Weekend Wrap-Up

Pirates 4 Jumps the Box Office Shark

By John Hamann

May 22, 2011

Disney isn't going to let us go until we agree to do more movies, are they?

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The lone opener this weekend was Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and one didn't have to be writing this column for the last ten years to know this series was slipping. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley sailed off into oblivion at the end of the third film, as did director Gore Verbinski, leaving Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow alone to guide the franchise. The last Pirates film took in $114.7 million over three days, a number we knew this outing was going to struggle to beat. Struggle it did, and I think I can hear Captain Jack whispering: “There be sharks in these here waters, and they look good for jumpin'”.

Our number one movie this weekend is obviously Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, but the result is not as good as some were expecting. On Stranger Tides earned a solid (at least compared to non-Pirates films) $90.1 million from a massive 4,155 venues, giving it a strong venue average of $21,685. The good news for the franchise wraps right about there. The last film, At World's End, earned $114 million over the traditional Friday-Sunday portion of the weekend, but amassed a ridiculous $153 million over its first four days (that number also includes Thursday previews). That means On Stranger Tides came in about $30 million short of its predecessor. The second film, Dead Man's Chest, earned $135.6 million over its first three days, so On Stranger Tides is about $50 million short of that debut. The shine appears to be coming off the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, as not only are the financials coming down, so are the critical notices, and potentially word-of-mouth.


The first Pirates of the Caribbean film, Curse of the Black Pearl, was that proverbial diamond in the rough – a critical and audience success that translated into big business for the studio. Johnny Depp became a superstar with Curse of the Black Pearl, as both critics and audiences loved his Captain Jack Sparrow – enough to turn an overlong, effects-filled romp into a 78% fresh critical success. Black Pearl earned $655 million domestically, and didn't drop more than 40% at domestic cinemas until weekend 22. In fact, it was out for 152 days before having an "average" weekend drop. The next two Pirate films combined for a little over $2 billion – yes billion – worldwide, despite critics being less enamored. The second film came in at 54% fresh (top critics were 41%), and the third at 45% (top critics, 35%). Four years later, and critics weren't feeling a rush of forgiveness for On Stranger Tides. Of the 191 reviews counted, only 65 found something to like, giving this one a rating of only 35%. With these numbers, one would think audiences may tire of getting beat with a stick.

Obviously they haven't. Even this lesser debut puts Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in the top 15 of all time May openers, but the fact that Fast Five opened to almost this much a few weeks ago has to put pause in the heads of Disney execs that are pushing for a fifth Pirates film. These things are certainly not cheap to make – On Stranger Tides is reported to have cost $250 million to make, a number this one will struggle to earn on the domestic side. However, Pirates 4 was not made for domestic audiences, because international box office will be where the money is. Depp is huge internationally, and is joined by Penelope Cruz this time out, and she's no slouch in the international box office world. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, for which she won an Oscar, earned only $23 million stateside, but went on to earn another $55 million internationally. All About my Mother earned $8 million in North America and $60 million overseas.

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