The domestic box office took a dive in February, and the March lineup doesn't look strong enough to really turn things around.
There are some bright spots coming up: movies like Oz The Great and Powerful and The Croods should tap in to the family audience that's been neglected so far this year, while G.I. Joe: Retaliation should deliver a late-month boost. Even if all of those movies over-perform, though, there's still no chance that March 2013 tops March 2012's record $943 million (led by The Hunger Games and The Lorax). March 1
Four new nationwide releases hit theaters on the first weekend of March, though each one seems plagued by some kind of issue. The biggest one—and also the most problematic—is Jack the Giant Slayer, a mega-budget fantasy movie directed by X-Men's Bryan Singer. Originally titled Jack the Giant Killer and slated for June 2012, the movie was unceremoniously pushed back to March 2013 and given a softer title.
Unfortunately, Jack now faces direct competition from Oz The Great and Powerful for family audiences, and Warner Bros.'s unenthusiastic marketing material makes it appear too childish for older audiences. There's a very slight chance it winds up beating last March's fantasy debacle John Carter ($73.1 million), though it won't go much higher.
Also opening this weekend is 21 and Over, which finds three college students getting in to trouble while celebrating a 21st birthday party. The comedy is from the writers of The Hangover, though its box office prospects are more likely to match Project X, which opened on the same weekend last year. That movie debuted to $21 million on its way to $54.7 million, which is starting to seem slightly high for 21 and Over: the movie is pretty exclusively targeting a very small demographic (17 to 25-year olds, basically), and the buzz in the homestretch just doesn't seem high enough to match Project X's figures.
Minor 2010 supernatural horror hit The Last Exorcism gets a sequel this weekend, though it's unlikely The Last Exorcism Part II can match its predecessor's $41 million total. While horror sequels in general tend to earn less than the original—look at The Grudge 2 or The Ring Two, for example—The Last Exorcism Part II is at an even greater disadvantage as a result of dropping the found footage conceit that was such a big part of the first movie's success. Distributor CBS Films is currently expecting an opening weekend at around half the level of the original's $20.4 million, which means the movie really won't have much of an impact on the box office.
Finally, upstart distributor RCR is releasing submarine thriller Phantom in to over 2,000 theaters on the first weekend of March. While it stars recognizable actors Ed Harris and David Duchovny, it isn't really getting a substantial marketing push, and will therefore be a non-starter. March 8 Oz The Great and Powerful could help cure the box office's ills when it opens on the second weekend of March. With its classic fantasy source material, heavy emphasis on CGI environments and characters, and 3D presentation, it's clear that Disney is hoping Oz can deliver results similar to their March 2010 sensation Alice in Wonderland ($334 million domestic, $1.02 billion worldwide). Alice had the appealing pairing of director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp, though, and came out a time when 3D was red-hot thanks to the success of Avatar. Oz, on the other hand, has Sam Raimi and James Franco (not nearly as bankable as Depp/Burton) and has to combat Alice's middling reputation.
Still, there's been almost nothing for family audiences so far in 2013, and Disney's marketing effort—which included a Super Bowl commercial—has positioned Oz as the first major event movie of 2013. As a result, Oz will almost certainly be March's highest-grossing movie with a total near $200 million.
Crime thriller Dead Man Down also opens on the second weekend of March, though its box office prospects look very modest. Star Colin Farrell tends to be box office poison: just last year, Total Recall and Seven Psychopaths disappointed with $58.9 million and $15 million, respectively. Also, aside from some vague revenge-related discussion, FilmDistrict's marketing hasn't really presented a clear story for audiences to latch on to. Dead Man Down should do better than Psychopaths, though it would be shocking if it could even match FilmDistrict's 2011 crime thriller Drive ($35 million). March 15
Magician comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Halle Berry thriller The Call go head-to-head on March 15, though it's unlikely that either is strong enough to keep Oz from repeating in first place. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone stars comedy icons Steve Carell and Jim Carrey as rival magicians in Las Vegas; the last time these two shared the screen, it was in 2003 blockbuster Bruce Almighty ($242.8 million). The movie's loud and silly characters with outlandish costumes/hairstyles brings to mind March 2007's ice staking comedy Blades of Glory, which earned $118.6 million. Unfortunately, Warner Bros.'s marketing effort for Burt Wonderstone has been oddly restrained so far, and coming anywhere close to Blades's gross seems out of the question at this point.
Sony didn't add The Call to its release schedule until the beginning of January, which suggests they don't have great expectations (or investment) in the movie. And why should they? The last major release headlined by Halle Berry was 2007's Perfect Stranger, which tanked with just $24 million (despite also having Bruce Willis). Even with a modest marketing push, it's unlikely The Call winds up much better.