Box Office Wrapup: Pirates Sails to Huge Debut

by | May 24, 2011 | Comments

Johnny Depp and his jolly pals seized control of the North American box office with the adventure tentpole Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides which registered the year’s biggest opening while internationally the latest Captain Jack saga commanded much more power smashing records with the largest overseas opening of all-time. Most holdovers suffered large drops, however the hit comedy Bridesmaids took advantage of sensational buzz to post a fantastic hold putting it on track to break the $100M mark.


Disney scored its first number one hit of the year with the fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean series which opened with an estimated $90.1M from an ultrawide launch in 4,155 theaters for a mighty $21,685 average. The PG-13 pic was the first in the franchise to be presented in 3D and the grosses were also helped by a record launch in 256 IMAX locations which charged as much as $20 per ticket. Opening on the lower end of industry expectations, Tides enjoyed the biggest opening of 2011 beating the $86.2M of last month’s Fast Five which was only in 2D but did include IMAX sales. But moviegoers were cautious with their dollars as less than half of the Tides weekend gross came from 3D screens with more opting for the 2D version.


The Tides bow was down 22% from the $114.7M debut of the last installment, At World’s End. But that figure was part of the long Memorial Day holiday session and the film was the cliffhanger finale after 2006’s massively successful Dead Man’s Chest. Widely disliked by many critics and fans, End prompted many moviegoers to skip the new chapter which also featured a new director in Rob Marshall and new cast members Penélope Cruz and Ian McShane while bringing back fan favorites Geoffrey Rush and Depp who stands to collect one of the largest compensation packages in Hollywood history since ticket buyers would not show up without him. Reviews were mostly negative and a moderate B+ CinemaScore grade suggests that the road ahead should be on par with what tentpole sequels normally see.


Starting out the weekend, Friday took in $35M including $4.7M from Thursday night’s post-midnight shows. Saturday dipped by only 8% to $32M – good for a poorly-reviewed fourth chapter of an action series – and Sunday is estimated to drop by only 28% to $23.1M.


What Tides lost out on domestically, it more than made up for in international waters which have always been friendly to this franchise. Since attacking its first wave of markets on Wednesday, the new Pirates grossed a stunning $256.3M over five days overseas setting a new all-time record by beating the five-day $236M launch of 2009’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. 3D and IMAX certainly helped as did several star-studded red carpet premieres in Cannes, London, Madrid, Munich, and most importantly Moscow. Russia, which is fast becoming one of Hollywood’s most important overseas markets, led all international territories with an eye-popping $28.6M over five days (an all-time industry record) which already is more than what the last Pirates did there during the entire life of its run. Look for more action tentpoles to plan premieres in the Russian capital.


Another emerging market that was red hot was China where Tides opened to a robust $20M in three days which again is already better than the local lifetime take of the last Pirates which co-starred Chow Yun-Fat. Russia and China delivered the top two overseas openings for Tides beating out the usual big three – Japan, Germany, and the U.K. – which contributed $18-20M each during their respective debut periods. Significant film industry growth in Russia and China since 2007 when the last Captain Jack flick opened is now being taken advantage of.


Globally, Tides hauled in a massive $346.4M since Wednesday making it the fourth largest worldwide launch of any film behind Half-Blood Prince ($394M) and the 2007 threequels Spider-Man 3 ($381.6M), and At World’s End ($357.2M). It should be noted that these figures include openings on different days in different countries so they are not for the exact same time periods.


Clearly, Disney was looking at the world and not specifically the U.S. when developing and marketing On Stranger Tides. The first three Pirates saw an increasing share of the global gross come from overseas from the 53% of Curse of the Black Pearl, to the 60% of Dead Man’s Chest, to the 68% of At World’s End. Tides, which cost a reported $250M to produce, will likely see more than 70% of its worldwide haul come from outside North America and another global tally north of $900M could certainly result.


The wedding comedy Bridesmaids officially became a sleeper hit thanks to its incredible second weekend hold. Kristin Wiig’s raunchy R-rated pic dipped by only 20% and collected an estimated $21.1M lifting Universal’s ten-day tally to a robust $59.5M. The sophomore gross was more than what most expected from the first weekend. The decline was less than those seen by past leggy R-rated comedies like Wedding Crashers (24%), The 40-Year-Old Virgin (24%), and The Hangover (27%). Instead, the Bridesmaids drop was identical to the decline seen by 2003’s Old School which made 49% of its overall total in the first ten days, though it was earlier in the year when college students were in school during weekdays. The Wiig pic has the benefit of having a major holiday next weekend so it could be on course to finish with at least $125M giving Universal its third $100M+ grosser in two months after Hop and Fast Five.


Rival action films fell sharply against Pirates which stole away numerous 3D and IMAX screens. Paramount’s Thor dropped 55% in its third frame to an estimated $15.5M giving the super hero saga $145.4M in 17 days. The street racing sequel Fast Five raced past the $500M worldwide mark this weekend thanks to terrific business overseas. Domestically, the Universal hit grossed an estimated $10.6M, down 48%, pushing the 24-day sum to $186.2M. Overseas markets kicked in an additional $25M this weekend putting the offshore tally at $320M bumping the global gross to a stellar $506.2M.


Finishing in fifth was the 3D toon Rio with an estimated $4.7M, down 44%, for a $131.6M total for Fox. Sony’s supernatural thriller Priest collapsed in its second weekend tumbling 69% to an estimated $4.6M giving the vampire pic $23.7M in ten days. A $30M final seems likely.


A two-pack of wedding comedies followed. Off 48%, Jumping the Broom grossed an estimated $3.7M for Sony while Something Borrowed fell 50% for Warner Bros. Totals are nearly identical after 17 days standing at $31.3M and $31.4M, respectively.


The Fox romance Water for Elephants placed ninth with an estimated $2.2M, down 49%, giving the Reese Witherspoon film $52.4M to date. Rounding out the top ten was Lionsgate’s comedy Madea’s Big Happy Family which dropped 55% to an estimated $1M for $51.8M overall.


Making a spectacular debut in platform release was Woody Allen’s latest romantic comedy Midnight in Paris which opened in the number twelve spot nationwide despite playing in only six theaters. The Sony Classics release collected an estimated $579,000 for a jaw-dropping average of $96,500. Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, and Adrien Brody, the PG-13 film opened only in four New York houses and a pair of Los Angeles sites and earned glowing reviews from critics. All theaters had multiple screens offering up to 20 showtimes daily. Midnight expands to 29 more theaters on Friday for the holiday weekend including markets such as San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston, and Washington D.C.


The top ten films grossed an estimated $156.8M which was up 11% from last year when Shrek Forever After opened in the top spot with $70.8M; but down 7% from 2009 when Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian debuted at number one with $54.2M over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of the Memorial Day holiday session.

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