Weekend Box Office (May 20 - 22, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Johnny Depp and his jolly pals seized control of the North American box office with the adventure tentpole Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides which registered the year's biggest opening while internationally the latest Captain Jack saga commanded much more power smashing records with the largest overseas opening of all-time. Most holdovers suffered large drops, however the hit comedy Bridesmaids took advantage of sensational buzz to post a fantastic hold putting it on track to break the $100M mark.

Disney scored its first number one hit of the year with the fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean series which opened with $90.2M from an ultrawide launch in 4,155 theaters for a mighty $21,697 average, according to final studio figures. The PG-13 pic was the first in the franchise to be presented in 3D and the grosses were also helped by a record launch in 256 IMAX locations which charged as much as $20 per ticket. Opening on the lower end of industry expectations, Tides enjoyed the biggest bow of 2011 beating the $86.2M of last month's Fast Five which was only in 2D but did include IMAX sales. But moviegoers were cautious with their dollars as less than half of the Tides weekend gross came from 3D screens with more opting for the 2D version.

The Tides bow was down 21% from the $114.7M debut of the last installment, At World's End. But that figure was part of the long Memorial Day holiday session and the film was the cliffhanger finale after 2006's massively successful Dead Man's Chest. Widely disliked by many critics and fans, End prompted many moviegoers to skip the new chapter which also featured a new director in Rob Marshall and new cast members Penélope Cruz and Ian McShane while bringing back fan favorites Geoffrey Rush and Depp who stands to collect one of the largest compensation packages in Hollywood history since ticket buyers would not show up without him. Reviews were mostly negative and a moderate B+ CinemaScore grade suggests that the road ahead should be on par with what tentpole sequels normally see.

Starting out the weekend, Friday took in $34.9M including $4.7M from Thursday night's post-midnight shows. Saturday dipped by only 8% to $31.9M - good for a poorly-reviewed fourth chapter of an action series - and Sunday dropped as estimated by only 27% to $23.4M.

What Tides lost out on domestically, it more than made up for in international waters which have always been friendly to this franchise. Since attacking its first wave of markets on Wednesday, the new Pirates grossed a stunning $256.3M over five days overseas setting a new all-time record by beating the five-day $236M launch of 2009's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. 3D and IMAX certainly helped as did several star-studded red carpet premieres in Cannes, London, Madrid, Munich, and most importantly Moscow. Russia, which is fast becoming one of Hollywood's most important overseas markets, led all international territories with an eye-popping $28.6M over five days (an all-time industry record) which already is more than what the last Pirates did there during the entire life of its run. Look for more action tentpoles to plan premieres in the Russian capital.

Another emerging market that was red hot was China where Tides opened to a robust $20M in three days which again is already better than the local lifetime take of the last Pirates which co-starred Chow Yun-Fat. Russia and China delivered the top two overseas openings for Tides beating out the usual big three - Japan, Germany, and the U.K. - which contributed $18-20M each during their respective debut periods. Significant film industry growth in Russia and China since 2007 when the last Captain Jack flick opened is now being taken advantage of.

Globally, Tides hauled in a massive $346.5M since Wednesday making it the fourth largest worldwide launch of any film behind Half-Blood Prince ($394M) and the 2007 threequels Spider-Man 3 ($381.6M), and At World's End ($357.2M). It should be noted that these figures include openings on different days in different countries so they are not for the exact same time periods.

Clearly, Disney was looking at the world and not specifically the U.S. when developing and marketing On Stranger Tides. The first three Pirates saw an increasing share of the global gross come from overseas from the 53% of Curse of the Black Pearl, to the 60% of Dead Man's Chest, to the 68% of At World's End. Tides, which cost a reported $250M to produce, will likely see more than 70% of its worldwide haul come from outside North America and another global tally north of $900M could certainly result.

The wedding comedy Bridesmaids officially became a sleeper hit thanks to its incredible second weekend hold. Kristin Wiig's raunchy R-rated pic dipped by only 20% and collected $20.9M lifting Universal's ten-day tally to a robust $59.3M. The sophomore gross was more than what most expected from the first weekend. The decline was less than those seen by past leggy R-rated comedies like Wedding Crashers (24%), The 40-Year-Old Virgin (24%), and The Hangover (27%). Instead, the Bridesmaids drop was identical to the decline seen by 2003's Old School which made 49% of its overall total in the first ten days, though it was earlier in the year when college students were in school during weekdays. The Wiig pic has the benefit of having a major holiday next weekend so it could be on course to finish with at least $125M giving Universal its third $100M+ grosser in two months after Hop and Fast Five.

