Turning the box office emerald green for St. Patrick’s Day, Oz the Great and Powerful continued to roar like a crowd-pleasing lion. The pricey prequel to MGM’s 1939 classic musical The Wizard of Oz will finish No. 1 at North American theaters this weekend, well ahead of two more modest new films with vastly different trajectories. The Call, starring Halle Berry as a 911 operator trying to prevent an old nemesis from killing a young hostage, exceeded expectations with $17.1 million for second place. And The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a comedy about dueling magicians with veteran funnymen Steve Carell and Jim Carrey, pratfalled to a humiliating $10.3 million — just one-third of what it cost to make.
(READ: Corliss’s review of Oz the Great and Powerful)
Disney’s Oz, directed by Sam Raimi and starring James Franco as the con-man turned wizard, took in $42.2 million, according to preliminary studio estimates. After 10 days, Oz has earned $145 million and remains the third highest-grossing movie ever released in March, following last year’s The Hunger Games, which reached that mark in the middle of its third day of release, and Disney’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland, which passed $145 million after seven days. Oz has already gleaned $136.8 million abroad, and will need to pump up its foreign grosses to match Alice and become the 16th movie to earn $1 billion worldwide — or to join the even more exclusive Billion Dollar Prequel Club, whose only members at the moment are Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
(SEE: TIME’s Top 10 Unexpectedly Satisfying Movie Prequels)
The happy surprise for Hollywood this weekend was the turnout for the Halle Berry nail-biter. A lovely ornament in popular franchises (the X-Men trilogy, the 2002 James Bond entry Die Another Day), Berry has rarely hit it big in a movie where she’s top-billed. The closest would be the $60-million domestic gross for her 2003 psychological-terror film Gothika; the 2004 Catwoman, which tallied $40.2 million, cost $100 million to produce and was considered an expensive flop. But The Call budgeted at a thrifty $13 million, lured three reliable demographics: females (61% of the weekend audience), older viewers (53% over 30 years of age) and African-Americans. The favorable B-plus rating from early audiences, as polled by the CinemaScore research firm, indicates that the movie could get many more callbacks in the coming weeks.
(SEE: Halle Berry and Other Celebrities in Their High-School Prom Photos)
The movie also has a shot at registering the second best opening weekend for any of this year’s star-encrusted R-rated thrillers, after the $24.8 million for Bruce Willis’s A Good Day to Die Hard, which cost nearly $80 million more to produce. When the final figures are issued Monday, The Call may have topped the $17.07-million opening for Gangster Squad, headlined by Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Sean Penn. Berry is sure to have defeated Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe in Broken City ($8.3 million first weekend), Jason Statham in Parker ($7 million), Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand ($6.3 million), Colin Farrell in Dead Man Down ($5.3 million) and Sylvester Stallone in Bullet to the Head ($4.5 million).
[MONDAY UPDATE: According to the "actual" weekend grosses issued this afternoon, Oz the Great and Powerful earned $41.25 million — more than 2% below the Sunday estimate, but still a wonderful figure. The Call held steady at $17.1 million, to retain bragging rights as the year's best opening gross for an R-rated star-vehicle thriller not featuring Bruce Willis. (And if you're wondering why we keep alluding to "stars" in this genre, it's because Texas Chainsaw 3D, an R-rated thriller with no movie heavyweights in its cast, opened to $21.7 million in early January.) The Incredible Burt Wonderstone finished at $10.2 million. All other films in the top 10 were within $100,000 of their predicted totals.]
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One goes up; one goes down. Carell, since his breakout role in The 40 Year Old Virgin, has fashioned a strong career in mainstream comedy crowd-pleasers (Evan Almighty, Get Smart, Date Night, Dinner for Schmucks), animated features (Over the Hedge, Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!, Despicable Me) and overachieving indie fare (Little Miss Sunshine, Dan in Real Life). But Burt Wonderstone’s live-action tandem of Carrel and his Horton co-star Carrey enticed hardly anyone. And applying the conventions of a Will Ferrell sports comedy to the Las Vegas magic-act scene was just too inside for most audiences. The movie, which cost $32 million and played in 600 more theaters than The Call, finished nearly $7 million behind the Halle Berry film. And those who saw the Carell-Carrey comedy didn’t like it: a sad C-plus CinemaScore from the youngish attendees (44% under the age of 25). For Carell, it might be his Worst Blunderstone.
(READ: Mary Pols’ review of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone)
…But not quite the worst for its studio, Warner Bros. — just another failed 2013 release. Warners had much to boast about in the last months of 2012: Argo won the Best Picture Oscar, and The Hobbit launched its journey to $1 billion in worldwide gross. But the new year has been close to calamitous. Beautiful Creatures ($19.1 million so far) and Bullet to the Head (an egregious $9.5 million) are outright flops; Gangster Squad ($45.9 million) severely underperformed; and Jack the Giant Slayer ($53.9 million in its first four weeks) was saddled with a nearly $200-million production budget that makes break-even a pipe dream. Warners has to hope it can recoup in the coming months, with a third Hangover movie, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby and the superman reboot Man of Steel.
(READ: Nolan Feeney’s Q&A with Burt Wonderstone star Steve Carell)
Down in Indieville, the Japanese anime feature From Up on Poppy Hill enjoyed a fragrant debut: $55,000 on two screens. Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa, with Elle Fanning and Alice Engirt as teen friends in London 1962, amassed a solid $45,000 in three venues. The sci-fi romance Upside Down, starring Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess, managed only $28,300 at 11 theaters. And Reality, a TV-reality-show satire from Italian director Massimo Garrone, acclaimed for his Mafia expose Gomorrah, went home with a meager $8,000 in its one-theater stint.
In indie films or Hollywood epics, this weekend’s magic man was James Franco. Oz’s success startles no one, but the opening gross for his Spring Breakers is a jaw-dropper. Again he plays a goofy Alpha male with a glamorous female posse — teen-TV refugees Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson replacing Oz’s Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz— but this time Franco is a Tampa drug-dealing gangsta. Spring Breakers scored the year’s highest limited opening: $270,000 in three theaters, a golden sum that is likely to top the total grosses for any of director Harmony Korine’s previous films (Gummo, Julian Donkey-Boy, Mister Lonely and Trash Humpers).
(READ: Corliss’s review of Spring Breakers)
Will Spring Breakers explode into mass-market popularity when it expands to several hundred theaters this Friday? Only the Wizard knows.
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Oz the Great and Powerful, $42.2 million; $145 million, second week
2. The Call, $17.1 million, first weekend
3. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, $10.3 million, first weekend
4. Jack the Giant Slayer, $6.2 million; $53.9 million, third week
5. Identity Thief, $4.5 million; $123.7 million, sixth week
6. Snitch, $3.5 million; $37.3 million, fourth week
7. 21 and Over, $2.62 million; $21.9 million, third week
8. Silver Linings Playbook, $2.59 million; $124.6 million, 18th week
9. Safe Haven, $2.5 million; $67 million, fifth week
10. Escape from Planet Earth, $2.3 million; $52.2 million; fifth week