Oz the Great and Powerful is a big bet. One of the biggest bets Hollywood has ever made.
And maybe one of the better ones.
"Is Oz the Great and Powerful the type of film that moviegoers will embrace?" Doug Stone, president of Box Office Analyst rhetorically asked in an email. "…The preliminary answer is, yes, it is."
Opening Friday, the Sam Raimi-directed Wizard of Oz prequel, featuring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and a price tag reportedly as large as $325 million (including marketing costs, as frequently noted), has been winning generally favorable reviews from critics, and should easily score Hollywood's biggest opening weekend since The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Modest expectations say Oz, in its first three days, will gross in the neighborhood of $50-$75 million domestically. Immodest expectations say it'll do much more than that.
"Don't be surprised if this lands in Alice in Wonderland territory when all is said and done," Jeff Bock of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations said via email, referring to the 2010 Johnny Depp-Tim Burton fantasy that blew out the lights with a $116 million debut, a then-record for a March release.
Oz's arrival comes as the 2013 box office is slumping, with bombs detonating here (Jack the Giant Slayer) and there (nearly any action movie), and overall revenue running 15 percent behind last year's pace by Exhibitor Relations' count.
If not for the Melissa McCarthy-Jason Bateman comedy hit Identity Thief, and the unusually popular slate of Academy Award contenders, there wouldn't be any good news for Hollywood, although Stone, for one, thinks the box-office year is unfairly getting a bad rap.
The analyst argued that 2012, with its large number of wintertime successes, which included The Vow, Safe House and Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, was an exceptional year, and that there's nothing wrong with 2013 that can't be promptly fixed by releasing movies that people want to see.
"Event films if they live up to the event marketing hype will do a lot of business," Stone said.
To be sure, that recipe has worked for Hollywood—and the wizard—before.
For more on the magical movie, tune in to E!'s Oz the Great and Powerful special premiering tonight at 8 p.m. ET/PT.