With Angelina Jolie on screen for the first time in four years, a classic story line with a twist and the mighty Disney marketing machine behind it, “Maleficent” is about to cast a potent spell on the weekend box office.
All indicators suggest Disney’s live-action 3D update of its 1959 animated storybook classic, told from the perspective of Jolie’s Mistress of All Evil, is connecting with the same moms-and-daughters crowd that made “Frozen” a blockbuster.
It will conjure somewhere north of $60 million in its debut say the analysts, which should be enough to unseat the reigning No. 1 movie, Fox’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” and the week’s only other wide opener, “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” Universal’s raunchy Seth MacFarlane cowboy comedy should rustle up about $20 million over the three days.
“When you have the world’s most iconic movie actress in a role she has such a passion for, it can make the movie feel like an event,” Disney’s head of distribution Dave Hollis told TheWrap. “It comes through in the performance and it comes through when she’s talking about the movie and stoking the coals. It’s given us the potential to tap into the cultural zeitgeist the way ‘Frozen’ did, and become that thing that everyone needs to see.”
“Maleficent” is the first summer tentpole aimed directly at women, and it won’t hurt that there hasn’t been a major movie targeting that audience since “The Other Woman” in April. Hollis said tracking is showing “Maleficent” has some strength among men, and he believes it can connect as a date night option and with non-parents. It will have to in order to turn a profit. With a $180 million production budget and a proportionate marketing spend, “Maleficent” is a big bet for the studio.
“Angelina is one of those stars that appeals to men and women,” he said, “and we think the spectacle of this film and the world created in it by Robert Stromberg is the sort of thing that will appeal to everyone, particularly in 3D and on IMAX.” Stromberg, who is making his debut as a director on “Maleficent,” was the production designer on “Avatar” as well as Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” and “Oz: The Great and Powerful.”
“He’s taken it to the boundaries, and it’s breathtaking,” said Hollis, referencing the visual effects and look of the film. The movie’s trailers have highlighted Jolie’s unearthly visage and the classic tale, but also played up its spectacular battle scenes, which Hollis believes will resonate with males.
Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley and Juno Temple co-star in “Maleficent,” which is produced by Jolie and Joe Roth, the man behind similar live-action films “Alice in Wonderland,” “Oz: The Great and Powerful” and “Snow White and the Huntsman.”
The update of “The Wizard of Oz” starring James Franco opened to $79 million in a less-competitive March slot last year, and went on to take in $235 million domestically and $493 million worldwide for Disney. “Alice in Wonderland” took in more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office for the studio in 2010.
“Snow White and the Huntsman” opened to $56 million in June of 2012 and went on to $155 million domestically and $397 million worldwide for Universal. It starred Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron, however, not Jolie.
The Oscar winner’s track record at the box office has been inconsistent and her last live-action outing “The Tourist” was a disappointment in 2010, but Jolie has several scores under her belt including “Wanted,” “Salt” and “Laura Croft: Tomb Raider.” The $50.9 million opening weekend of “Wanted” was just ahead of the $50.3 million that “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” opened to in 2010, on its way to $478 million in global grosses.
Building a family with Brad Pitt, her humanitarian work and a high-profile double mastectomy last year have raised Jolie’s public persona into the stratosphere however.
The campaign behind the film is in high gear, with the premiere in Los Angeles Wednesday night, and Hollis said roughly 35 percent of the marketing spend has yet to come. Advance sales are strong on Fandango and Movietickets.com and “Maleficent” is off to a fast start on Twitter and Facebook, where its 2.3 million “likes” are double those of the young-adult hit “Divergent” at a similar stage.
“Maleficent” hasn’t been widely screened for critics, however, neither has “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” This marks the first weekend of summer in which both of the debuting films come in without most of the mainstream critics weighing in.
“A Million Ways to Die in the West” is MacFarlane’s followup to “Ted,” the raunchy talking teddy tale that took in nearly $550 million globally in 2012. The success of that film — and the prospect of making next summer’s “Ted 2” — made greenlighting the $40 million “Million Ways” an easy decision for Universal and MRC Capital.
Westerns aren’t as popular as they once were, but there have been some hits of late, including “Django Unchained,” “True Grit” and the animated “Rango.” None of those were what you’d call traditional Westerns, and the R-rated “Million Ways” isn’t either.
The one-time Oscar host and “Family Guy” creator MacFarlane directed and wrote (with partners Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin) “Million Ways,” which co-stars Charlize Theron, Sarah Silverman, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfriend and Neil Patrick Harris.
Tracking has been in the same $20 million-$25 million range for weeks. The social media signs are trending up, but its Twitter and Facebook numbers were trailing those of another R-rated Universal comedy, “Neighbors,” three days before its release. “Million Ways” will be in 3,152 locations in North America and 22 foreign markets as of Friday.
“Maleficent” will be in 3,948 theaters, the majority 3D, in North America, and debut in more than 46 countries, representing about 75 percent of its eventual international rollout. It will open in China on June 20 and in Japan on July 4.