The fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, 2017’s Dead Men Tell No Tales, was a flop with critics and audiences alike, but could the sequel’s original plan have potentially worked? When The Ring director Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl arrived in cinemas in summer 2003, the movie seemed doomed to sink without a trace at the box office.
The 1995 failure Cutthroat Island ensured that Hollywood was reticent about the financial potential of swashbuckling action-adventure movies, while the critical drubbing received by The Haunted Mansion later that same year proved that a big-budget adaptation of a Disneyland ride was far from a surefire success with reviewers. However, despite the odds, The Curse of the Black Pearl proved both a critical and commercial success, immediately spawning a pair of back-to-back sequels in 2006’s Dead Man’s Chest and 2007’s At World’s End. Unlike the first film in the series, the second and third movies proved critically divisive upon release with critics complaining of their complicated backstory and darker tone as among the mistakes in Pirates of the Caribbean sequels.
However, it was not until the third sequel, 2011’s On Stranger Tides, that the critical reception of the series became outright hostile, with reviewers calling the movie the worst Pirates of the Caribbean installment so far upon its release. The fortunes of the franchise waned further with 2017’s oft-delayed Dead Men Tell No Tales, which endured a lengthy and troubled production only to be released to even worse reviews than its predecessor and the lowest box office of the series so far. The series has since been put on hiatus, although Disney has announced plans for both a Margot Robbie-starring reboot and an unrelated sixth film in the original franchise. With massive fan demand for Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow to return in Pirates of the Caribbean 6, it is worth revisiting the long path that the fifth movie in the series took to the screen, and wonder whether the movie's original plan would have provided the franchise a much-needed hit four years ago.
Although On Stranger Tides received significantly worse critical write-ups than its predecessors, the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie did earn an impressive haul at the box office, making more money than all of the franchise’s earlier movies. As a result of this, On Stranger Tides helmer Marshall was offered the chance to return to the director's chair for Dead Men Tell No Tales. He was not the creator’s first choice, with original Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski being offered the job initially. But when Verbinski opted out Marshall was approached, only for him to also turn the job down in favor of 2014’s Disney musical Into The Woods. Marshall was then replaced by Rupert Sanders of Snow White and the Huntsman fame according to a Deadline shortlist from 2013.
However, Sanders in turn dropped out to instead direct Ghost in the Shell in what was likely not much of a loss for Dead Men Tell No Tales. Much like Marshall’s Into The Woods, Sanders’ adaptation of the popular manga would go on to receive mixed-to-negative reviews criticizing its muddled story and gloomy tone.
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