1. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – $83.4 million (NEW)
2. Bridesmaids - $20.3 million (-23.8%)
3. Thor – $16.5 million (-52.4%)
4. Fast Five – $11.0 million (-46.2%)
5. Priest – $6.0 million (-59.9%)
6. Rio – $4.5 million (-45.6%)
7. Something Borrowed – $4.1 million (-40.3%)
8. Jumping the Broom – $3.1 million (-56.1%)
9. Water for Elephants - $2.4 million (-42.9%)
10. Soul Surfer - $1.1 million (-39.8%)
11. Madea’s Big Happy Fam. - $1.0 million (-54.8%)
After a four-year break in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise that followed what seemed to be the conclusion of the franchise, Disney and Johnny Depp return this weekend to help continue a summer box office streak that has so far started to alleviate some of the slump we endured for the last year. With Fast Five and Thor both breaking out to solid word of mouth, and now Bridesmaids keeping the female audience more than busy as it posts some great daily holds (Wednesday’s gross retained over 11% of its opening weekend — a good 5 to 6% higher than average), it could make Disney’s expectations of $90-100 million this weekend look a bit optimistic. Hit the jump for my breakdown…
Three years ago, At World’s End put a cap on the Pirates trilogy when it opened over a four-day Memorial Day weekend to a similar number of ticket sales as its predecessor sequel achieved in three days the summer before. AWE went on to decrease in home video sales by about 15% after its legs at the box office crumbled, resulting in a $309 million domestic gross that was off nearly (-30%) in both gross and ticket sales from Dead Man’s Chest. Word of mouth with moviegoers was generally lukewarm in light of many complaints that the film was too bloated and lacked a coherent direction with its numerous twists.
Where do we stand now? The marketing campaign has been somewhat lackluster in its presentation with trailers that failed to excite the fan base at large. They don’t seem to be exciting the general public either with tracking figures showing this new entry as having less upfront and definite interest than next week’s new release, The Hangover Part II. For a franchise that once broke the opening weekend record and has set more than a few milestones at the box office, that’s a pretty discouraging sign. Intensifying that is the relatively low buzz online for the film, where its fans should be most likely to help inflate the appearance of anticipation. What this all boils down to is that Disney has tried to sell this as “The Captain Jack Show” while offering nothing inherently new, fresh, or even all that exciting compared to the last three films. Basically, its the antithesis of what the first film became. Buzz is pretty weak though, and with the blase campaign they’ve put forth, it won’t be surprising if moviegoers are disinterested with this sequel.
Not helping matters is the recent streak of four-quels that have not only disappointed but significantly tanked in admissions from their predecessors. Just last year, on this same weekend in fact, Shrek Forever After was in a similar position to On Stranger Tides. The animated four-quel followed a third film that was largely considered a disappointment to the adult audiences that helped the film set box office records in 2004 with the first sequel. With a gross of almost $239 million, the fourth Shrek film dropped over (-25%) from the third’s unadjusted gross of $323 million. What’s worse is that, just like this new Pirates film, Shrek Forever After had the supposed “advantage” of 3D prices to boost its gross. When factoring that into the equation, it actually dropped over (-45%) in total tickets sold from the third film. Its opening weekend alone sold only 45% as many tickets as the third film’s opening. Its legs were only helped by lowered expectations and moderately stronger word of mouth than its predecessor.
A fan-centric comparison also exists in Scream 4‘s disappointing performance just last month. Despite huge buzz from its fans, the film ended up opening to only around 30% the number of tickets as its predecessor did on opening weekend a decade before. Granted, the length of time was probably a factor but this is another case where the third film disappointed many audiences. The result was one of the clearest cases of franchise fatigue we’ve ever seen, and with the gap between the third and fourth Pirates movies being much shorter, that fatigue will certainly be present. While debatable, the lack of a number of familiar faces won’t help either. Neither Orlando Bloom nor Keira Knightley return for the film, and despite the number of fans that aren’t crying over that too much, they still represent a part of the original trilogy that helped make those films so big to begin with (though its no question the main draw has always been Depp’s Captain Jack).
Looking at the polls at Box Office Mojo, the film boasts around a 55.5% “opening weekend” choice to see it, however, it should be noted that this is probably inflated by the number of Pirates fans that populate the Internet (including Mojo’s reader base). Another four-quel, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, scored a 67.9% “opening weekend” choice just three years ago on the same poll. That film opened to $100 million for its 3-day weekend after opening on Thursday. Considering the difference in the polls, and the fact that Indiana had far more goodwill and years of anticipation built up, this is a good indication to me that a nine-digit opening will be a stretch to reach in this current market place that has mostly shunned unwanted sequels (Scream 4, Meet the Fockers, Big Mommas just to name a few) despite the aid of 3D prices.
I’m forecasting an opening weekend gross of $83.3 million for On Stranger Tides, which when broken down translates to a drop of over (-35%) from the unadjusted opening weekend grosses of its predecessors and a drop in ticket sales of over (-53%). It could feasibly go higher if the 3D share proves larger than I expect or perhaps more front-loaded, but early midnight reports indicate it will barely keep up with Thor, so I’m going to stay on the low-end for this one. Long-term, I’m honestly wondering if my pre-summer prediction of $254 million domestically will be too high. With 3D and IMAX, plus the Memorial Day boost upcoming, its hard to imagine it going much lower than that. Reviews are ugly, but word of mouth might be grading this one on a curve after the last film.
As the holdovers go, Bridesmaids should continue to impress as its word of mouth continues to build. There aren’t a lot of comparisons for R-rated female-targeted raunchy films out there, but its followed Letters to Juliet so far a little closer than most other May releases targeting a similar audience. That film didn’t quite have the crossover appeal this one may, and with stronger word of mouth it should be able to best that film’s (-33.5%) second weekend drop quite handily.
Thor will lose a small portion of its 3D screens to Pirates this weekend, but with the saturation of them still increasing it shouldn’t affect it as much as it might have a year ago. Still, the target audience for Pirates is pretty similar to Thor‘s and in addition to losing all of its IMAX screens, last weekend’s strong Saturday performance indicated it to have stronger family/kid appeal than expected so it will be interesting to see how the Pirates dynamic affects that.
Meanwhile, Fast Five will also be affected by the big new release though it should still be able to stay above the $10 million mark despite potentially losing a chunk of its urban audience.
This was a bit longer weekend preview than I like to normally keep it, but it felt deserved considering the former pedigree of this “big” new release. Next weekend promises to be much more impressive though, with two hugely anticipated sequels that may represent one of the best examples of counter-programming in box office history. Records will be falling, methinks. But, more on that next week…