residents mistake him for a wizard who will free them from the wicked witches. Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz co-star.
Stromberg is the production designer, and had the same role on the film most often compared with "Oz," the similarly big-budget and effects-laden "Alice in Wonderland." That Disney film starred Johnny Depp and made more than $1 billion in 2010, with the vast majority – $690 million – coming from abroad.
As a literary work, "Alice in Wonderland" is more well-known globally than "The Wizard of Oz," a very American property. But even "John Carter," the mega-budget sci-fi adventure flop that resulted in a $200 million write down for Disney last year, took in $209 million overseas, compared to $73 million domestically.
'I think 'Oz' is a much better bet to open with $100 million overseas than in the U.S.," Exhibitor Relations senior vice-president and senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap.
"Oz" will debut Friday in 3,912 North American theaters. Around 3,055 of those will be 3D, and 307 will be Imax theaters, both of which will be charging premium prices.
Families -- who largely steered clear of Warner Bros.' similarly pricey CGI epic "Jack the Giant Slayer" last week -- are expected to turn out in force for "Oz." Its PG rating will help there, though parents should know there are some intense moments -- heightened by the 3D -- that caused at least one 5-year-old to jump into her father's lap three times during a screening.
TheWrap's reviewer Alonso Duralde loved it, but "Oz" has only a lukewarm 62 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes (the more telling number there may be the 99 percent "want to see" figure). Movie Review Review Intelligence has it at 54 percent positive.
"Oz" has accounted for nearly 80 percent of the presales at online ticket broker Fandango this week and, in a positive sign for Disney, 66 percent of those responding to a survey on the site said they would bring their families.
"Oz the Great and Powerful" isn't the only movie opening this week.
Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace ("Prometheus") star in Film District's neo-noir revenge thriller "Dead Man Down." Farrell plays a man who has infiltrated the crime empire run by a ruthless kingpin (Terence Howard) for his own very definite reasons, while his neighbor (Rapace) wants his help to carry out her own plans for retribution.
Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev, who directed Rapace in the original "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," makes his U.S. debut on the film.
Farrell's has underwhelmed in his last two outings as a leading man. "Seven Psychopaths" was a critical fave but opened to just $4 million in October and topped out at $28 million for CBS Films. And no one forgot Arnold Schwarzenegger after Farrell's turn in last summer's "Total Recall" remake, which slogged to a $59 million domestic total for Sony.
J.H. Wyman (TV's "Fringe") wrote the screenplay and produced via Frequency Films with Neal H. Moritz's Original Film. IM Global financed the $30 million movie. Film District has the R-rated thriller in 2,188 theaters and projections are for an opening in the $5 million range.
On the specialty front, Roadside Attractions is rolling out director Peter Webber's historical war drama "Emperor," which stars Tommy Lee Jones, Matthew Fox and rising Japanese star Eriko Hatsune.
Set in post-World War II Japan, during the American occupation, the PG-13 rated "Emperor" is based on the real-life drama behind the decision of whether to try Emperor Hirohito for war crimes. Jones plays Gen. Douglas MacArthur – the de facto ruler of Japan – and Fox plays Gen. Bonner Fellers, who lead the investigation of Hirohito.
It will be in 259 theaters, mostly in the top 75 markets.
IFC Films will debut the drama "Beyond the Hills," Romania's nominee for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, in three theaters.
The film is directed by Cristian Munglu and stars Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan as two young women at an Orthodox convent in Romania. It premiered at Cannes last year where Munglu won the award for best screenplay and Flutur and Stratan shared best actress honors.
Cinedigm is releasing "Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey" in 20 theaters nationwide. It's a documentary on Arnel Pineda, who was plucked from YouTube to become the new singer for the rock band Journey.
The "ABCs of Death" is an anthology horror film from Magnolia Pictures produced by Ant Timpson and Tim League that will debut in about 20 theaters. It's made up of 26 different shorts, each by different directors, all dealing with death. It premiered at last year's Toronto Film Festival and has been out on video on demand since January.