As expected, 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' swiped the most swag at the box office this weekend. In fact, with an estimated $90.1 million, it enjoyed the biggest opening of 2011 so far. But by the franchise's own standards, that's only a modest debut, as 'Bridesmaids' and 'Thor' were still strong enough to take some of the wind out of its sails.
Predictions for the fourth 'Pirates,' which had no other new wide releases to compete against, staggered all over the map like Captain Jack Sparrow's wobbly walk. Given the film's opening at more than 4,100 venues, including 2,700 3D and IMAX screens, and the all-ages appeal of Johnny Depp's bonkers buccaneer, pundits had guessed anywhere from $90 to $130 million. That it opened near the bottom of that range has to be somewhat disappointing to Disney. It's the first 'Pirates' since the original to open with less than $114 million. Reviews were weak, and perhaps the four years since 'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End' weren't long enough for wary moviegoers to forget how disappointing the last installment was.
On the other hand, it was enough to make them forget Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, who were apparently not missed this time. And on foreign shores, 'Stranger Tides' has pulled in $256.3 million, for a worldwide total of $346.4 million. With numbers like those, Disney is probably laughing all the way to the 'Pirates 5' drawing board.
An island of resistance in the sea of Piratemania was 'Bridesmaids,' which held onto second place with an estimated $21.1 million. That's a very small second-week drop, less than 20 percent. It's even more impressive given that the film's somewhat older, largely female audience is also comprised of big Johnny Depp fans. The comedy is enjoying very strong reviews and word-of-mouth, and it's still the clearest alternative to such testosterone-heavy alternatives as 'Pirates,' 'Fast Five,' 'Thor,' and 'Priest.' In ten days, 'Bridesmaids' has racked up $59.5 million.
'Thor,' which ruled the box office for the last two weeks, had to settle for third place this weekend. Its estimated $15.5 million represents a vast 55 percent drop from last week; not surprising, since 'Pirates' grabbed much of its audience and many of its 3D and IMAX screens. Still, the Marvel saga has earned $145.4 million in 17 days of domestic release and a worldwide total of $382.9 million to date.
'Fast Five' fell a spot to fourth place,' driving off with an estimated $10.6 million, losing nearly half of last week's business. In four weeks, it's earned $186.2 million; expect it to cross the $200 million mark with ease before it runs out of gas.
Fifth place was a tight race between veteran 'Rio' and last week's newbie 'Priest,' with only $50,000 worth of difference between them. On Sunday afternoon, 'Rio' had the edge with an estimated $4.65 million, though the two films could switch places by the time final figures are released on Monday. Over six weeks, bird cartoon 'Rio' has flown off with $131.6 million. The estimated $4.6 million for 'Priest' represents a drastic drop of nearly 70 percent for the vampire-fighter flick, which has suffered from poor reviews and word-of-mouth. Its ten-day total stands at $23.7 million.
Opening just outside the top 10, at No. 12, was Woody Allen's 'Midnight in Paris,' with an estimated $579,000. That's an incredible number for a movie that opened on just six screens, earning a stunning $96,500 per venue. (The next closest movie, 'Pirates,' earned $21,685 per screen.) Buoyed by some of the strongest reviews and word-of-mouth Allen has received in recent years, the film could turn out to be one of the major indie hits of the year once it opens wide. Stranger tides indeed.
Overall, box office for for the first three weeks of May is up 6.3 percent over the same summer start in 2010. Still, summer movies have their work cut out for them if they're going to reverse the slump that dominated the first four months of 2011. Even with May's improvement, box office for the year to date is still down 11.7 percent from the same time a year ago.
The full top 10:
1. 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,' $90.1 million (4,155 screens), new release
2. 'Bridesmaids,' $21.1 million (2,937), $59.5 million total
3. 'Thor,' $15.5 million (3,924), $145.4 million
4. 'Fast Five,' $10.6 million (3,622), $186.2 million
5. 'Rio,' $4.65 million (2,593), $131.6 million
6. 'Priest,' $4.60 million (2,864), $23,7 million
7. 'Jumping the Broom,' $3.7 million (1,472), $31.3 million
8. 'Something Borrowed,' $3.4 million (2,606), $31.4 million
9. 'Water for Elephants,' $2.2 million (1,894), $52.4 million
10. 'Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family,' $0.99 million (912), $51.8 million
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.