Presto boffo! Hollywood's latest trick to conjure up big box-office numbers is to project magic onto the big screen.
James Franco's turn as a magician/"wizard" in Oz the Great and Powerful was just the beginning as the film earned a stupendous $80 million during its debut weekend last week.
On Friday, Steve Carell attempts a similar feat as he stars as a campy Las Vegas performer in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. And on May 31, Dave Franco (James' brother), Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and Woody Harrelson join forces in Now You See Me, in which magicians use their abilities to pull off elaborate heists.
"Magic keeps having these resurgences in film," says illusionist David Copperfield, who consulted on Wonderstone and Now You See Me. "Especially coming from hard times, people need to dream. I think we reach out for escape. And that's how magic survives."
A lead magician character fit perfectly into director Sam Raimi's vision for Oz, a prequel to the beloved 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Making James Franco's Oscar Riggs a slick-talking carnival conjurer from Kansas allowed for a believable transition when the character lands in Oz and has to hold his own with witches.
"If you make him a magician, you sow the seeds that he has the sleight of hand to at least pull off some tricks," says producer Grant Curtis. "This wouldn't have worked if he was an insurance salesman."
There's more magic in the movie pipeline: Johnny Depp is scheduled to produce the magical adventure Mortimer Wintergreen, and Copperfield says his next career step will be to produce magic films.
Meanwhile, audiences are turning out to see things disappear -- in person. Neil Patrick Harris, president of the Academy of Magical Arts society, says the group's Magic Castle headquarters in L.A. saw record crowds over the winter.
"It's a good time to dabble in the magic arts," Harris says. "As much as the movie pendulum shifts from old school to new school, having that sense of wonder through magic will always come back. There's something timeless about magic and the idea of being fooled."
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