As weekend returns drop 21%, only Captain Jack Sparrow can save exhibs

ROME — The Italian box office is still becalmed but the arrival this weekend of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” should hoist up the figures.

Pic, opening in its last major territory, is expected to garner around Euros 22 million ($28 million). Italo exhibs are relieved that they won’t have to wait so long for the next pic as “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” will open day-and-date in May.

“Cars,” in its third week, moved back up to first position this weekend and “Superman” slipped down to second place.

Venice competition film “The Missing Star” fell to third place. Italo pic, which follows a latter-day Marco Polo in China, underwhelmed critics and exhibs and only performed marginally well with its weekend take coming in under Euros 600,000 ($762,000).

“Star” stirred little emotion in auds despite the presence of well-liked thesp Sergio Castellitto and the filmmakers’ attempt to take advantage of China’s growing influence. The Chinese are Italy’s biggest immigrant group and products from China are posing a threat to Italian goods. Stories on China are an almost daily read in local papers and a frequent item in newscasts.

B.O. is down 21% compared with the previous weekend and “considering that we are in the second weekend of September, we are really behind,” one exhib confided.

Both “Cars” and “Superman,” one exhib said, “have really under-performed if compared with last year’s results from ‘Madagascar’.”

Besides being disillusioned with the product, exhibs blame the warm weather, the start of the soccer season, the lack of new pics and modest B.O. from the hold over pics for the poor admissions.

Most exhibs, after a dead summer and a disappointing September, are looking for salvation from the line-up in October when “Miami Vice,” “Departed” and “The Devil Wears Prada” should spruce up the returns. “I hope so or we better look for a different job,” one exhib joked.

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