Wall St. sees ‘Pirates’ hauling in loot for Disney
By Gina Keating
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Wall Street expects “Pirates of the
Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” to haul in plenty of box office
booty for the Walt Disney Co, performing at least as well as
the $654 million worldwide treasure for the first “Pirates”
“Dead Man’s Chest” opens in U.S. theaters on July 7, and
expands around the globe in weeks ahead. Audience expectations
are running high, which is a good sign for Disney because it
has spent a reported $450 million to make “Dead Man’s Chest”
and an upcoming movie in its trilogy of “Pirates” films.
Beyond the movies, the company has updated its classic
theme-park ride with likenesses of star Johnny Depp and other
characters, and it expects to rake in tens of millions of
dollars more in DVD, video and other product revenue.
Already, advance ticket sales are more than 20 times higher
than 2003 surprise hit “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of
the Black Pearl,” according to online seller MovieTickets.com.
Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracking firm
Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. said the movie industry also has
high hopes for “Dead Man’s Chest.”
“The buzz around the campfire in Hollywood is, ‘Could this
be the film to post the biggest opening weekend of all time?”‘
The holder of the record for the biggest opening weekend is
Sony Pictures’ “Spider-Man,” which made its debut with $114.8
million in ticket sales in 2002.
Disney’s studio division helped drive earnings growth for
the company in late 2003 and early 2004 with the success of the
theatrical and home-video sales for “Black Pearl” and “Finding
Nemo,” a joint release with Pixar Animation Studio.
But division revenue has been down the past four quarters,
partly due to weak box-office results and film costs.
Analysts were looking to “Pirates” and Disney-Pixar release
“Cars,” which opened earlier in June, to drive studio-division
revenue through the end of Disney’s fiscal year, which closes
on September 30, and into the first half of fiscal 2007.
Although “Cars” got off to a slow start, all signs point to
a strong opening for “Pirates.”
TREASURE TO COME?
“We are really off the charts with comparison to the first
‘Pirates’,” Joel Cohen, vice president of business development
for MovieTickets.com, said. “There is significantly more demand
for this movie.”
“Dead Man’s Chest” also was tracking 12-times stronger than
“Cars” at this point in the sales cycle, Cohen said.
To date, “Cars” has grossed $189.8 million in the U.S. and
in a limited international release, according to box-office
tracking firm, BoxOfficeMojo.com.
Sanders Morris Harris financial analyst David Miller said
“Dead Man’s Chest” should at least equal the global box office
for “Black Pearl,” and that doing so could add a half-cent to
Disney’s quarterly earnings.
“This is the last major (earnings) catalyst in the calendar
year for Disney,” Miller said. “But the real earnings accretion
lies in home video this Christmas — that’s the fiscal first
quarter of ’07.”
Pali Research’s Rich Greenfield has not made forecasts for
“Dead Man’s Chest” but said it is under pressure to perform.
“Given the less than exciting results so far for ‘Cars’, it has
stepped up the importance of ‘Pirates’,” he said.
The new movie tracks the adventures of pirate Captain Jack
Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp, as he tries to avoid repaying a
blood debt to the evil Davy Jones, ruler of the ocean depths
and captain of the ghost ship, Flying Dutchman.
Skeptics ridiculed Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer
for basing the first “Pirates” film on a theme park ride, but
it took in $46.6 million its debut weekend and spent 12 weeks
in the box office top 10.
Bruckheimer said that despite the cost, the films were
“less risky because you have the expectation of a film that
will draw a lot of people the first weekend.”