Movie projector: Fourth ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ set for worldwide domination

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With consumers already streaming into theaters since the start of the summer moviegoing season three weeks ago, Walt Disney Studios is looking to create an all-out tidal wave this weekend with ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.’

The fourth entry in the adventure series starring Johnny Depp has a good shot at being the first film this year to open with more than $100 million at the box office in the U.S. and Canada. Estimates of opening weekend ticket sales range from $95 million to about $120 million, according to people who have seen pre-release audience surveys.


But the movie’s biggest booty will be overseas, where the picture could match the $200-million-plus international premiere of the last ‘Pirates’ film in 2007. Early results from 10 countries where ‘Stranger Tides’ opened Wednesday were strong, with total ticket sales of $18.5 million. In Russia, the movie posted the biggest opening day in the country’s history with $5 million. By Saturday, it will be playing in every major foreign market.

The stakes are high for Disney, which, despite efforts to bring down the film’s production cost from 2007’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,’ spent more than $200 million to make the new picture and roughly the same amount on worldwide marketing and distribution costs.

But momentum is on Captain Jack Sparrow’s side. After a dismal first 3 1/2 months of the year, box office receipts have been rebounding lately with strong performances by the summer season’s first two ‘tentpole’ releases. ''Fast Five’ was sensational, ‘Thor’ was sensational, and now it’s our job to beat them both,’ said Disney distribution president Chuck Viane.

Even though it’s the first ‘Pirates’ movie in 3-D, ‘Stranger Tides’ is unlikely to score the best opening of the series. In 2006, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest’ took in $135.6 million its first weekend, while At World’s End’ grossed $114.7 million (plus an additional $13.2 million from shows before midnight Thursday).

But the new film must overcome bad buzz left over from ‘At World’s End,’ which many complained was too long and confusing. As a result, some moviegoers might be hesitant to run out and see the new ‘Pirates’ film before getting opinions from those who see it opening weekend. Under new director Rob Marshall, Disney attempted to shorten and simplify the plot of the fourth movie, but early reactions from critics have been largely negative.

The studio has made a particularly strong publicity push for the new ‘Pirates’ overseas. Since the May 7 premiere at Disneyland in Anaheim, cast members, including Depp and Penelope Cruz, have been promoting the movie abroad, including attending premieres in London, Moscow and at the Cannes Film Festival.

The last two ‘Pirates’ movies grossed $643 million and $654 million overseas.

With no other new movies opening nationwide, the only real challenge ‘Pirates’ faces domestically is from ‘Bridesmaids.’ After a surprisingly robust $26.2-million opening last weekend, Universal Pictures’ comedy has been the No. 1 film in the country Monday through Wednesday, bringing its box office total to $35.6 million and indicating that word of mouth is very strong going into this weekend.

-- Ben Fritz