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‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ Comes Up Box Office Gold

“Oz the Great and Powerful” is heading over the box-office rainbow after an estimated $24.1 million Friday put it on pace for a $75 million debut weekend.

It was a strong start for Disney’s $200 million, 3D special-effects extravaganza, though running under the most bullish analysts’ projections. The PG-rated prequel to the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz” should play considerably stronger on Saturday and Sunday when families hit the multiplexes.

Disney has “Oz” in 3,912 North American theaters. Around 3,055 of those are screening it in 3D and 307 are Imax theaters, and the premium pricing at those locations helped boost grosses. The Friday number was swelled by roughly $2 million in midnight Thursday screenings

First night audiences gave “Oz” a “B+” CinemaScore. They liked it better than most critics; it had a lukewarm 60 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The big production budget — and a marketing campaign that cost at least half as much — makes a big opening critical for Disney. The film is also opening in 46 foreign markets this weekend.  “Oz” is directed by Sam Raimi and stars James Franco as the young wizard and Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz as witches.

If it stays on this pace it will be the biggest weekend opening since December, when “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” debuted to $84 million, and the third biggest March debut ever. Only last year’s “Hunger Games: and 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland,” another pricey Disney fantasy, have topped it with $152 million and $116 million, respectively.

The massive debut for “Oz” is in marked contrast to that of Warner Bros.’ “Jack the Giant Slayer,” a similarly pricey and effects-laden extravaganza that mustered just $27 million in its first three days last week. Running a distant second, “Jack” took in $2.5 million from 3,525 theaters Friday. That’s a big 67 percent drop from last week and it will come in at around $10 million this weekend.

Despite the big “Oz” numbers, the overall box office is about even with last year’s comparable week, when “The Lorax” led the way with a $52 million second go-round. The box office is running about 15 percent behind last year.

“Oz” didn’t have much competition. The weekend’s other wide opener, “Dean Man Down,” took in $1.8 million Friday and is looking at a $5.5 million total for the three days. Audiences gave it a “B-” CinemaScore. Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace star in Film District’s neo-noir revenge thriller.

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