James Franco and Michelle Williams in 'Oz the Great and Powerful'
James Franco and Michelle Williams in 'Oz the Great and Powerful'

Led by a strong $80-million opening for “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” the total gross for the weekend was up from both the previous week and the previous year, something that has rarely happened this year so far. The uptick wasn’t enough to reverse the trend so far -- $125 million for the top 10 this year compared to $117 in 2012 and $90 million last week – but it still is welcome, more so after the flop of “Jack the Giant Slayer” last weekend. “Oz” had the biggest opening since “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” pre-Christmas, at around the level predicted by industry sources.

The hope is that a big hit will bring lagging audiences back to theaters.  That four of the eight holdovers in the Top 10 fell less than 40% could suggest a real bump, though it also could have more to do with the individual films’ appeal. Whether it translates to helping upcoming new openings and sustaining this modest uptick will remain to be seen. Unfortunately, unlike last March, there isn’t a “Hunger Games” waiting to hit screens in the near future.

1. Oz: The Great and Powerful (Buena Vista) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic score: 44

$80,278,000 in 3,912 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $20,521; Cumulative: $80,278,000

A  big (and welcome) opening for Disney’s $200-million 3-D prequel to the 1939 classic, with enough of a consistent gross for the weekend so far to suggest a positive audience response. Folks at the Mouse House are breathing a sigh of relief. Along with international grosses of  just under $70 million (most territories have opened), this means an initial total of $150 million.

With the production cost and the estimated additional $100 million in additional marketing expense, “Oz” needed this initial result to place it on the path to the needed $500 million (likely more) box office  worldwide take to put this into profit.

As strong as this gross is, it isn’t a record for March. “The Hunger Games” last year opened to better than $150 million. More comparable is Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” also aided by 3-D surcharges and also Disney-produced, which also cost $200 million. Its initial weekend was $116 million three years ago on its way to a $334 million domestic haul and just over $1 billion worldwide.

For director Sam Raimi, this opening, as good as it is, falls short of all three of his “Spider-Man” films for Sony. James Franco appeared in, but wasn’t the top draw, in those films. This opening bests his previous top lead appearance in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” ($55 million).

What comes next:  Word of mouth will determine how much over $200 million this gets. March means spring vacations in the weeks ahead, aiding matinees with family audiences. And international grosses, though good so far, suggest that this might not have the draw that “Alice” did. (“The Wizard of Oz” is not quite the classic worldwide that it is in the U.S., which might have an impact.) Disney made this film as a potential franchise (and has already greenlit the sequel), with attendant merchandising, theme park attractions, etc. This initial gross doesn’t guarantee that they have created a perennial moneymaker even if it looks good enough to justify its expense.

2. Jack the Giant Slayer (Warner Bros) Week 2 – Last Weekend: #1

$10,200,000 (-63%) in 3.525 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $2,843; Cumulative: $43,811,000

A big drop from a disappointing opening adds to the woes for this $200-million project. This opened below Disney’s flop “John Carter” last March, and now has a larger second week drop (“Carter” fell 55% its second weekend).  This wasn’t helped by competition from “Oz,” but that is a minor factor compared to the overall disinterest in the film.

What comes next: Domestic won’t push much beyond $60 million. Foreign so far is rolling out more slowly, but it would have to perform vastly better than at home (a $500-million plus total worldwide gross would be needed to break even) to make up the difference.

3. Identity Thief (Universal) Week 5 – Last Weekend: #2

$6,300,000 (-35%) in 3,002 theaters (-228); PSA: $2,105; Cumulative: $116,500,000

Five weekends into the run, this Melissa McCarthy-starring comedy is still running ahead of her supporting role-playing “Bridesmaids” even if the weekend gross is only half as good.  “Identity” won’t reach the earlier film’s total ($169 million, aided by summer playtime) but it is going to get close, clearly aided by the star’s increasing appeal and solid word of mouth.

What comes next:  “Bridesmaids” had eight top ten weeks. This looks likely (aided by less competition) to reach or surpass that total.