More and more, the real theatrical treasure is buried overseas.
Disney proved that in a big way this weekend, with the massive foreign debut of its fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, "On Stranger Tides," which enjoyed the biggest foreign opening ever with $256.3 million.
The massive overseas start for Johnny Depp's fourth go-around in heavy eyeliner overshadowed a soft opening in the U.S. and Canada — well, soft by standards of this huge $2.5 billion franchise — with the film taking in an estimated $90.1 million and missing Disney's pre-release target of $100 million-plus.
Disappointing or not, it was by far the biggest start at the domestic box office this year, besting last month's $86.2 million opening for Universal's "Fast Five."
The film, shot on a budget of around $200 million, took in $346.4 million globally, the fourth biggest total start ever on Planet Earth.
Here's how the top 10 looked domestically. Report continues below chart:
"This proves that in the blockbuster business, the world is flat," said Greg Foster, president of filmed entertainment for IMAX. "Pirates 4" broke the big-screen chain's global opening record, grossing $16.7 million, all told — besting Novembers $15.9 start for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1."
The key driver in all of this, as Foster notes, is that so-called "emerging" markets like Russia arent' really emerging any more.
"They're here and producing real revenue," he said.
For example, in Krasnodar (it's in Southern Russia), IMAX has an outlet that yielded an impressive $200,000 over the weekend on back of "Pirates."
All told, Russia, India and China generated a combined $52.6 million for "On Stranger Tides."
"You can't do this with every picture," said Chuck Viane, president of global theatrical distribution for Disney, which also released the third "Pirates" movie, 2007's "At World's End," day-and-date around the Earth.
"You take a picture like 'Cars' — you can't do it with that movie because the kids need to be out of school."
The film was yet another indicator of the growing power of the foreign market, which accounted for 67 percent of the record $31.8 billion made at the global box office last year.
Back home, the North American market was actually up 9 percent from the same weekend last year, with "Pirates" scoring a B-plus grade from moviegoer-satisfaction ranker Cinemascore.
Overall, the audience was 46 percent under the age of 25 and 54 percent male.
While "Pirates 4" had the only wide opening this weekend, Woody Allen film "Midnight in Paris" had a better-than-solid limited debut, grossing $555,000 at six locations for a $92,457-per-engagement average.
Meanwhile, finishing second while defining itself as a certified audience-driven hit, Universal's "Bridesmaids" dropped only 20 percent in weekend No. 2, grossing $21.1 million.
Universal's "Fast Five" finished in fourth place, grossing $10.6 million while increasing its North American total to $186.2 million. Coupled with the $320 million in overseas revenue the film has taken in so far, it's now passed $500 million in global revenue.
With Memorial Day weekend coming up, Disney's Viane is projecting a possible holiday record (the mark stands at $244 million), with Warner's second "Hangover" and DreamWorks Animation's second "Kung Fu Panda" joining "Pirates 4."
"I'm hopeful about that — we'll see," Viane said.