Continuing its rampage across the movie box offices of the world, Walt Disney Pictures’ Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest entered sacred waters over the weekend, becoming only the third film in history to pass the $1 billion mark in global ticket sales.
With Italy — which opens Wednesday — the lone remaining major market left to it, Dead Man’s Chest is unlikely to surpass the number two film, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (’03) at $1.1 billion, and certainly won’t reach Titanic’s majestic $1.8 billion, but taking home the bronze, especially in this era of seismic challenges to the entire theatrical film system, is an astonishing achievement.
Among the films other achievements: highest opening day gross ($55.8 million) in U.S. box office history, highest three-day opening ($135.6 million), tied as fastest film to reach $200 million (8 days), fastest film to pass $300 million (16 days). With a prodigious take of $415 million in the U.S. and $588 million internationally, Pirates is the top-grossing film of 2006, the biggest Disney film ever, and the sixth biggest movie all-time in both the domestic and international markets.
Pirates also led a resurgent summer (Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day) domestic box office take of $3.85 billion, up 6% over the same period last year. “I truly believe the axiom that lines beget lines. When you’re on a roll, everything positive happens to you,” said Chuck Viane, head of distribution at Disney, which in addition to Pirates, had a blockbuster with the animated comedy Cars.
The entertainment public is a finicky and skittish beast: there is an unquestionable herd mentality that takes over when a hit becomes a smash becomes a phenomenon — once a “tipping point” is reached and success itself becomes the story, in other words — and every manner of excess is forgiven in a mass benediction of good will. But maneuvering a given entertainment, a movie for example, into that position of anointment is vastly more a matter of fortuitous zeitgeist, timing, and ill-defined psychosocial tumblers falling into place seemingly of their own accord, than it is a matter of the specific acumen and skill of the marketers, or even the artistic quality of the entertainment.
Though the truth is otherwise, blockbuster success always seems inevitable after the fact. In fact, the public spends much of its time being resentful of the structures of manipulation set up to grease the skids to hitsville, and when the hit comes, the insightful marketer knows that the best he can do is lead the cheer, hold on loosely, and enjoy the ride.
So what is the public looking for? Different things at different times: sometimes edification, other times “pure” entertainment; sometimes something new, other times retrenchment; something challenging, something reassuring; often the story, but other times characters, atmosphere, “energy” take precedence – ideally, some combination of them all.
I don’t think there is any particular edification to be had from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, nor is there much in the way of navigable story, but there are characters — led by Johnny Depp’s eccentric buccaneer Captain Jack Sparrow — and atmosphere galore, and there are sporadic bursts of energy that keep things going, though nothing like the sustained energy of the first film in the series, The Curse of the Black Pearl.
In fact, I think the runaway success of the sequel is based upon an immense store of good will built up by that first film, which appears to be carrying momentum through to the series’ supposed conclusion in the third film, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, picking up new fans along the way.
With this kind of lead-in — Pearl was no slouch either, raking in $677 million at the box office — it is possible the third Pirates film, scheduled to open Memorial Day weekend 2007, COULD challenge Titanic for the all-time spot, (or, just as easily, tank – it’s all so fragile).
In addition to promising answers to the pressing questions of how Capt. Jack might escape the monstrous kraken into which he plunges headlong at the end of Chest, the intertwined fates of Jack’s soul and Davy Jones’ heart-in-a-box, and ultimately, whether the sea is an instrument of control or freedom, the third film will feature the return of all the key players in the saga thus far — producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Gore Verbinski, writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, actors Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally, Jack Davenport, etc. — with the salty addition of Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards in a cameo role as Capt. Jack’s father.
Richards — upon whom Depp modeled his woozy but winning, sunstruck but savvy, hirsute and bangled pirate character — is in Los Angeles filming his bit right now, according to Reuters.