By Jess Fenton
4th July 2023

The year was 2003, late July. I had just landed in Miami, Florida to visit my best friend and her family for the next two weeks in Fort Lauderdale. I was 18 at the time and less than a year out of high school. Walking through the front door I was greeted with excited hellos, welcomes, "We've missed you," and barks from the whole fambam except the pubescent brother who came racing up to me screaming, "Have you seen 'Pirates of the Caribbean'!?". It had hit cinemas only a couple weeks earlier in the United States; sadly Australia had about two more months to wait. Bombarding me with quotes and fun facts, I must admit the young boy's excitement was contagious. Previous to this day, I had heard they were making the movie and was perplexed as to why Disney would bank on making a film about their worst park ride. By that stage of my life, I'd been to both Disneyland and Disneyworld and suffered through that animatronic nightmare twice. "But it's a classic," people would tell me as I grumbled through the hours-long ride queue.

It was my second-last night of my American summer vacation and after almost two weeks of hearing incessantly about "a ship with black sails, crewed by the damned, and captained by a man so evil that hell itself spat him back out," I was finally given the chance to see what all the hype was about - and by George, the kid was right! For two and a half hours I laughed out loud, screamed with delight, gasped in awe and howled with glee. I. Was. Hooked. I returned home only to become as insufferable as my young friend back in Florida. I told everyone I could about the ship with black sails - damn to the depths of Davy Jones' locker the man that made me and my compatriots wait another five weeks for the film to hit our Aussie shores! But once again, it was worth the wait. Just as spectacular on a second viewing, then I went back for a third, and then too many to count once the DVD was released.

FUN FACT: Keira Knightley was only 17 when she made 'The Curse of the Black Pearl'. Orland Bloom was 25.


Three years later, we were blessed with a sequel! It was... okay. I was just so happy to see all my faves back again. And then just one year after that, a third! ...Yeah, ummmm, look it completed the Captain Jack, Elizabeth Swan, Will Turner and Captain Barbossa's saga in a nice trilogy. Ladies and gentlemen, we now have a franchise! But then they kept making more. By this time, Keira Knightley had buggered off into prestige feminist pictures, two Oscar nominations and becoming a gorgeous fame-rejecting icon and Chanel-wearer. Orlando Bloom was swimming in billion-dollar franchise glory with both the 'Pirates' movies and 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, but alas hasn't been able to reach those lofty heights again since. And as for Mr Johnny Depp, a long time prolific character actor, he had finally found his golden goose. He was a goddamn icon. Action figures, t-shirts, pencil cases, posters and the coveted Halloween costume. If he could, he would make 'Pirates of the Caribbbean' movies until the day he died... and he bloody tried.

FUN FACT: Screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio also co-wrote 'Shrek' and 'Aladdin'!

In 2011 and 2017, we were saddled with two more Pirates adventures. Johnny was still there holding it all together, but even OG trilogy director Gore Verbinski had abandoned ship, and Disney had to find new characters for audiences to care about and fall in love with. No easy feat. I, of course, saw them both opening weekend hoping for lightning to strike again but left feeling disappointed, defeated and asking along with the rest of the world, "Where are Keira and Orlando?" Out of sheer desperation on Disney's part (and I assume a lot of money) K, O and Geoffrey Rush returned for #5 'Dead Men Tell No Tales', but it was too late. Too much time had passed, original audiences had grown up and, well, the films were just shit. Never able to capture the whimsy, humour and originality of the first film, 'Dead Men Tell No Tales', to no one's surprise, was the franchise's worst-performing chapter. If I'm brutally honest with you, I've seen both films, only the once, and I couldn't tell you a single thing that happened in them. I think there was a mermaid? Sad but true, they made absolutely no impact on this fan. And poor Gore. He's made three post-'Pirates' films, two with Johnny Depp - all flops. I refuse to believe it was a fluke. This man has talent! He just chooses the wrong projects.

For two and a half hours I laughed out loud, screamed with delight, gasped in awe and howled with glee. I. Was. Hooked.

FUN FACT: In the 'Dead Man's Chest' Johnny Depp improvised calling Barbossa 'Hector'. This was not in the script nor the productions notes. He completely made it up!

So why did this franchise eventually fail? Don't come at me! This isn't opinion, this is fact! The critic and audience score gets lower with each instalment (with only the slightest uptake in the audience score for 'Dead Men Tell No Tales') and 'Dead Men' was the worst performer at the box office. Despite the films categorically sucking more and more with each one, by the time the fifth instalment came around something else was brewing - Johnny Depp's personal life and imploding marriage to Amber Heard.

FUN FACT: To achieve the look of the decomposing cursed pirates, ILM scanned turkey jerky. Gross.

Look, I won't go into details. Whether we wanted to or not we all saw, at least in part, that horrific court case and the inevitable memes. Long story short, Johnny and Amber gave Sid and Nancy a run for their money. Amber has since fled the country and Hollywood, while Johnny is clawing his way back? So where doesn't this leave the 'Pirates of the Caribbbean' legacy? Was it already dead in the water by 2017... or even by the closing credits of 'At World's End' in 2007? Is it possible we love the Jack Sparrow character more than the franchise in, like, a Harley Quinn scenario? Is that what's kept it going all these years? For a spell there, Disney didn't seem to think so, with a rumoured Margot Robbie-led all-female 'Pirates' film on the slate. That's now gone down to see Old Hob too. Bummer. As much as I groaned at the news back then, the more I sat with it the more I kinda liked the idea. Methinks it was the unmitigated failure of 'Ocean's 8' that may have sunk the femme fatales. A quick Google search informs me of whispers of a sixth 'Pirates' anyway. It turns out Disney, or at least Jerry Bruckheimer hasn't given up hope. But have audiences? Nostalgia is huge these days, but it also has a threshold. Enough time has past for a new generation to take to the high seas. Maybe it could work. Maybe the pirates can be resurrected once again.


The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)US$140mUS$654m80%86%
Dead Man’s Chest (2006)US$225mUS$1.06b53%72%
At World’s End (2007)US$300mUS$961m44%72%
On Stranger Tides (2011)US$250mUS$1.04b33%54%
Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)US$230m$795m30%60%

P.S. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at U.S. Disney parks no longer sucks. They've been updating it to match the franchise and it's pretty cool now.

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