Could competing new ‘Oz’ projects push ‘Wicked’ to the big screen?

03.14.10 8 years ago 4 Comments

Universal Pictures

The most intriguing result of the massive success of “Alice in Wonderland” is the ripple effect it’s had on other projects in Hollywood.  The movie industry is ruled by trends and after “Alice” and “Avatar’s” success, 3-D four-quadrant visual extravaganzas are a priority for every studio in town.  One classic tale with cues to “Alice” that two companies are already jumping on is none other than “The Wizard of Oz. “

Just a decade ago it would have been blasphemy to suggest remaking an “Oz” similar in tone and title to the 1939 Judy Garland classic.  Sure, there was the African-American musical “The Wiz” (which bombed in theaters) and 1985’s “Return to Oz” (another bomb), but no one has truly remade the signature L. Frank Baum story onscreen.  That may soon change as both Disney and Warner Bros. have numerous “Oz” projects at their disposal.

As reported by the LA Times, Warner Bros. has “Oz” in development from “Twilight” producers Temple Hill with a script from the screenwriter of “Shrek Forever After.”  The WB’s second “Wizard” flick is a more modern tale that centers on the granddaughter of Dorothy who returns to fight evil in Oz. That project has “Clash of the Titans” producer Basil Iwanyk and possibly “Spawn” creator Todd MacFarlane involved so you know it will be much, much darker than any “Oz” we’ve seen before.  However, with “Harry Potter” about to finish its decade plus run, a new “Oz” franchise might be a perfect replacement on WB’s always busy slate.  And, obviously, it’s perfect 3-D material in the hands of the right director.

Disney, on the other hand, may actually be further along. “Alice” producer Joe Roth has been developing “Brick,” a new feature that would take the point of view of the Wizard and explain how he came to sit behind the Emerald City’s magic curtain.  This would be a re-imagination of many of Baum’s “Oz” storylines as the script begins with the Wizard as a con man in a traveling circus who goes on a similar adventure as Dorothy bizarrely ending up in Oz.  Unlike Warner Bros.’ projects, however, Disney and Roth are moving forward quickly with “Brick” and are already considering directors.

These are all intriguing ideas, but if any of them go into production quickly they may kill one big screen flick a massive fanbase has been waiting on pins and needles to see for over seven years: “Wicked.”

The Broadway musical sensation that tells the story of “Oz” from the Wicked Witch of the West’s point of view, the Stephen Schwartz musical has received mixed reviews wherever it has opened, but it’s also grown a legion of passionate fans across the world. To this day, “Wicked” is still one of the top grossers on Broadway since opening in 2003 and it has numerous satellite productions around the globe making it a massive financial success for all involved.  So much so that it’s no secret Universal Pictures, who had a stake in the original Broadway show, would love to put this funny and modern take on “Oz” up on the big screen.  Unfortunately, producer Marc Platt has insisted on a slow approach and currently, there is no effective timeline for getting “Wicked” into theaters.  And that’s a problem.

If Disney and or Warner Bros. get a new version of “Oz” up an going before “Wicked” it could severely diminish the chances of Universal going forward with a cinematic incarnation anytime soon.  On one hand, Hollywood has a long track record of having films with the same subject matter either cannibalizing each others audiences (see “Dante’s Peak” and “Volcano”) or the second film being passed over by audiences (see 2006’s underrated “Infamous” waiting a year to bomb after “Capote” was released).  The rare occurrence where it has worked out for both films was in the summer of 1998 when both “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon” managed to became hits at the box office.  Therefore, if any competing “Oz” film (or it’s sequels) played out in cinemas Universal would want to certainly wait quite awhile before greenlighting a “Wicked ” flick.  Unfortunately, history has also shown that tactic hasn’t been good for movie musicals.

If you look at the modern day big screen musicals from Broadway that have bombed at the movie theater — “Rent,” “The Producers,” “Nine” and, to a point, “Phantom of the Opera” — they all hit the screen when their stage life cycles were almost over or completely dead.  This is because the stage producers usually want to eke out as much money as possible before going to a movie version as to not affect their stage grosses.  Now, taking “The Producers” out of the equation (it had a lot more issues than the other four), “Rent,” “Nine” and “Phantom” were well past any cultural significance (i.e., heat) when their movie versions hit the screen.  The quintessential 90s story “Rent” was made ten years too late, “Nine” should have come out within a few years of the acclaimed revival when stage star Antonio Banderas still had a movie career and easily would have made the film work onscreen (Platt has first hand knowledge of “Nine’s” problems as a producer on the project). And while “Phantom” made a fine $51 million domestically in 2004, it easily could have made double that if it had come out in the early or mid 90s.  Competition from “Oz” films aside, “Wicked” is close to the tipping point that doomed these previous movie musicals.

So, the question becomes, will all this industry buzz around competing “Wizard of Oz” projects kick start Platt to get a movie version of “Wicked” into gear or is a feature film still years away from happening?  One thing’s for sure, all involved are certainly reconsidering their positions sooner rather than later.

For the latest Entertainment News and Analysis, follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory.

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