By David Mumpower
May 20, 2011
Depp truly capitalized on his ascending popularity with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a project in which he embraced the role previously portrayed by Gene Wilder. Audiences lapped it up to the tune of over $200 million in domestic revenue. And after he did the matched pair of Pirates sequels, he found another pair of projects that matched his quirky sensibilities in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Public Enemies. Even a Depp character who fed people other people or murderously robbed banks did not dissuade consumers who had previously ignored Depp’s body of work.
Post-Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp could do no wrong, which is why audiences rushed out to see Alice in Wonderland, a kindred spirit to his prior work on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That project became a billion dollar global earner, one of only six titles in the history of the industry to accomplish this feat. It was Depp’s second film to do so. Peter Jackson cannot claim such a feat nor can Christopher Nolan. Yet. This is the exclusive company Johnny Depp keeps in the wake of Pirates of the Caribbean. He is in the rarefied box office air that only one other film artist, James Cameron, inhabits. When you are keeping box office company with James Cameron, your career is going well.
Circling the discussion back to Pirates of the Caribbean as a franchise, here is what we may chronicle. In July of 2006, Dead Man’s Chest, the sequel to The Curse of the Black Pearl, did the impossible (thereby making it mighty). That movie shattered Spider-Man’s existing opening weekend box office record of $114.8 million with a debut of $135.6 million. It didn’t just break the record but surpassed it by a massive 18%. In baseball parlance, this is the equivalent of not only matching Joe Dimaggio’s record 56-game hitting streak but also continuing for another 10 games. In the NBA parlance, you would be upstaging Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game by 18 points (i.e. half a dozen more three pointers). If you don’t follow sports, take my word here. That’s good.
Dead Man’s Chest went on to earn $1.07 billion worldwide, the third largest total in the history of the industry up until that moment. Only Avatar has surpassed this amount in the five years that have followed. The second Pirates film exceeded the global take of its predecessor by an almost incomprehensible $400 million, i.e. roughly $100 million more than The Curse of the Black Pearl earned in domestic box office.
Whereas Dead Man’s Chest coasted off the popularity of Black Pearl, At World’s End had a more difficult sales pitch. While I think the movie is a masterpiece, a lot of consumers were let down by Dead Man’s Chest. I don’t mean a lot, mind you, but it was enough to dampen their enthusiasm for another Pirates film so soon afterward.
Upon its release 10 months after its predecessor, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End debuted to $128.0 million, $13.2 million of it coming from midnight sneaks. Even if we do not adjust for inflation, it’s obvious that this is a bit worse than Dead Man’s Chest. I should note that this was Memorial Day weekend; if we include Monday box office, the two most recent Pirates movies both wound up around $153 million during their first four days of domestic release.