In theory, "Pirates" is a can't-miss proposition for the Mouse.
After all, all of the research that the Walt Disney Company has done to date on the latest installment of its "Pirates of the Caribbean" film franchise suggests that "Dead Man's Chest" is going to be huge. A truly monstrous hit motion picture. The sort of movie that every studio hopes & prays for. But one that Mickey (which is just shaking off a six-month-long box office slump) particularly needs right about now.
In fact, if what Nikki Finke has been saying about this Gore Verbinski film turns out to be true, this "Pirates" sequel won't just have the largest opening weekend gross ever for a movie produced by Walt Disney Studios. We're talking about the biggest opening ever, period. Besting the $114.8 million that the first "Spiderman" film earned over its opening weekend back in May of 2002.
Mind you, were you to mention this particular prediction to anyone in senior management at Walt Disney Studios right about now, they'd immediately pooh-pooh the idea. Quickly dismiss whatever Ms. Finke has to say about the tracking on "Dead Man's Chest."
Copyright 2006 Disney/Pixar
Why For? Well, to be honest, a lot of Disney's dismissive attitude toward this "Pirates" sequel can be traced back to "Cars." Which -- in spite of the fact that this new John Lasseter film has already earned an estimated $182 million (Which is more than the $162.7 million that "A Bug's Life" earned during its entire initial domestic release) -- "Cars" is still perceived as being something of a disappointment. All because the opening weekend gross for this new Pixar Animation Studios release failed to meet the investment community's initial box office projections by as much as $10 - $15 million.
This is why senior Disney officials are now going out of their way to immediately denigrate any talk about possible financial projections for "Dead Man's Chest." If you ask these guys flat-out how they expect this film to do over its opening weekend, they'll tell you that "We don't know" and/or "We have high hopes" and/or "We're hoping for the best" or words to that effect.
Which (to be polite) is a lie. The research that the Mouse already has in hand (Which was done by Nielsen NRG, the firm that most companies in the entertainment industry turn to when they want tracking info) suggests that "Dead Man's Chest" is going to be the biggest hit of the summer. To be specific here: 90% of general audiences saw "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." Of those folks, 80% of the people who saw Disney's "Pirates" picture consider themselves to be fans. Which is why the intend-to-see numbers for this new Gore Verbinski film are simply off the chart.
And yet, even with this extremely positive information in hand ... Disney Studio officials are doing everything they can to keep the investment community's expectations for "Dead Man's Chest" 's opening weekend grosses low. Partially because of the perception problems that continue to dog "Cars." But also because ... Well, because Mouse House officials are very freaked out by how "Superman Returns" just did at the box office over this past weekend.
Copyright 2006 Warner Bros. Studios
You see, initial tracking reports suggested that this Warner Bros. Studios release was going to own the long Fourth of July holiday weekend. That this new Bryan Singer film would hoover up every single dollar that went into your local multiplex through late Tuesday night.
But that didn't happen. Since its opening on Wednesday, "Superman Returns" has done solid if not exactly spectacular business. Taking in an estimated $21 million on its opening day, this Warners Bros. Studios release is now on track to officially become a blockbuster (I.E. Selling a $100 million worth of tickets during its initial domestic release) late today or early tomorrow.
Which -- under normal circumstances -- would be seen as great news. But you see ... Warner Bros. wasn't looking for just a blockbuster. They wanted a record-breaking blockbuster. They wanted this Bryan Singer film to be such a huge hit that it would then effectively re-energize the entire "Superman" franchise. Kick-starting the sales of "Superman" -related merchandise, making people eager to own the upcoming "Superman Returns" DVD, etc. You get the idea.
So now -- with "Superman Returns" only pulling in $84.2 million (And -- yes -- I will admit that it does seem somewhat bizarre to use "only" in such close proximity to "$84.2 million") -- the question that's being asked around Hollywood changes from "How big a hit do you think Bryan Singer's new film will be?" to "Do you think that 'Superman Returns' will actually be able to recover its production costs?" Which -- given that this Warner Bros. Studios release reportedly cost $220 million to produce plus an additional $40 million to develop and another $50 million to promote ... now suddenly seems less & less likely.
