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'Pirates of the Caribbean' to crush 'Baywatch' lifeguards in beachside summer box office battle

Johnny Depp returns as Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales."

Hollywood is about to find out what, if anything, can sink Walt Disney Co.’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. The fifth movie in the Johnny Depp-starring series faces withering reviews and threats from hackers, not to mention competition from Dwayne Johnson and a team of slow-motion beach babes.

Yet none of that is likely to stop “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” from sailing to the top of the U.S. box office charts during Memorial Day weekend, easily topping Paramount Pictures’ raunchy “Baywatch” adaptation. The $230-million “Pirates” sequel is expected to haul at least $80 million Friday through Monday in the United States and Canada, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys.

That should give the summer box office a badly needed boost after 20th Century Fox’s “Alien: Covenant” debuted to a disappointing $36 million domestically. Cinemas also hope the R-rated “Baywatch” will attract crowds ready for a beach-bound action comedy and ’90s nostalgia.

Here’s what to watch:

A pirate’s life for Disney

The four Jerry Bruckheimer-produced “Pirates” movies have grossed $3.7 billion worldwide, and Disney hopes “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” expected to be the series’ finale, will be another global hit. It would be a winning send-off for the blockbusters that got so much mileage from Depp’s channeling of Keith Richards. Depp surprised fans by appearing in character at Disneyland last month to promote the movie.

Here’s the bad news: An $80-million opening would be lower than the last “Pirates” film, 2011’s “On Stranger Tides,” which scored $90 million during in its first three days. It also would mark the lowest opening of the series since 2003’s original “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” which debuted to $46 million and earned Depp an Oscar nomination.

Only 33% of critics’ counted by Rotten Tomatoes liked the new movie. But the return of well-liked characters and swashbuckling humor and action should continue to drive business, especially internationally.

“Pirates” is also the subject of a digital ransom plot that has roiled the industry. Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger told employees last week that hackers claimed to steal a movie and were threatening to release it unless the company paid them. That movie was the new “Pirates,” sources said. There’s no sign, as of this writing, that the hackers have followed through with the threat, or that the company paid the ransom.

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Will ‘Baywatch’ catch a wave?

The Rock and his red swim trunks may deliver a much-needed hit for Paramount with the big-screen adaptation of the TV series “Baywatch.” The 1990s throwback, hitting theaters Thursday, is expected to take in about $40 million by the holiday’s end, which would be a solid start for a major studio comedy. For comparison, 2012’s Sony romp “21 Jump Street” opened with $36 million.

Reviews for the film’s gross-out gags and self-referential humor are dismal. But Johnson, who leads the team of lifeguards-turned-action heroes, remains one of the most bankable stars in the business. The film’s scantily clad cast also includes Zac Efron as a disgraced athlete, plus Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach and Priyanka Chopra. The film also could benefit from winking nostalgia for the original series.

If “Baywatch” is a hit, it would be an early summer rebound for Paramount. The storied studio has suffered a string of disappointments at the box office, including “Monster Trucks” and “Ghost in the Shell.”

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