“Pirates” Breaks a Billion at the Box Office…and Latinos Stand to Win Because of It

It’s actually pretty remarkable: in a year of huge, HUGE movies, from Thor to Green Lantern to Harry Potter himself, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides has almost been forgotten. It was the first out of the gate for the summer season (May 22 seems so long ago!) and now it seems to have come and gone with barely a splash. But here’s the thing: it just broke one billion dollars in box office worldwide, putting it #7 on the all-time list, and it’s still climbing (in fact, it overtook The Dark Knight this weekend). And the message it sends is important to Latinos in front and behind the camera in a lot of different ways.

For one thing, we can end the myth once and for all…The conversation about how Latinos can’t “open a movie” is over.  Certainly Johnny Depp was the main driver behind the initial success of PotC: OST, but most of his supporting cast, including British fan favorites Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom, didn’t make it all the way to the third installment. But Penelope Cruz came on board, as the only new ‘name’ on the list (Geoffrey Rush was on board, quite literally, last time around.) Cruz, as Latino a screen presence as one can be, not only didn’t hurt the worldwide appeal of the film, she clearly helped it. OST has already beaten Pirates #1 in revenue, and, at $1,007,000,000 and rising, will almost certainly beat  Pirates #2 at $1,066,000,000 from three years ago. When it does so, it will, in fact, be #4 on the list of Highest Box-Office Films of All Time, giving way only to the last installment of Lord of the Rings, Titanic, and Avatar. And it might even beat Lord of the Rings before all is said and done. Cruz was an important part of that. And it doesn’t just make her an infinitely bankable star, it makes Latinos more attractive on an international stage as well.

Which is the other terribly important lesson to be learned here. On Stranger Tides is not only a massive moneymaker for Disney (who have, by the way, five out of ten of the top box office hits–three of those five the Pirates pictures); it is a worldwide moneymaker. More than 75% of that billion dollars was not made in the United States–a far greater percentage than any of the other top ten films, that made between 50 and 65 percent of their money domestically. No: three out of four Pirates doubloons came from elsewhere, and still is. Out there—in Europe, Asia, Australia, South America–Latino looks and a Spanish accent (no matter what language they’re actually hearing) is a good thing. It gives the film an international, or rather multi-national flavor; it transcends it being just an “American” or a “British” or a “French” picture. And that is good-to-great for American studios. (Interestingly, only a couple of those Top Ten B.O. films are decidedly, unavoidably America: The Dark Knight and Toy Story 3, both filled with American cultural icons. But the rest—Alice in Wonderland, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter—are very much English/European, while Titanic and Avatar are multicultural, to say the least. It’s worth noting, too,  that the Pirates pictures have always been like that; the supporting cast is almost entirely British; Depp himself, though American, affected a something-like-British accent for Capt. Jack Sparrow. Thought produced and directed by Americans, the film has a decidedly English–and now European–accent. Certainly not American.)

So can Latinos open a movie? Asked and answered. Are Latino stars bankable? End of discussion. Let’s just hope the studios learn the lesson that is right in front of their collective corporate faces.