Memorial Day Weekend Tanks at the Box Office.... Again
By John Hamann
May 28, 2017
How many times does Memorial Day have to tank to keep the blockbusters away?
Yes, doom comes to the Memorial Day box office more times than Jason Voorhees goes to Camp Crystal Lake. It happened again this weekend, with expensive openers Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Baywatch not coming close to achieving their collective promise, and once again the summer will have to catch up following Memorial Day failure. It wasn't just the openers. Guardians 2 saw a rough patch this weekend, and Alien: Covenant got nuked from space over its comparable Fridays. The box office did okay over Memorial Day 2015, but that weekend openers Tomorrowland and Poltergeist got bailed out by holdovers Mad Max: Fury Road and Pitch Perfect. The last great Memorial Day weekend was when Furious 6 dominated, as its $97 million opening propelled the top 12 to $249 million over three days.
It was another weekend where the big action blockbuster was bound to win the weekend, but the question again was could it dump memories of a poor performing sequel and treat the audience to what amounts to a greatest hits album. That film is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, a movie that was tarred and feathered by critics and audiences. After the last chapter opened to $90.2 million, had a domestic finish of $241 million and a global take of over a billion dollars, the project somehow still smacked of failure. The problem was, Pirates 4 cost $250 million to make, which would have severely cut into Disney's profits. Still, they made out just fine. The latest Pirates cost $230 million, only $20 million less than the last, which came out six long years ago. So, with that budget and Johnny Depp's stream of crap titles since that release, there was a ton of risk for Pirates 5 leading up to the opening.
Dead Men Tell No Tales got started on Thursday night, with a a not-bad $5.5 million from previews, beating out the full opening day of Baywatch (plus its Wednesday previews) by $1 million. I have to think that Paramount's release strategy was to combine Baywatch's Thursday for the win over Pirates' previews, as they hoped to change the narrative heading into the weekend. It was a good try, but they fell short. That put Pirates into the driver's seat for the weekend, and the Friday combined with Thursday previews came in at $23.4 million, below where Disney had hoped, and the lowest since the original Pirates opened in 2003. We have seen domestic debuts suffer while international grosses grow, and in this case, North American audiences didn't want to see the same thing for a fifth time. People have also grown tired of Johnny Depp. Thirteen years is a long road for a franchise like this, as the kids aren't buying in like they used to.
The weekend total for Dead Men Tell No Tales came in at $62.2 million, the lowest since the original's $46.6 million (but it earned $70 million plus over its first five days, having opened on a Wednesday). The difference is that Part 5 opened on 1,000 more screens (4,276) than the original 3,269). The opening is the same ballpark as the franchise withering X-Men: Apocalypse, which seemed lost against a group of much better X-Men films. The fourth film aside, Pirates 5 is the same, lost and wandering, only looking to sell lunch boxes and sleeping bags and prop up the Disney bottom line. It is odd that the Mouse House can have success both critically and economically with Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney Animation releases but have struck rock bottom with the last two releases at least on a critical level (which hurts Disney at home), while the financial side is crumbling.