Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 05-23-11

Geoffrey Rush promoting “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” at Cannes

Geoffrey Rush promoting “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” at Cannes

Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha, and Ed Helms in “The Hangover Part II”

Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha, and Ed Helms in “The Hangover Part II”

Jack Black at LA premiere of “Kung Fu Panda 2”

Jack Black at LA premiere of “Kung Fu Panda 2”

Summer sizzle: It’s going to be a sizzling weekend — and I don’t mean from steaks grilling at Memorial Day barbeques.

The real sizzle will be at the boxoffice as the summer movie season gets underway. As for the stakes, they’re high. Hollywood needs to set a Memorial Day boxoffice record to drive summer ticket sales and reverse this year’s 12 percent downturn.

That’s exactly what we’re likely to see this holiday weekend. Chances are we’ll beat Memorial Day 2007’s record setting $246.4 million gross by the top 12 films. Topping that chart, by the way, was Disney’s four day kick-off for “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” with $139.8 million.

This time around Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer Films’ “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” will be navigating the Memorial Day waters after its swashbuckling $90 million-plus domestic 3D launch (U.S. and Canada). It also took in over $256 million abroad, making it the biggest international opening ever.

“Pirates 4” (let’s take a sword to that long title) should have sturdy sea legs in Weekend Two despite competition from two big franchises — Warner Bros.’ R rated comedy “The Hangover Part II,” which has been tracking through the roof; and DreamWorks Animation and Paramount’s 3D adventure “Kung Fu Panda 2.”

They’ll finish first and second, but “Pirates 4” will still sail away with plenty of boxoffice doubloons. Generally speaking, films do in a four day Weekend Two about the same as or a little more than they opened to for three days.

At the Memorial multiplexes adults will be heading for “Hangover” and families will be flocking to “Panda.” The broad spectrum of audience will be available to “Pirates 4” after hearing from friends who’ve already seen it that this one’s much better than the last one.

Despite those always-hard-to-please critics, exit polls show that moviegoers like “Pirates 4” a lot and that should help it attract new audiences. Slightly more than half the film’s opening weekend audience was couples. That’s encouraging because as they talk to friends and spread favorable word of mouth the film will start attracting younger people who decided to wait-and-see.

Another factor in “Pirates 4’s” favor is that under-17 teens eager to see “Hangover” but who need to sneak in are more likely to buy a multiplex ticket to “Pirates 4” than embarrass themselves by paying for a kiddie film like “Panda.”

Looking ahead, “Pirates 4” should wind up doing a jolly $200 million to $250 million domestically and somewhere between $650 million and $750 million internationally. That’s around $1 billion worldwide, which would be a bit more than “Pirates 3’s” $961 million and right in line with the $1.1 billion that “Pirates 2” grossed globally in 2006.

It’s worth noting that the doom-and-gloom media writers were quick to fault “Pirates 4” because its $90 million-plus launch didn’t beat “Pirates 3’s” $114.7 million opening. What they aren’t saying — and may not understand — is that while that $114.7 million represents three days of the four day Memorial Day 2007 weekend, the Sunday of a four day holiday weekend is always bigger than a normal Sunday. That’s because people don’t have to get up and go to work or to school on the Monday of a four day holiday weekend — and that means they can stay up later to see a movie Sunday night.

I dug through the boxoffice archives to find the weekend of May 25-28, 2007 and can tell you that “Pirates 3” opened to $42.9 million Friday, $37.7 million Saturday, $34.1 million Sunday and $25.1 million Monday. Its drop of only 9.5 percent Sunday from Saturday is much less than you’d see in a non-holiday weekend. For instance, the weekend of June 1-3, 2007 saw “Pirates 3” take in $17.9 million Saturday and $13.5 million Sunday. Sunday’s drop was 24.5 percent from Saturday.

Had “Pirates 4” opened over the four day Memorial Day weekend it would have benefited from the same enhanced Sunday night business that “Pirates 3” enjoyed and that would have translated into a few million dollars more at the boxoffice.

On the other hand, Disney was smart to take advantage of there being no other wide openings to go up against last weekend. That was way better than having to slug it out if they’d opened opposite “Hangover” and “Panda” this weekend.

It also was the better decision in terms of “Pirates 4’s” international release, which set global records, especially in emerging markets like Russia and China. It had the biggest opening day ($5 million) and the biggest opening weekend ($28.6 million) ever in Russia and its $20 million weekend in China was more than “Pirates 3’s” entire run there.

All told, “Pirates 4” had a first weekend gross of over $256 million internationally. That’s about $5 million more than the $251 million “Pirates 3” did internationally in its opening weekend.

When I asked Disney global distribution president Chuck Viane about the film’s huge international performance, he replied, “Today it’s no longer where the market share comes from because market share can come from anywhere. We picked this particular weekend because it was such a great launching pad for us because we would not have any competition head-to-head domestically.”

Moreover, he added, since Memorial Day is a U.S.-only holiday, it “doesn’t mean a thing to the worldwide market. Next weekend because of that, there will not be a worldwide release of ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’ or ‘Hangover 2.’ They’re going to be wider and doing really well, but they’re not going to be everywhere like we are. So it gives us a second chance (to dominate the international boxoffice).”

Reflecting on “Pirates 4’s” international strength, Viane told me, “Whether you’re talking about the European block or the Asian-Pacific or the Latin American, they have all shared equally in the unbelievable success for this movie. Russia is by far the poster child with fantastic numbers, setting an all-time industry opening record. I think when you take (producer Jerry) Bruckheimer and (Johnny) Depp and (director Rob) Marshall and you put it all together on a worldwide stage, it’s pretty tough to match.”

Bottom line: Clearly, exhibitors everywhere must be thrilled with all the ticket sales and concession stand business they’re generating thanks to “Pirates 4.” In fact, Viane laughed, “If we don’t empty out all the candy stands and popcorn bags next weekend, I will be shocked!”