Talk about a pirate's treasure.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" has given Hollywood's summer season a big boost, shattering the weekend box-office record with an estimated take of $132 million in the United States and Canada.
Walt Disney Co.'s adventure-comedy sequel, starring Johnny Depp as the woozy, swaggering Capt. Jack Sparrow, keelhauled previous record holder "Spider-Man," which grossed $114.8 million in its first three days of release in 2002.
In the wake of last year's box-office slump, the results announced Sunday helped solidify a turnaround in the making for the movie business. Industrywide revenue is up 6.4% from the same point in 2005 after eight straight weekends of year-over-year gains.
"This is great news for the studio and for the industry," said Anthony Valencia, an analyst at money manager TCW in Los Angeles. "The first thing people are going to say when they see these record numbers is, 'Gee, I don't want to be the only person who hasn't seen that movie.' "
For Burbank-based Disney, Valencia said, "this puts the company back where it was for a long time -- at the forefront of family entertainment."
"Pirates" also broke the single-day record when it opened Friday with ticket sales of $55.5 million, eclipsing "Star Wars: Episode III Return of the Sith," which grossed $50 million when it came out May 19, 2005.
Fans in pirate outfits piled into sold-out shows at midnight, 3 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. Friday at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood, Disney said.
In Salt Lake City, one multiplex sold out midnight shows at all of its 16 screens, then ran unscheduled 3 a.m. screenings to accommodate the spillover.
The mania continued Saturday, as "Pirates" became the first film to cross the $100-million mark in two days.
Playing at 4,133 theaters -- the widest opening in Disney's history -- the film averaged $31,945 per venue. The weekend's second-biggest movie, "Superman Returns," averaged $5,375 per location for a total of $21.9 million.
In the run-up to the "Pirates" release, Disney refrained from making predictions even as outside analysts said the film could overtake "Spider-Man."
"No one in their wildest dreams could have imagined this level of success," the studio's distribution chief, Chuck Viane, said Sunday. "These are jaw-dropping numbers."
A year ago, the industry was fretting about whether it could still attract big crowds to theaters amid illegal copying and growing competition for entertainment spending.
"People were saying the theatrical moviegoing experience might be going the way of the dinosaur," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co. in Encino. "This result shows that people still want to go out to the theater -- they just need a compelling reason."
Exhibitor Relations estimated the weekend's overall receipts at $216 million, a record three-day haul and a 45% jump from the same period in 2005.
Grosses year to date are still down from the record pace of 2004, but "Pirates" could be the catalyst needed to cinch 2006 as Hollywood's comeback year.
No film this year has topped $250 million in cumulative box-office receipts in the U.S. and Canada, despite such hits as "X-Men: The Last Stand," "The Da Vinci Code" and "Cars," all of which have surpassed $200 million.
Now "Pirates" looks sure to become this year's first quarter-billion-dollar blockbuster.
Disney wagered an estimated $450 million to make back-to-back follow-ups to its surprise 2003 smash "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" -- only to see critics greet the latest installment with mixed reviews.
Many reviewers have compared the latest "Pirates" unfavorably with the original, some calling it a tiresome 2 1/2 hours and complaining that Depp's shtick, which earned him an Oscar nomination and legions of new fans, has lost its freshness.
But with the success of "The Da Vinci Code" and other films that have received generally poor reviews, it appears that critics hold little sway with much of today's audiences.
Disney has already staked out next Memorial Day weekend to open the third film in the "Pirates" trilogy, the unfinished "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End." A Disney spokesman declined to comment on the possibility of a fourth film.
Although "Pirates" is fast becoming one of the most lucrative franchises in film history, some analysts scoffed when the first movie was in the works. Disney's "The Country Bears," which like the original "Pirates" was based on a Disneyland attraction, famously flopped in 2002.
But the original "Pirates" opened to rave reviews and a weekend gross of $47 million.
As audiences fell for Depp's twist on the traditional pirate character, inspired by Rolling Stones rocker Keith Richards, the film showed unusual stamina at the box office, grossing $305 million in the U.S. and Canada and $654 million worldwide.
Even if it drops sharply in the coming weeks, the latest "Pirates" could easily outdo the first. Opening in six foreign markets over the weekend, including Australia, Britain and Taiwan, the movie grossed $46.6 million, Disney estimated.
How big a smash it becomes will hinge largely on word of mouth, however. Disney was pleased by exit polls in which patrons ranked the film as highly as the first one and by data showing that it attracted young and old, males and females equally.
So far, audiences are clearly craving more of the Capt. Jack character. In a survey by online ticket seller Fandango.com, 63% of attendees said Depp was the main reason they chose the film.
Rival studios steered clear of "Pirates," opening no other films in wide release this weekend. "A Scanner Darkly," from Warner Independent Pictures, opened at 17 theaters and grossed $406,000.
Among holdover films, Warner Bros.' "Superman Returns" increased its total to $141.7 million, and 20th Century Fox's comedy hit "The Devil Wears Prada" was No. 3 with $15.6 million, bringing its total to $63.7 million. Disney's "Cars" continued to hold up well, raising its total to $205.5 million.
Dergarabedian said "Pirates" had "a wide berth" next weekend that could help it sustain its run. Only two major films are being released: the Owen Wilson comedy "You, Me and Dupree" and the Wayans brothers comedy "Little Man."
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Preliminary results (in millions) in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections
*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest $132.0 $132.0
Superman Returns 21.9 141.7
The Devil Wears Prada 15.6 63.7
Click 12.0 105.9
Cars 10.3 205.5
Nacho Libre 3.3 73.8
The Lake House 2.8 45.6
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift 2.5 57.4
Waist Deep 1.9 19.2
The Break-Up 1.6 114.3
*--* 3-day gross Change (in millions) from 2005 $216 +45.4%
Year-to-date gross Change (in billions) from 2005 $4.96 +6.4%
*--* Source: Exhibitor Relations Co. Los Angeles Times