Thursday, May 19, 2011

Um... aren't studios supposed to LOWER expectations? Disney exec expects $100 million+ opening for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

Paramount had the right idea two weeks ago.  Amid rampant speculation regarding the opening weekend potential for Thor, Paramount (pardon the pun) hammered home the studio line that anything over $60 million would be a massive success.  While other pundits and rival studio executives crowed about the potential for $75-85 million, Paramount continually stuck to the line that Thor was not Iron Man and that anything over the $55 million plateau set by Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk would be considered a solid play.  Thus, when the film opened with $65 million, Paramount was able to spin the number as a win with little backpedaling.  But Disney theatrical distribution chief Chuck Viane doesn't get that simple idea.  In an article for The Wrap, he says, ""If it starts with a '1' in front of it, I'll be happy with the number.  If it doesn't, I won't be."  So unless Chuck Viane is predicting that Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides will open to between $10 and $19 million over the weekend, he seems to be selling the notion that the studio is expecting a $100 million+ opening weekend.  Um.... that's not quite how it works, Chuck.  

It's the job of a studio executive in these positions to PLAY DOWN the expectations.  You didn't hear Warner Bros. crowing about how sure they were that The Dark Knight was going to break the opening weekend record three years ago.  You didn't have Disney bragging last year that Toy Story 3 would SURELY become the first animated film to gross $1 billion worldwide.  And it certainly wasn't Fox that was claiming that Avatar was indeed going to challenge Titanic for global box office supremacy.  Yes, all three of these things happened, but they were somewhat unexpected.  Sure, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides COULD open to $100 million+, especially with inflation and higher 3D ticket prices factored in.  Or it may just open to $85 million, a massive number that would befit a past-its-prime franchise.  But for Disney to officially be setting the bar at $100 million is either supremely confident or borderline suicidal.  Either way, it's not a smart play.  Better to be surprised by a $100 million debut than have to explain a 'mere' $90 million Fri-Sun take.

Scott Mendelson    

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