Rumors are spreading that Disney plan to reboot the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise - here's how they should take the series past Jack Sparrow. For the past decade or so, The Walt Disney Company have remained the unimpeachable giants of Hollywood film-making and the worldwide entertainment complex. Their recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox was merely the icing on top of an already rich cake, thanks to their purchases of Marvel Studios and the Star Wars franchise as well as the box office record-breaking successes of their own properties. As of the writing of this post, Disney are responsible for four of the top ten highest grossing movies of 2018 so far, with three of them having made over $1 billion worldwide and the quartet of titles having a combined gross of around $5.24 billion. Between superheroes, Jedi and live-action remade classics, Disney have cemented their status as the top dogs in Hollywood.
Yet Disney remains surprisingly lacking in one key area of their output. While live-action remakes to beloved classics like Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella and The Jungle Book have brought them billions of dollars and helped to rejuvenate priceless brands, their other live-action properties have been less than stellar in terms of critical and commercial clout. A Wrinkle in Time proved to be a costly gamble that did not pay off. Outside of a planned co-produced adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books (to be directed by Kenneth Branagh) and a Jungle Cruise movie with Dwayne Johnson, Disney don’t seem to be investing in more live-action properties unless they’re remaking familiar titles with stories that don’t require any work.
The exception to that rule remains the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. It's been running for over 15 years, in which time just five movies have made over $4.5 billion. And yet, it seems spent after the disappointing Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. What went wrong, and how can we fix it?
- This Page: What Went Wrong With Pirates of the Caribbean
- Page 2: The Perfect Replacement For Jack Sparrow Already Exists
- Page 3: Other Changes That Need To Be Made To Pirates of the Caribbean
Pirates of the Caribbean "Saved" Disney
In 2003, when Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl debuted, it was a massive risk on Disney’s part that most people thought would be an instant flop; it was an expensive film based on a theme park ride, from a genre that hadn’t been profitable in a long time, and starring an indie favorite doing a drunken Keith Richards impression. Even then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner thought it was a disaster in waiting. Then it made over $654 million worldwide – the fourth highest grossing movie of 2004 – got rapturous critical reviews and landed its leading man, Johnny Depp, an Oscar nomination. Finally, it seemed that Disney had a franchise that could keep up with its competition, such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and The Matrix series.
It didn’t take long for Disney to harness the franchise potential of Pirates of the Caribbean. Two sequels were put into production in 2005, with Dead Man's Chest and At World's End being shot back to back. Famously, this happened without either movies having completed scripts when shooting started. And while critics' responses were weaker to this duo of films, the box office numbers were impressive and the pair made a combined total of $2 billion worldwide.
Four years later, Disney released a fourth Pirates film, On Stranger Tides. Johnny Depp returned as the now iconic Captain Jack Sparrow but Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley were out and director Gore Verbinski was replaced by Rob Marshall. The film still made over $1 billion worldwide but reviews were weak and the film's rumored budget of $378 million made it the most expensive movie ever produced (not adjusting for inflation). Still, the films did very well internationally, especially in the much coveted Chinese market, so a fifth film was inevitable. Six years later saw the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and this was where the wheels started to fall off the franchise.
Where The Jack Sparrow Pirates of the Caribbean Went Wrong
The production of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales was mired in controversy, from rumors over its ballooning budget to reports of Johnny Depp’s bad behavior on-set (as well as the revelation that he was having his lines fed to him via earpiece). Matters weren’t helped when the story of Depp’s alleged domestic abuse against his now ex-wife Amber Heard appeared in headlines a few months before the film’s premiere. It’s hard to quantify if those headlines hurt the film but they certainly didn’t help its box office; it opened to the franchise’s lowest ever domestic numbers as well as the second lowest international grosses. While the film still managed to make close to $800 million in total, it failed to land in the top ten highest grossing films of its year, something every other addition to the franchise had managed with ease. Even Chinese audiences seemed to have been hit with Pirates fatigue.
While audiences have grumbled about being sick of reboots and that it’s too soon for Disney to completely overhaul the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, it makes sense that they would want to freshen up what remains the jewel in their live-action crown, independent of their many acquisitions. The franchise is too well established to simply end, particularly in its placement in Disney’s many theme parks. Their newest park in Shanghai opened with a Pirates of the Caribbean ride whose story was completely new and not based on the original ride the films were adapted from. Add to that the profits of merchandising and Disney won’t be letting the Pirates out to pasture any time soon. But where does it go from here?