By David Mumpower
May 20, 2011
Where we can see the difference is after opening weekend. Dead Man’s Chest earned another $270 million, $35 million more than The Curse of the Black Pearl, despite the fact that it earned so much more on opening weekend. At World’s End managed only $156 million after its holiday four-day total, by far the worst performance of the three and really not a lot more than Pearl Harbor’s $120 million. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End simply did not live up to the hype.
Over the course of the past four years, we had all been operating under the assumption that the ending spelled out after the credits in At World’s End would guarantee a cooling off period for the franchise. Lead actors Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s characters were caught in a strange supernatural hoodoo that made him unavailable for land-based activities. Alas, we live in a box office era wherein franchise sequels are the safest plays in the industry. Even if North American/global audiences were not beating down Disney’s doors demanding a sequel, Disney’s numbers crunchers, especially the finest in our industry, soon to retire industry icon Chuck Viane, recognized that a franchise whose worst performer earned $660 million globally cannot sit on the shelf too long. If even a disappointment such as At World’s End is capable of a $960 million worldwide take, Disney has to be in the business of making another Pirates movie. So, here we are.
Jack Sparrow has been untethered from honorable Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. He can now explore the world without having his unique brand of situational ethics challenged by pesky do-gooders. He also gets to flirt with new Pirates player Penelope Cruz, which means we could be seeing a bit of the saucy flair of The Mask of Zorro added to the mix. This would be a welcome turn of events as for all of his novel characteristics, Jack Sparrow has been largely asexual thus far other than a stray slap here or there.
In terms of box office, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides has plenty of reasons for a downturn in box office. Its predecessor was not well regarded and there were signs of franchise slippage prior to that. No one was begging for another Pirates film. Two of three leads do not return for this project and the new edition, while breathtakingly gorgeous, has never been a box office draw. The commercials to date offer the promise of Jack Sparrow and little else unless you happen to be a mermaid fetishist (and if you are, please keep it to yourself).
This is a blueprint example of a movie marketed on name recognition and franchise reputation. Given the popularity of Depp, I do not expect this movie to bomb yet I cannot say that I believe it will earn $300 million domestically, either. On Stranger Tides should debut to roughly $88 million while becoming the worst performer in the series in terms of domestic box office. It should still manage to become the third Pirates film to earn $900 million globally, however, which is a tremendous result for a $200 million budget outlay.