Just week's before the opening of his 3-D extravaganza Alice in Wonderland, director Tim Burton sat on the balcony of a Los Angeles hotel with the film's Mad Hatter, Johnny Depp, looking like he'd just been pulled out of a long, dark rabbit hole. ''This whole process is like childbirth you forget from one movie to the next how bad it is,'' he said. With Avatar stoking moviegoers' appetite for 3-D spectacles, anticipation for Alice was high, but Burton wasn't ready to start counting any box office chickens. ''I think people talk too much about that kind of stuff,'' he groused.
Sorry, Tim. In the wake of Alice's astonishing $116 million opening weekend haul, there's going to be a lot more of that kind of talk. Despite mixed reviews from critics, moviegoers of all ages went mad for Alice, driving the film far past The Passion of the Christ's $83 million record for the biggest opening of a film in the first quarter of the year. ''We created a cultural phenomenon,'' marvels Disney distribution president Chuck Viane. ''You combine Tim, Johnny, and the great history of Alice, and here you are with a megahit.'' But there was a fourth key ingredient to Alice's success: 3-D. Upwards of $80 million of Alice's weekend grosses came from more expensive 3-D tickets, besting Avatar's $55 million opening 3-D haul (out of $77 million total for its first weekend). With these two very different back-to-back smashes one featuring blue aliens, the other based on a literary classic the question now is whether the movie business has passed through the 3-D looking glass for good.
With two more major 3-D releases the animated How to Train Your Dragon and the fantasy epic Clash of the Titans hitting theaters in the next few weeks, and the first 3-D TVs coming onto the market this spring, it sure looks that way. ''Everywhere you look, people are capitalizing on the convergence of 3-D content and 3-D technology,'' says IMAX president Greg Foster. ''You can feel the energy this is bringing to the industry.'' If anything, it's bringing too much energy. There simply aren't enough screens yet for all the 3-D movies coming down the pipeline; Dragon, which opens March 26, is already breathing fire down Alice's neck.
Still, you can be sure Disney execs are considering returning Alice to Wonderland for another 3-D adventure say, Alice 2: The Mad Hatter's Revenge? Depp, for one, seems game. ''Is that like Montezuma's revenge?'' he says, laughing. ''I'd love to put the orange wig back on again.'' (Additional reporting by Nicole Sperling)