Multiplexes are stocking up on popcorn, soda, and overpriced candy in anticipation of record crowds that could make this Memorial Day holiday frame the biggest weekend in box office history.
Leading the charge will be the Johnny Depp-anchored megaflick "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End," the followup to last year’s number one hit and the third biggest global grosser of all-time. Ashley Judd is set to take in a little less cash with the long weekend’s other new nationwide release, the horror film "Bug." And with holdovers like "Shrek the Third" in its second round and "Spider-Man 3" in its fourth spin, the North American box office will expand greatly as moviegoers may just spend all their free time at the local moviehouse.
Hysterical anticipation for the return of Captain Jack Sparrow will help Disney become a much richer studio. After the cliffhanger ending of last summer’s "Dead Man’s Chest," "At World’s End" is ready to bring all those fans back once again for another ticket purchase. Its spot at the top of the charts this weekend, and probably next weekend too, is guaranteed so the real question is will the new "Pirates" film break the all-time opening weekend record set just three weeks ago by "Spider-Man 3"?
If the ultimate answer ends up being no, that won’t necessarily be a bad thing or anything to be disappointed by. "At World’s End" is having a different type of debut so it will not be an apples-to-apples comparison. Firstly, the new high seas adventure begins its run with 8pm shows on Thursday night which are being aggressively advertised. "Dead Man’s Chest" grossed a scorching $9M from its Thursday night shows which began at midnight so with the earlier time, the treasure chest will be much more full. But the night-before shows will pull millions of dollars of sales from hardcore fans out of the official weekend period of Friday-to-Sunday thus diluting the three-day take. "Spider-Man 3" began with midnight shows on Thursday night so those numbers were all concentrated within the official opening weekend tally.
Also, "At World’s End" will face tremendous competiton, something Spidey did not have to deal with. The rest of the top five is likely to steal away over $80M during the three-day portion of the holiday weekend. For the latest webslinger’s bow, the next four films in the market made less than $16M. And although "Pirates" will secure thousands of screens, it will still enter a box office where close to 15,000 auditoriums will already be booked up with the third servings of "Shrek" and "Spider-Man." It will be tougher for "Pirates" to land that sixth or seventh screen within a megaplex.
But working in Sparrow’s favor is the Monday holiday which will make Sunday perform more like a Saturday which will certainly help its quest for new records. Also overall anticipation for the franchise seems to be higher than it was for Peter Parker. MovieTickets.com reported that advance sales for "At World’s End" is beating both "Spider-Man 3" and "Dead Man’s Chest" at the same point in their sales cycles. Plus "Pirates" has the highest female appeal for any action movie franchise out there which is a key contributor to its immense grosses. This one will bring in everyone and with all Americans having extra time off, there will be plenty of time for people to eventually find a showtime that’s not sold out.
Reviews have been mixed for the latest "Pirates" and its running time with trailers is close to three hours. But the two biggest openings of all-time were also long pics at about two-and-a-half hours in length each without trailers so multiplexes will find a way to dump underperforming titles (and there are plenty to choose from) and make room for Davy Jones and his gang. Friday-to-Monday starts for those smashes were $161.4M for "Spider-Man 3" and $153.8M for "Dead Man’s Chest." Seizing screens in over 4,000 theaters, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End" might open to about $162M over four days and roughly $183M from Thursday to Monday.
The daring folks at Lionsgate will open their own film nationally on Friday challenging the triumvirate of threequels. The horror flick "Bug" stars Ashley Judd as a lonely waitress who thinks that insects (spiders that bite teenage photographers maybe?) are out to get her. The R-rated film will try to court the fright crowd not interested in ahoy matey shenanigans, but will find an incredibly tough time floating in this weekend’s marketplace. There is nothing about "Bug" that tells fans that they should pay top dollar now instead of renting the DVD a mere three months down the road. Judd’s starpower has been on the decline for years. She’s not that hot star from "Double Jeopardy" anymore. And marketing the film as being from the director of "The Exorcist" will do little as well. Opening in 1,661 theaters, "Bug" might crawl to about $6M over four days.
Dropping to the runnerup spot with what could be one of the largest grosses ever for a second-place film will be the animated blockbuster "Shrek the Third" which is coming off of the third largest debut in box office history. "Shrek 2" had mostly the same release pattern in 2004 and saw its four-day Memorial Day weekend tally dip only 12% from its three-day opening weekend figure. The holiday is one of the busiest times for families at the multiplexes so kidpics typically hold up very well. As the third chapter in the series, audience erosion should be faster for the new ogre film. Plus with "Pirates" set to launch with such astonishing numbers, "Shrek the Third" can’t help but be pushed aside by the competition. Still a 35% drop would give Paramount a stunning $80M over four days and would make the 11-day total skyrocket to $230M.
"Spider-Man 3" will drop another notch to third and should definitely see much of its audience get swiped by Depp and company given how much overlap there is between the audiences for the two franchises. "X2: X-Men United," another Marvel super hero sequel that opened on the first weekend of May, saw its four-day Memorial Day weekend gross drop by only 24% in 2003 when "Bruce Almighty" was the new opener. "Spider-Man 3" has more direct action competition and less fan support so a larger decline is likely. The Venom flick could drop 35% and post a four-day gross of about $19M which would boost the webslinger’s cume to $308M.
LAST YEAR: Mutants were all the rage as "X-Men: The Last Stand" towered over the competition with a record Memorial Day opening of $122.9M over four days. The Fox super hero saga went on to collect $234.4M domestically, making it the third biggest grosser of the summer, and over $455M worldwide. Tom Hanks ranked second with "The Da Vinci Code" which fell sharply but still took in $42.4M over the long holiday weekend for Sony. Paramount followed with the DreamWorks toon "Over the Hedge" with $35.3M in its sophomore round. Action entries "Mission: Impossible III" and "Poseidon" rounded out the top five with $8.9M and $7.1M, respectively.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com