Nearly Washed Up in the U.S., 'Pirates' Finds Loot Overseas

By Ben Fritz Features Dow Jones Newswires

Johnny Depp and his "Pirates" crew took on water during a slow Memorial Day weekend at the domestic box office but found treasure overseas.

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"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales," the fifth entry in Walt Disney Co.'s $4 billion franchise, opened to a soft $77 million over the long holiday weekend in the U.S. and Canada, according to studio estimates. It is a lower start than that of any prior "Pirates" movie since the 2003 original.

A flop from the weekend's other new release, "Baywatch," brought the overall holiday weekend box office in the U.S. and Canada to $176 million, making it a dismal No. 18 of the 24 Memorial Day weekends recorded by ComScore since 1994.

However, the new "Pirates" launched with an impressive $208.4 million internationally, which Disney said was 17% more than 2011's "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," the most recent sequel, made in the same markets at current exchange rates.

"On Stranger Tides" grossed $804.6 million overseas and $241.1 million domestically. "Dead Men Tell No Tales" looks like it will be even more lopsided.

Mr. Depp, whose Keith Richards-esque performance as pirate Jack Sparrow made the first franchise entry a word-of-mouth phenomenon, has had several recent flops in the U.S. including "Alice Through the Looking Glass" and "Mortdecai," but remains popular overseas.

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After its world premiere at Shanghai Disneyland, "Dead Men Tell No Tales" posted a strong $67.8 million opening in China. That is higher than the total gross of any prior "Pirates" film in the country. In Russia, its $18.1 million debut was the biggest for any movie in history, Disney said. Other strong markets included South Korea, Brazil and Mexico.

Though box office in the U.S. and other developed Western nations is ultimately most profitable for Hollywood studios, as it leads to follow-on revenue from DVD sales and television licensing, the new "Pirates" looks like it will be a solid if not massive success for Disney, given its $230 million production budget. It is expected to be the final film in the series.

"Outside of how did we do relative to the last one domestically, this is a win," said Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis. "The bottom line is we're making a movie for a global audience."

"Pirates" is one of several major franchises that have recently been losing steam with American audiences but prospering in developing foreign markets, including "Fast and Furious" and "Transformers."

Paramount Pictures' "Baywatch," an adaptation of the cheesy hit 1990s television series, grossed an estimated $27.6 million from its Wednesday night debut through Monday. That is a weak start for a movie led by A-list star Dwayne Johnson and with a $70 million production budget.

The Viacom Inc.-owned studio had hoped a mixture of raunchy R-rated comedy, action, and a beloved brand name would replicate the success of 2012's "21 Jump Street," which grossed $201.6 million globally and spawned a sequel. But audiences weren't drawn to "Baywatch," perhaps in part due to weak reviews.

So far "Baywatch" has opened in only one foreign market, Taiwan, and the studio is hoping for better results overseas, thanks to the popularity of the TV show and Mr. Johnson, said Paramount marketing and distribution President Megan Colligan. The movie will have a premiere in Berlin on Tuesday.

In the U.S., "Baywatch" was likely hurt by weak reviews that spread quickly among young moviegoers on social media, said Ms. Colligan.

Paramount has been struggling at the box office for the past few years and "Baywatch" continues a string of recent flops such as "Ghost in the Shell," "XXX: The Return of Xander Cage," and "Monster Trucks." Viacom recently hired a new CEO for Paramount, former Fox studio chief Jim Gianopulos, in hopes he will lead a turnaround.

Write to Ben Fritz at ben.fritz@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 29, 2017 13:53 ET (17:53 GMT)