WINNER OF THE WEEK: Oz the Great and Powerful. Gee, you’d think a movie with Oz’s liabilities – it stars four tepid box-office draws (James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams), takes liberties with a beloved classic, runs longer than two hours, contains several scenes that may be too scary for kids and earned mixed reviews – would not have been a foregone conclusion to debut with an estimated $80.3 million at the domestic box office. But the Wizard of Oz prequel did as well as everyone predicted, thanks in part to Sam Raimi’s imaginative and opulent visual storytelling (for once, the 3D surcharge seemed worth ponying up for) and the lack of any real competition at the multiplex. Not only did the movie earn $70 million more than its nearest competitor (last week’s champ, the similar but rather less beloved fantasy Jack the Giant Slayer, which lost 63 percent of last weekend’s business to finish second with an estimated $10.0 million), but it also marked the best opening so far of 2013 and the third-biggest March opening ever. (The largest was last year’s The Hunger Games, followed by 2010’s Alice in Wonderland.) Overseas, the movie earned another estimated $69.9 million, for a global total of $150.2 million. Earnings-wise, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Everyone else. Even rival studios were rooting for Oz to succeed, under the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats theory that the year’s first big blockbuster hit would at least lure potential moviegoers off the couch and into the theater, where they’d pay to see whatever else was playing as well. Didn’t happen. Oz sucked all the oxygen out of the multiplex, and there was little love left for anything else, except maybe the comedy Identity Thief, which continued to prosper, finishing third and earning an estimated $6.3 million after a month in theaters (its total to date is $116.5 million). New thriller Dead Man Down, which targeted guys and older audiences, would seem to have been a smart counterprogramming move opposite the family-oriented Oz, but it barely mustered a fourth-place debut, with just an estimated $5.4 million. Moviegoers just haven’t been interested in traditional macho action thrillers this year, with Dead Man Down and Snitch (Number Five, with an estimated $5.1 million and a three-week total of just $31.8 million) serving as further proof.
MONEY BAGGINS: Even with ticket price inflation and the increasingly scientific marketing techniques that have taken much of the risk out of blockbuster filmmaking, movies that earn a billion dollars worldwide remain rarities. In fact, there have been only 15 of them to date. The most recent one to join the club is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which earned just over $300 million in North America but crossed the $700 million mark abroad this week. Of course, the film was released in December and earned much of its haul then, making 2012 the first year ever with four billion-dollar movies (the others were Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Avengers). No wonder 2013 seems to be slumping by comparison. The truth is, even for pre-sold stories, prequels, sequels, and reboots, it’s always hard to catch lightning in a bottle. Disney’s Alice in Wonderland was one of those billion-dollar movies, and not only is Disney’s Oz a brazen attempt to clone its success, but so are the efforts of the other studios this month, moving their potential fantasy and action blockbusters from July to March because hits like Alice and The Hunger Games have convinced them that spring break is the new summer. Maybe it is, but if Oz has to settle for a worldwide total of $500 or $600 million instead of $1 billion, no one should have any right to act disappointed.