Yar! Disney Banks On Box Office Booty

Forbes.com, 24.05.2007.

Just weeks after Spidey and Shrek set box office records for Sony and DreamWorks, the Walt Disney Co. gets its shot at the title tonight when it rolls out Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the third installment in the swashbuckling series.

Big stars Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley return, and the story picks up where the last left off. Disney's hoping the box office returns do, too. "There's such excitement over this one, such anticipation, and I think it's bigger than any of us expected," Disney Chairman Dick Cook told Variety.

The critics have been less enthusiastic. The Hollywood Reporter's Michael Rechtshaffen warns: "You could make yourself seasick trying to untangle all those confusing plot lines." The Los Angeles Times' Carina Chocano said: "Personally, I'd rather see [Depp] dine with relish on half a peanut than sit through yet another CG-whiz sequence."

But good news for Disney: Moviegoers don't seem to care what the critics say.

So, despite being panned, Spider-Man 3 kicked off the year's blockbuster summer earlier this month when it swung into theaters with a $151.1 million opening weekend, making it the most successful domestic box office debut in history. It was just enough to edge out last summer's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, which had had held the title with a $135.6 million premiere. (It, too, got poor reviews.)

Two weeks later, Shrek the Third raked in $122 million over three days, making it both the third-biggest opening and the biggest-ever opening for an animated film, despite similar critical disdain.

But can Pirates reclaim its crown this weekend?

The Box Office Report thinks so–it's forecasting a $168 million opening weekend. Standard & Poor's analyst Tuna Amobi is more conservative. He tells Bloomberg that three-day sales for Pirates are expected to at least match the $135.6 million taken in by the second film in the series.

Pirates producer Jerry Bruckheimer is less optimistic, "because when [ Spider-Man and Shrek] came in the marketplace, there weren't a lot of big movies, so there were a lot of screens available."

For this premiere, "we'll have two huge movies in the marketplace," he told The Associated Press. "We can't get the amount of seats [the previous films] had. … So I doubt if we'll do it, but you never know. If we get opened to a nice number, I'll be thrilled."

The good news for Hollywood: Even if Pirates doesn't surpass Spider-Man 3, it could secure what analysts expect will be a record-setting holiday weekend. With all three films extending their reach this weekend, the industry could beat its busiest ever–2004's $247 million Memorial Day weekend.

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