'Jack the Giant Slayer' facing a giant hurdle at the box office

Nicholas-Hoult-Giant-Slayer

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

In 2010, rival studios watched with envy as Disney’s Alice in Wonderland earned more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office. Before long, a new wave of fairy-tale adaptations got the green light, but of the resulting films, only Snow White and the Huntsman did well, grossing nearly $400 million here and abroad — and even that was considered a mediocre finish given the film’s $170 million budget. Other fairy tale films, including Red Riding Hood, Mirror Mirror and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, all fizzled. Now, with Jack the Giant Slayer due March 1, there are concerns that the 3-D adventure starring Nicholas Hoult and Ewan McGregor may be facing an up-stalk climb of its own.

The movie, which will be distributed by Warner Bros, was financed for $185 million, according to its production house, New Line, though rumors persist that its budget actually ballooned to at least $200 million due to costly reshoots. (New Line and Warner Bros. — which like Entertainment Weekly, are owned by Time Warner — did not make anyone available for further comment.)

Directed by Bryan Singer, Jack was originally scheduled for a June 2012 release, but Warner Bros. pushed the opening back nine months to fine-tune the special effects and marketing plan. The extra time seems to have paid off creatively: Reactions from early screenings have been fairly positive. Unfortunately, tracking suggests that Jack may open with a soft $25 million. And if it follows the front-loaded trajectory of other March-released fantasy adventures, such as 10,000 BC, Wrath of the Titans, and last year’s costly sci-fi disaster John Carter, it’s likely to finish with less than $75 million total.

One problem may be that audiences don’t know who the movie is targeting. “Is this a family movie in the vein of a Chronicles of Narnia?” says Vincent Bruzzese, president of Worldwide Motion Picture Group, an industry consulting firm. “Or is this an adult-oriented fantasy-action? In order to be successful, it needs to very clearly identify itself lest it fall between the cracks.”

Online chatter for Jack the Giant Slayer has been weak at best, according to Phil Contrino, editor of BoxOffice.com, who says social-media activity surrounding Jack is “disconcertingly low.” According to a report compiled by Contrino, Jack the Giant Slayer has yielded only 1,337 tweets over the past three days. During its equivalent pre-release period, Snow White and the Huntsman had earned 6,098 tweets, almost five times as many. That film opened with $56.2 million in June 2012.

Another issue is Disney’s big-budget fantasy Oz the Great and Powerful, which hits theaters just one week after Jack on March 8. The Sam Raimi-directed tentpole is tracking substantially higher than the beanstalk tale, and currently, it looks likely to open around $70 million. “Oz hits a very wide-spread audience,” says Bruzesse. “The chance that someone is more excited about seeing [Jack the Giant Slayer] on the second weekend than they are about seeing Oz on the first weekend is low.” If Disney’s wicked-witch adventure does end up cannibalizing Jack’s audience, Warner Bros. will need more than just magic beans to achieve the fairy-tale ending it’s hoping for.

In case you haven’t seen the trailer, here’s what about $200 million will get you:

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