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Box Office: 'Pirates' plunder breaks records overseas but falls short of hopes at home [Updated]

May 22, 2011 |  9:14 am

PiratesStrangerTides

Captain Jack Sparrow no longer rules the high seas at domestic movie theaters, but took home a record-breaking booty overseas with the biggest international opening of all time.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" debuted to $90.1 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to an estimate from distributor Walt Disney Studios. Internationally it took in $256.3 million, the highest such box office performance ever not accounting for inflation and exchange rates. It easily beat the previous record of $236 million held by 2009's "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

On a global basis, box-office receipts for the movie were a phenomenal $346.4 million.

While "On Stranger Tides" enjoyed the biggest opening of the year in the U.S. and Canada, it came in well behind the last two films in the Johnny Depp-starring "Pirates" series, which launched to $135.6 million and $114.7 million, respectively, in 2006 and 2007. It's also short of the $100 million-plus mark that Disney executives were hoping the movie would hit.

Considering that "Stranger Tides" enjoyed a boost in revenue from 3-D ticket prices, unlike its predescessors, that shortfall represents a marked decline in domestic attendance, perhaps driven by bad word-of-mouth from the convoluted third entry.

Poor reviews of the new movie may not have helped, but most people who saw it seemed to like it, with U.S. audiences scoring the picture a B+ according to market research firm CinemaScore. Even with strong word-of-mouth, though, "On Stranger Tides" will struggle to avoid being the lowest grossing "Pirates" movie domestically, a title currently held by the original "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," which grossed $305.4 million in 2003.

But given the global nature of the modern movie business, that may not matter much to Disney. The film could end up grossing a total of $1 billion, easily justifying the more than $400 million spent on production and advertising around the world. To spice up this entry after 2007's three-quel grossed less than the 2006 second entry, indicating a drop in consumer interest, Disney executives dropped series co-stars Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley and brought in Penelope Cruz to co-star with Depp. Rob Marshall also replaced director Gore Verbinski and worked with producer Jerry Bruckheimer to simplify the film's story line compared with its predescessor.

Much of the international improvement came from developing countries that are fast becoming huge markets for Hollywood. Russia was the movie's biggest overseas market, generating $28.6 million, the biggest opening weekend ever for the country. China was second with $20 million, followed by more traditional box office powerhouses Great Britain, Germany, Japan and France.

Three-dimensional projection, which has proven more popular overseas than in the U.S., likely played a key role in the foreign success of the picture. But it's also clear that the "Pirates" franchise hasn't grown nearly as tired overeas, particularly in markets where many people may not have even seen the original because movie theaters were scarce in 2003. Along with Russia, "Stranger Tides" also enjoyed the all-time biggest opening in Latin America and the Middle East, according to Disney.

Since the movie's premiere at Disneyland on May 7, the cast has spent its time doing publicity overseas including premieres in London, Moscow and at the Cannes Film Festival -- an effort that obviously paid off.

[Update, 11:25 a.m.: Also this weekend, the car-racing heist film "Fast Five" crossed the $500 million global box office mark as it took in $25 million internationally and another $10.6 million in the U.S. and Canada.

(For more on the second weekend performances of "Bridesmaids" and "Priest," see our related post.)

Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, with international grosses when available, according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:

1. "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (Disney): Opened to $90.1 million domestically and $256.3 million internationally in more than 100 foreign markets.

2. "Bridesmaids" (Universal/Relativity): $21.1 million on its second weekend, down 20%. Domestic total: $59.5 million.

3. "Thor" (Marvel/Paramount): $15.5 million on its third weekend, down 55%. Domestic total: $145.4 million. $9 million overseas in 60 foreign markets. International total: $247 million.

4. "Fast Five" (Universal): $10.6 million on its fourth weekend, down 48%. Domestic total: $186.2 million. $25 million overseas in 61 foreign markets. International total: $320 million.

5. "Rio" (Fox): $4.7 million on its sixth weekend, down 44%. Domestic total: $131.7 million. $5.3 million overseas in 64 foreign markets. International total: $316.5 million.

6. "Priest" (Sony Screen Gems): $4.6 million on its second weekend, down 69%. Domestic total: $23.7 million. $4.6 million overseas. International total: $37.6 million.

7. "Jumping the Broom" (Sony TriStar): $3.7 million on its third weekend, down 48%. Domestic total: $31.3 million.

8. "Something Borrowed" (Warner Bros./Alcon): $3.4 million on its third weekend, down 50%. Domestic total: $31.4 million.

9. "Water for Elephants" (Fox 2000): $2.2 million on its fifth weekend, down 49%. Domestic total: $52.4 million. $5.3 million overseas in 50 foreign markets. International total: $45.6 million.

10. "Madea's Big Happy Family" (Lionsgate): $1 million on its fifth weekend, down 55%. Domestic total: $51.8 million.]

-- Ben Fritz

Related:

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

'Pirates': No cannonballs fly this time, but is the story seaworthy?

Review: "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"

Photo: Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides." Credit: Peter Mountain / Walt Disney Studios

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