5/20 Update: In its midnight opening, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides grossed $4.7 million at 2,210 locations. That topped Thor's $3.25 million midnight launch at 1,800 locations two weeks ago, and it was higher than Fast Five's $3.8 million, though it played at twice the locations. A direct comparison to the last Pirates movie, At World's End, was not available, because that picture had pre-midnight Thursday evening previews (which grossed $13.2 million), but Dead Man's Chest had a midnight opening that raked in $9 million at around 2,100 locations.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides comes off as an attempt to return to what made the first movie enjoyable after the ponderous second and third movies, but the damage may already be done. At World's End's gross dropped 27 percent from Dead Man's Chest, and On Stranger Tides looks like just another Pirates movie and not nearly the spectacular event that the second movie appeared to be. Those "stranger tides" aren't apparent in the marketing.
A lower-key adventure with Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow, though, may be just what the doctor ordered. One could say that the advertising has been refreshingly light on the supernatural mumbo jumbo that plagued the previous movies and more focused on the characters and their quest (for the Fountain of Youth). On Stranger Tides gets the 3D treatment (location count unavailable as of this writing), but that doesn't necessarily compensate for past sins as Shrek Forever After discovered last May.
On Stranger Tides should make enough to extend the life of the franchise. In Box Office Mojo's "when will you see it" reader polling, it's pulling close to 56 percent for opening weekend, which is less than the 64-65 percent scores of the last two movies. Based on these and other pre-weekend indicators and historical antecedents, here's how the weekend might play out:
The Forecast, May 20-22 1. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - $110 million 2. Bridesmaids - $18 million 3. Thor - $17 million 4. Fast Five - $12 million 5. Priest - $6 million
Bar for Success If Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides can get over $100 million this weekend, that would put it in good standing to retain much of its predecessor's gross. And that's all one can reasonably ask of it.