Which brings us back to "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." Following Merissa Marr's feature story in Friday's Wall Street Journal, the cat's now out of the bag about how much it actually cost Mickey & Jerry Bruckheimer to produce these two "Pirates" sequels. Originally budgeted to cost just $350 million, thanks to last year's horrible hurricane season, the actual cost of producing "Dead Man's Chest" and "At World's End" eventually rose to $450 million. And then when you consider that Disney hasn't actually finished shooting "Pirates III" yet, that the cast & crew of this still-uncompleted-film have to return to the Caribbean in August for an additional six-to-eight weeks of production ... The combined cost of producing and then properly marketing these two motion pictures could eventually reach $600 million.
So with the combined cost of these two high profile projects possibly reaching that astromonical figure and the odd way that movie-goers have been behaving this summer coupled with the fact that the initial tracking reports for "Superman Returns" seem to have been so far off ... Is it any wonder that Dick Cook, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, and Nina Jacobson, president of the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, are now feeling somewhat stressed out right about now? Oh, sure. Based on the tracking reports, "Dead Man's Chest" & "At World's End" will both be huge hits. So the Walt Disney Company will eventually get a sizable return on its enormous investment in the "Pirates" film franchise.
But then you have to remember that this is the summer where "Mission Impossible III" severely under-performed domestically and "Cars" (in certain circles, anyway) is being seen as a disappointment and even the return of Superman wasn't enough to guarantee super-sized ticket sales ... Which is why it's hard to put all of one's faith in tracking reports these days.
And unless there really is some treasure to be found in "Dead Man's Chest," Jacobson & Cook could wind up in the cinematic equivalent of "At World's End." The place where all studio heads who greenlight one-too-many projects that fail to meet expectations eventually go. Which is out the door.
But -- on the other hand -- if Disney's tracking reports are right ... Well, Nina & Dick could be in for the biggest successes of their careers.
Which is why the next five days are going to be kind of tough on Cook & Jacobson. As they struggle to keep a lid on Wall Street's expectations for "Dead Man's Chest," while -- at the same time -- try to deal with some of the grumblings that's been coming from fan boys who've already seen "Pirates II."
Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises
SLIGHT SPOILER AHEAD ...
"Why are some fan boys already complaining about this Gore Verbinski film?," you ask. Well, to be honest, "Dead Man's Chest" 's cliffhanger ending isn't sitting all that well with some "Pirates" fans. And these folks are supposedly upset because they now have to wait 'til May 27, 2007 (I.E. "Pirates III" 's release date) to find out what becomes of their favorite character.
In Disney's defense, I'd like to point out that "Star Wars" fans had to wait from May 21, 1980 (I.E. The original release date for "The Empire Strikes Back") 'til May 25, 1983 (I.E. The original release for "Return of the Jedi") in order to find out whether Han Solo had actually survived being encased in carbonite. So to have some "Pirates" fans already bitching because they have to wait a whole 46 weeks before they discover what became of the Kracken's snack ... That seems fairly petty & small. Even for me.
NOW ENTERING SPOILER-FREE ZONE ...
Anyway ... Getting back to the way I started out today's "MouseWatch" : If all goes according to plan and Disney's initial tracking reports are correct, "Dead Man's Chest" should have a huge opening weekend. Perhaps the largest ever in Hollywood history.
But as to what those initial box office estimates might be ... Mickey ain't talking. So do any of you have any predictions as to how "Dead Man's Chest" will do over its opening weekend? I'm willing to make it worth your while.
To explain: The JHM reader who comes closest to predicting the actual figure that this new Gore Verbinski film earns over its first Friday, Saturday & Sunday in release will win a "Pirates of the Caribbean" gift pack. Which will contain many of the items that were used to illustrate last Tuesday's "Disney Press loads up bookstores with a record number of 'Dead Man's Chest' -related titles' article.
All predictions must be posted in this article's talkback no later than midnight EST this coming Thursday. The winner will then be announced at this website next Tuesday morning.
So ladies & gentlemen, let's now hear your predictions about how you think "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" will do over its opening weekend.