LOS ANGELES — Blockbuster-starved studios rarely reach Hollywood’s Emerald City, but Disney appears headed there this weekend.
The company’s $230 million-plus 3-D production of “Oz the Great and Powerful" is set to open this weekend with a massive gross of about $90 million, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys. (Disney is predicting a softer opening of roughly $75 million.) Not only would that make for the biggest debut of 2013 by far — “Identity Thief" currently holds the record with its $34.6 million February launch — but the strong opening could help jump-start what has been a slow year for filmgoing.
For the last six weekends, ticket sales have been down compared with the same period in 2012. Year-to-date, receipts are off about 8 percent, while attendance is down 9 percent, according to Hollywood.com.
But “Oz" seems poised to become a global hit. The movie, a prequel of sorts to the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz," is opening overseas in most major foreign markets Friday. The film will premiere in Russia and Mexico this weekend but won’t hit theaters in France and China until later in the month. To stoke interest in the picture abroad, Walt Disney Studios recently sent “Oz" stars James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis to premieres in Tokyo, Moscow, London and Paris.
In the film, Franco plays a charlatan magician who is transported from his native Kansas to the magical land of Oz, where he is mistaken for its long-awaited leader.
The Sam Raimi-directed picture, which cost Disney at least $215 million to produce, has so far received mixed reviews: On Thursday, the film had notched a 57 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Disney is no doubt hoping that the movie is able to generate positive word-of-mouth in the coming weeks so that it might follow in the footsteps of “Alice in Wonderland." That big-budget film, helmed by Tim Burton, was released on the same weekend in March 2010 and started off with $116.1 million and ultimately grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.
Even though “Oz" may also end up being a success, the film’s production caused numerous headaches for Disney. Franco was cast after Robert Downey Jr. dropped out as leading man. After principal photography finished, several weeks of reshoots were required.
The only other movie debuting nationwide this weekend is “Dead Man Down," which looks to be dead on arrival. The film stars Colin Farrell as a tortured hit man who strikes up an unlikely relationship with a lonely accident victim (Noomi Rapace).
The modestly budgeted picture, which FilmDistrict acquired from producers IM Global, Original Film and Frequency Films, may make only around $6 million this weekend.