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'Alice in Wonderland' may have the last grin

Walt Disney's 3-D version, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, is headed for one of the biggest winter debuts ever.

March 05, 2010|By Ben Fritz

Alice is likely to find a huge pot of box-office gold at the bottom of the rabbit hole this weekend.

Walt Disney Studios' 3-D version of "Alice in Wonderland," directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, is headed for one of the biggest winter debuts ever, people who have seen prerelease surveys of potential moviegoers say.

The record holder is director Mel Gibson's 2004 release, "The Passion of the Christ," which opened to $83.8 million.

In the U.S. and Canada, "Alice" is on track to sell more than $75 million worth of tickets from Friday through Sunday and, according to some estimates, could exceed $90 million.

"Alice" is also opening in more than 40 foreign markets that Disney believes represent about 60% of its potential international grosses, adding tens of millions more to the movie's take this weekend.

Disney needs a very strong box-office performance to earn a return on its sizable investment in the picture, which two people familiar with its budget said cost about $200 million to make. Additional marketing expenses can drive up the ultimate cost well beyond that.

It's expected to perform particularly well in Britain, the home country of "Alice in Wonderland" author Lewis Carroll, as well as co-stars Helena Bonham Carter, Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman. Burton, Bonham Carter's partner, lives there too.

The build-up to the movie's opening has been contentious, with several theater chains in Europe threatening to keep the movie off their screens after Disney officials announced they would release the DVD version on an accelerated time frame, just three months after it hits theaters. The studio reached a settlement with those exhibitors and resolved similar concerns by AMC Entertainment, one of the biggest U.S. chains.

"Working with our partners on this was worth it," said Disney distribution President Chuck Viane. "We're primed and ready to go now, and it's looking to be an unbelievably good weekend worldwide."

"Alice" -- which has received decidedly mixed reviews -- is generating a strong amount of interest from all audience groups but looks to be particularly popular with girls and young women.

About 2,250 of the 3,278 theaters showing "Alice" domestically will play it in 3-D, with surcharges on ticket prices that should help the movie's bottom line. "Avatar," which has generated blockbuster grosses at 3-D locations for the last three months, is holding on to 661 3-D locations. It will be sharing many multiplexes that have multiple 3-D screens with "Alice."

However, all 188 of the nation's Imax screens are dropping "Avatar" for "Alice" in 3-D.

Overseas, Disney estimates that about half the theaters showing "Alice" will do so in 3-D.

The Sunday telecast of the Academy Awards may take a chunk out of the business "Alice in Wonderland" might normally do because the Oscars are one of TV's most watched events.

However, with many U.S. schools starting spring break next week, weekday grosses should be unusually high for the PG-rated picture.

The only other movie opening this weekend is Overture Films' action film "Brooklyn's Finest," starring Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke and Wesley Snipes. Overture bought domestic distribution rights to the picture for about $2.5 million. It is expected to open to about $10 million.

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