By Amy Kaufman
7:39 PM EST, February 28, 2013
It looks like the yellow brick road could lead Walt Disney Studios to box office gold.
"Oz: The Great and Powerful," the studio's $200-million-plus production, is headed toward the biggest opening of 2013 by far. The Sam Raimi-directed picture starring James Franco as the iconic wizard could bring in at least $75 million on its opening weekend, according to those who have seen pre-release industry surveys. The film hits theaters March 8.
The movie, a prequel to the 1939 classic, follows the wizard as he makes the journey from Kansas to Oz, where he becomes the ruler of a foreign land filled with good and evil witches. Filmed on seven sound stages over several months, Disney invested millions in the film's lavish 3-D digital effects.
It was also a very troubled production. The filmmakers spent months re-casting their leading man, after Robert Downey Jr. abandoned the project. The actor was eventually replaced by Franco, who joined a critically-acclaimed cast of actors including Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz.
After principal photography was completed, the movie's producers realized their film wasn't working as well as it should. Subsequently, they hired a new screenwriter and spent several weeks reshooting key sequences of the picture.
"Oz" is also primed to become a hit overseas, where it is generating intense interest among women. Those who had seen international tracking said the film was set to do major business in Russia, the United Kingdom and Mexico, where 60% of females said they were "definitely interested" in seeing the movie.
While fans were initially anxious about a big studio tinkering with characters associated with the classic film, moviegoer sentiment appears to have shifted. At the film's premiere in Hollywood earlier this month -- where a full-sized hot air balloon rested outside of the theater on Hollywood Boulevard -- the movie received a warm reception.
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