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‘Pirates’ and ‘Baywatch’ Search for Memorial Day Booty Despite Poor Reviews

Disney sequel and raunchy Dwayne Johnson comedy are the holiday weekend’s two biggest contenders

A sequel and a remake will be heading to the box office this Memorial Day weekend, hoping the draw of their leading men can overcome negative reviews from critics.

On Thursday, Paramount will release “Baywatch,” an R-rated comedy based on the 90s TV series of the same name and starring Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. The next day, Disney will roll out “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the fifth installment in Jerry Bruckheimer‘s long-running franchise.

For “Pirates,” the tracking numbers warn of a continued drop for the franchise, though they remain relatively solid. Independent trackers estimate a four-day total of $82-85 million, with Disney estimating $80 million against a reported budget of $230 million. By comparison, the last “Pirates” film, “On Stranger Tides,” had a three-day opening of $90 million. That film went on to gross $241 million domestically — the first “Pirates” film to fail to eclipse $300 million stateside — but still passed the $1 billion mark worldwide thanks to $804.6 million from overseas markets, including $108.8 million in Japan, $63.6 million in Russia (the highest for any “Pirates” film in that country) and $70 million in China.

In total, overseas markets comprised 77 percent of the global total for “On Stranger Tides,” up from the 68 percent share held by the 2007 film “At World’s End,” which made a domestic opening of $139.8 million on Memorial Day weekend. “Dead Men Tell No Tales” will likely need a similar international surge to be as successful as its predecessors, as it currently holds a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 33 percent, nearly identical to that of “Stranger Tides.” The film opens in all major markets this weekend except for Japan, where it opens July 1.

Paramount/Skydance’s “Baywatch,” meanwhile, is pegged by trackers for a 5-day opening of $40-42 million, with Paramount projecting a more conservative opening in the low 30s against a reported budget in the high $60M range. These numbers came out before scathing reviews of Seth Gordon‘s remake hit the internet, with the film receiving an 11 percent RT score. By comparison, “21 Jump Street” had a three-day opening of $36.3 million in March 2012, spawning a sequel that posted a $57 million opening and a $191 million cume in June 2014.

The two films will be a test of the drawing power of Depp and Johnson, who are at different points in their careers as blockbuster magnets. Depp’s recent struggles at the box office over the past few years have been well-documented, with films like “Transcendence,” “Mortdecai,” and most infamously, “The Lone Ranger” bombing hard. His most recent disappointment was last year’s “Alice Through The Looking Glass,” a sequel to Tim Burton’s 2010 “Alice In Wonderland” remake that pushed Depp’s performance as the Mad Hatter as its main hook, but only made $299 million against a $170 million budget. That film’s release came amidst headlines of domestic abuse allegations against Depp by his ex-wife, Amber Heard, which certainly damaged the bottom line for “Alice” as it was marketed primarily to female audiences.

But Jack Sparrow remains Depp’s most famous role, and there is still interest in the character, as evidenced by videos of Depp dressing up as the character to surprise Disneyland tourists going viral. With roles in the “Fantastic Beasts” sequel and Universal’s “The Invisible Man” lined up, we will see whether Captain Jack can get the needle moving again for Depp or if his scandals have done permanent damage to his bankability.

Johnson, meanwhile, is at the height of his popularity, commanding a massive social media following and adding two megahits to his name with “Moana” and the billion-dollar “The Fate of the Furious.” To promote “Baywatch,” Johnson hosted the season finale of “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend, giving the show its highest rated finale in six years. Johnson’s films have been able to turn a profit even when critics don’t get behind it. Take “San Andreas,” which scored 48 percent on the Tomatometer but grossed $474 million worldwide against a $110 million budget. With “Baywatch” becoming one of Johnson’s most critically panned films, his audience allure will be put to a big test.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” sees Depp reunite with original cast members Orlando Bloom and Geoffrey Rush, along with newcomers Kaya Scodelario and Brendon Thwaites, as Jack Sparrow sets out on a quest to find the Trident of Poseidon while being hunted by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew of pirate killers. The film is written by Jeff Nathanson and directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (“Kon-Tiki”), with Jerry Bruckheimer producing.

“Baywatch” stars Johnson as Mitch Buchannon, the lifeguard made famous by David Hasselhoff, with Efron as a disgraced Olympic swimmer who joins Mitch’s lifeguard crew with nowhere else to turn. Together, the two hatch a plan to stop a criminal plot unfolding on their beach. Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Jon Bass, Kelly Rohrbach, and Ilfenesh Hadera also star. The film is directed by Seth Gordon (“The King of Kong”) and written by Damian Shannon & Mark Swift (“Freddy vs. Jason”). Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz, Gregory J. Bonann, Beau Flynn, and Ivan Reitman are producing.