$132 Million for 'Pirates' That's a Lot of Jack

A record-setting weekend for the film is a solid sign Hollywood is shaking its slump.

By Josh Friedman, Times Staff Writer
July 10, 2006

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."