Rival action films fell sharply against Pirates which stole away numerous 3D and IMAX screens. Paramount's Thor dropped 56% in its third frame to $15.5M giving the super hero saga $145.4M in 17 days. The street racing sequel Fast Five raced past the $500M worldwide mark this weekend thanks to terrific business overseas. Domestically, the Universal hit grossed $10.6M, down 48%, pushing the 24-day sum to $186.2M. Overseas markets kicked in an additional $25M this weekend putting the offshore tally at $320M bumping the global gross to a stellar $506.2M.

Finishing in fifth was Sony's supernatural thriller Priest which collapsed in its second weekend tumbling 68% to $4.8M giving the vampire pic $23.8M in ten days. A $30M final seems likely. The 3D toon Rio was close behind with $4.7M, down 43%, for a $131.7M total for Fox.

A two-pack of wedding comedies followed. Off 48%, Jumping the Broom grossed $3.7M for Sony while Something Borrowed fell 49% to $3.5M for Warner Bros. Totals are nearly identical after 17 days standing at $31.3M and $31.5M, respectively.

The Fox romance Water for Elephants placed ninth with $2.2M, down 48%, giving the Reese Witherspoon film $52.5M to date. Rounding out the top ten was Lionsgate's comedy Madea's Big Happy Family which dropped 57% to $1M for $51.7M overall.

Making a spectacular debut in platform release was Woody Allen's latest romantic comedy Midnight in Paris which opened in the number thirteen spot nationwide despite playing in only six theaters. The Sony Classics release collected $599,003 for a jaw-dropping average of $99,834. Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, and Adrien Brody, the PG-13 film opened only in four New York houses and a pair of Los Angeles sites and earned glowing reviews from critics. All theaters had multiple screens offering up to 20 showtimes daily. Midnight expands to 29 more theaters on Friday for the holiday weekend including markets such as San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston, and Washington D.C.

The top ten films grossed $156.9M which was up 11% from last year when Shrek Forever After opened in the top spot with $70.8M; but down 7% from 2009 when Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian debuted at number one with $54.2M over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of the Memorial Day holiday session.

Compared to projections, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opened a few notches below my $98M forecast.

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Check the UPDATED chart for the Top May Openings. Watch the NEW trailer for Cars 2.

For a NEW review of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Hangover Part II and Kung Fu Panda 2 both open for the long Memorial Day holiday weekend.

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# Title May 20 - 22 May 13 - 15 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Pirates of the Caribbean: OST $ 90,151,958 4,155 1 $ 21,697 $ 90,151,958 Disney
2 Bridesmaids 20,882,070 26,247,410 -20.4 2,937 2 7,110 59,341,310 Universal
3 Thor 15,455,304 34,703,035 -55.5 3,924 3 3,939 145,361,459 Paramount
4 Fast Five 10,576,865 20,444,270 -48.3 3,622 4 2,920 186,165,450 Universal
5 Priest 4,750,041 14,953,664 -68.2 2,864 2 1,659 23,833,169 Sony
6 Rio 4,687,714 8,275,058 -43.4 2,593 6 1,808 131,684,365 Fox
7 Jumping the Broom 3,703,010 7,066,190 -47.6 1,472 3 2,516 31,320,562 Sony
8 Something Borrowed 3,516,387 6,872,221 -48.8 2,606 3 1,349 31,519,452 Warner Bros.
9 Water for Elephants 2,179,046 4,203,095 -48.2 1,894 5 1,150 52,456,620 Fox
10 Madea's Big Happy Family 956,589 2,214,033 -56.8 912 5 1,049 51,723,579 Lionsgate
11 Soul Surfer 930,008 1,826,788 -49.1 984 7 945 40,610,678 Sony
12 Tangled 910,502 6,351 191 26 4,767 200,627,301 Disney
13 Midnight in Paris 599,003 6 1 99,834 599,003 Sony Classics
14 Everything Must Go 529,037 791,677 -33.2 245 2 2,159 1,628,657 Roadside Attr.
15 Prom 504,155 939,043 -46.3 374 4 1,348 9,678,881 Disney
16 Insidious 474,247 958,323 -50.5 501 8 947 52,432,623 FilmDistrict
17 Cave of Forgotten Dreams 415,310 471,933 -12.0 106 4 3,918 1,973,239 IFC Films
18 Source Code 412,336 837,279 -50.8 377 8 1,094 52,956,170 Summit
19 Rango 395,085 258,083 53.1 302 12 1,308 121,211,948 Paramount
20 Hoodwinked Too! 371,335 1,151,268 -67.7 642 4 578 9,199,021 Weinstein Co.
Top 5 $ 141,816,238 $ 104,623,437 35.5
Top 10 156,858,984 126,805,764 23.7
Top 20 162,400,002 133,866,624 21.3
Top 20 vs. 2010 162,400,002 146,555,015 10.8

Last Updated: May 23, 2011 at 4:50PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.