Pirates of the Caribbean Washes Up $90 Million in Weekend Debut

Captain Jack Sparrow returned to theaters this weekend in the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth film in Disney’s lucrative franchise powered by Johnny Depp. The only new film in wide release, it easily took over the top spot from last week’s number one flick, the Paramount hit Thor . While the latest Pirates flick made oodles of box office booty, the real surprise of the weekend may have been the excellent hold of Universal’s raunchy female comedy Bridesmaids which held firm in second place. Thanks to those 3D pirates, box office was up a healthy 12% from last year at this time.

It’s been four years since viewers last set sail with Captain Jack (Johnny Depp) and his mates at the local multiplex. And while At World’s End was hardly the memorable conclusion that fans of the series were hoping for (never a good sign when you need a map to navigate a film’s plot), it did earn a spectacular $967 million in global ticket sales. That was more than enough to get Disney thinking of another dose of Captain Jack and his crew.

After an extended sabbatical, Depp and the Captain have returned -alongside a new cast of characters- for more open seas hijinks in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago) and co-starring Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane and Geoffrey Rush, the stand-alone fourth chapter in the successful Jerry Bruckheimer-produced series began its box office raid on Friday in 4,155 theaters (more than half of which were 3D equipped and 256 venues being IMAX 3D) to bring in a sizable $90 million in its first 72 hours.

While that opening tally is an impressive one, it does come with several facts that take away a little bit of its luster. The most obvious one is that the opening for the latest chapter falls short of the previous two entries, neither of which were 3D productions. 2006’s Dead Man’s Chest set sail with $135 million in its first three days and 2007’s At World’s End dug up $114 million it is opener. Given how much money Disney poured into Tides ($250 million for production plus $170 million for global marketing) and the fact that the film had the benefit of 3D and IMAX surcharges, the $90 million estimated opener is a clear indication that interest in the series, at least in North America, is clearly on the wane. Critical response was mutinous for the new film, garnering a rancid 38% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes.

The same cannot be said about the international market where Hollywood really looks to for movies such as these to make the most money. The film’s five-day international debut was an incredible $256 million. Add to this the domestic haul and you are looking at an opening for On Stranger Tides to be a head-spinning $346 million. The overseas haul set a record for biggest international opening for a motion picture ever, besting Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ($236 million), Spider-Man 3 ($230.5 million) and At World’s End ($216 million). Even if North American audiences are growing tired of Jack’s antics, people in other parts of the world apparently are not.

The return of Pirates of the Caribbean may have grabbed all the movie industry headlines, but equally as impressive was the hold displayed by Universals’ raunchy R-rated comedy Bridesmaids which almost duplicated its opening three-day haul this weekend. The end result of great word-of-mouth, the Kristen Wiig-headliner showed great legs by sliding a mere 19.8% to bring in $21 million from 2,937 screens. Its ten-day total is now a robust $59.5 million.

Bridesmaids pushed aside Thor during mid-week business to reside at the number one spot heading into the weekend. If word continues to be strong, it could see its final gross approach the 2007 haul of another raunchy Universal R-rated comedy, Knocked Up, which earned a solid $148 million at the North American box office. One thing is for certain: Bridesmaids will cross the $100 million mark by the end of the first week of June.

Thanks to the arrival of Captain Jack and his 3D adventures, the God of Thunder took a big hit in his third round by losing approximately 55% of his audience. Still, Paramount/Marvel’s Thor continued to hang in there, earning an additional $15.5 million from 3,924 screens to bring its domestic total to $145.5 million. The hit is still on course to finish with $170-175 million in domestic sales. Overseas, Thor has earned $250 million thus far.

Refusing to go away quietly, Universal’s action smash Fast Five eased 48% in its fourth round to add $10.1 million to its cumulative total which now stands at a huge $187 million. With $300 million in overseas grosses likely and the $200 million domestic threshold in sight, Fast Five will easily race by the half-billion dollar mark. Given that the fifth film in the series has been the most popular of the eleven-year old franchise, perhaps Jerry Bruckheimer should consider hiring Justin Lin to direct the fifth Pirates movie (come on, you know there’s one in the works already).

Fox’s animated comedy Rio continued to fly around the top ten after six weeks of release. Still on 2,593 screens, it added $4.7 million to land in fifth place while bringing its domestic total to the $132 million mark. Rio will finish between $140-145 million. In sixth place after dropping a disastrous 69% from its opening a week ago was Screen Gems’ 3D dud Priest. Clinging to 2,864 screens (many of which are 3D) the Paul Bettany-starrer added $4.6 million to its coffers which now stands at a meek $24 million after ten days. The film should head off to the home video afterlife with approximately $32-35 million.

Seventh place went to Sony’s African-American comedy Jumping the Broom which lost 48% in sales in its third round. It earned an estimated $3.7 million to bring its total to the $31 million mark. Broom should also close near the $40 million mark. Eighth place went to Warner’s romantic comedy Something Borrowed which lost 50% of its previous-week’s audience to bring in an estimated $3.4 million. After three weeks, the movie has earned $32 million so far and might make it to the $38 million mark.

Rounding out the top ten were two moderate-sized spring hits. Fox’s romantic drama Water For Elephants was in ninth place. Dropping 49%, the Reese Witherspoon drama added $2.1 million to its total, which now stands at $52 million. In tenth was Lionsgate’s Tyler Perry comedy Madea’s Big Happy Family. Off 55%, the hit added $990,000 (off 55%) to its total of $51.7 million.

On Thursday, Jack Sparrow faces some stiff competition from two highly-anticipated debuts: Warner’s comedy sequel The Hangover Part II and Paramount/Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda 2.

– Shawn Fitzgerald

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