Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opened in North America with an estimated $90.1m this weekend, making Disney’s fourth Pirates film the biggest domestic opener of the year so far but only the third best starter in the franchise’s history.

The three-day opening gross - from 4,155 theatres, for a per-theatre average of $21,685 - was at the low end of the range predicted by box office pundits and compared to the $114.7m domestic opening in 2007 of third franchise installment At World’s End and the $135.6m opening in 2006 of second film Dead Man’s Chest.

Starring Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, with Rob Marshall taking over as director from Gore Verbinski, the fourth installment of the Buena Vista-distributed, Jerry Bruckheimer-produced franchise is the first in 3D and benefitted from higher ticket prices charged for 3D screenings.

It may have been hurt, however, by franchise fatigue, the four year gap in the series and mostly negative reviews.

In second place on the North American chart, Universal’s Bridesmaids held up to Pirates 4 surprisingly well, dropping just 20% in its second weekend to gross an estimated $21.1m from 2,937 theatres, for a per-theatre average of $7,170 and a total to date of $59.5m

Paramount’s Thor was down 55% in its third weekend, taking an estimated $15.5m from 3,924 theatres for an average of $3,950 and a total of $145.4m.

Sony / Screen Gems’ Priest fell off 69% in its second weekend, taking $4.6m from 2,864 theatres for $1,606 average and a total of $23.7m.

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, from Sony Pictures Classics, made a very strong start in limited release, grossing an estimated $579,000 from six screens for an impressive per screen average of $96,500.

Wide releases for the upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend are Warner Bros comedy The Hangover Part II, with Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis starring again for director Todd Phillips, and Paramount/DreamWorks animated family film Kung Fu Panda 2, with Jack Black and Angelina Jolie leading the voice cast.

Estimated Top 10 North America May 20-22, 2010
Film (Dist) / Est wkd gross / Est total to date
1 (-) Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $90.1m -
2 (2) Bridesmaids (Universal) UPI $21.1m $59.5m
3 (1) Thor (Paramount/Marvel Studios) PPI $15.5m $145.4m
4 (3) Fast Five (Universal) UPI $10.6m $186.2m
5 (5) Rio (Fox) Fox Int’l $4.6m $131.6m
6 (4) Priest (Screen Gems) SPRI $m $m
7 (6) Jumping The Broom (TriStar) SPRI $3.7m $31.3m
8 (7) Something Borrowed (Warner Bros) Summit Int’l $3.4m $31.4m
9 (8) Water For Elephants (Fox) Fox Int’l $2.2m $52.4m
10 (9) Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family (Lionsgate) Lionsgate $990,000 $51.8m