It must have been pretty weird for some folks at Disney last year. Pirates of the Caribbean, the once stellar franchise inspired by their theme park ride, released a fifth installment, Dead Men Tell No Tales (or Salazar’s Revenge in some countries) to very lukewarm reception. It was a far cry from its heyday.
During the 2000s, Pirates of Caribbean was a phenomenal force anchored an iconic character Halloween costumers dressed up as every year and an actor moviegoers were obsessed with. Johnny Depp was an idolized megastar, and the eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow remains his most memorable role today.
The one that started it all, The Curse of the Black Pearl, was adored by viewers. Its sequel, Dead Man’s Chest, crossed the billion dollar mark at the box office (an unbelievably rare feat back then) and became the third highest-grossing film in history up to that point, behind only Titanic and the third Lord of The Rings movie.
The third Pirates movie (and my personal favorite), At World’s End, drew $963 million a year later, and its conclusion seemed to signal an end to the film series. But Disney came back with a fourth offering four years later, At Stranger Tides in 2011, and people were still up for swashbuckling action, since the film brought in over a billion dollars and made Pirates of the Caribbean the first film series with two billion-dollar instalments.
But a lot has changed since 2011. Action-adventure films have always been a mainstay in cinematic history, but Marvel Studios (owned by Disney themselves) changed the climate of the industry when it unleashed The Avengers in 2012.
That movie, an ensemble culmination of existing familiar characters that share the same cinematic universe, grossed $1.5 billion worldwide, and made all movie studios rethink their long-term plans for the decade.
Warner Bros began a similar superhero movie universe in 2013. Sony made plans for one revolving around Spider-Man characters. Universal even tried a horror-themed one with last year’s The Mummy. Action adventure films began pellating the theaters exponentially, while rom coms and chick flicks took a step back.
Action adventure is now a super-saturated market in blockbuster cinema, and that’s honestly why the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean slipped past the cracks when it was released this time last year.
Moviegoers became too engrossed with the complex universes built by Marvel and the likes to pay attention to a revived series that stood dormant for six whole years. When Dead Men Tell No Tales debuted at the end of May 2017, its sales figures in the US captured viewers’ lack of enthusiasm: the lowest opening day in the Pirates series, and second-lowest opening weekend, above only the first film. Eventually, it amassed $794 million worldwide, the second-lowest in the franchise (again, above only the first film.)
It’s frankly bizarre to think a Pirates film could draw such disappointing numbers a decade later. I still remember the 2000s Pirates fever in great detail, how Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were the biggest movie of their summers.
Some analysts call this franchise fatigue. I call this franchise forgotten, because Marvel has been going for ten years and they’re only getting stronger. Disney’s pirate counterpart receded too far into the background with its six-year hiatus.
Other analysts attribute this to the film’s poor reviews, which really ties it back to this decade’s market saturation because poorly-reviewed films still earned big bucks in the previous decade. Some also blamed the movie’s performance on Johnny Depp himself, since the once-idolized icon has been embroiled in domestic abuse allegations in recent years.
I say it’s an amalgamation of all of these. I watched Dead Men Tell No Tales myself and found it quite a pointless film; the only scene that had me glued was the surprise cameo return of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
I don’t know if Disney intends to bring Bloom and Knightley back to the franchise as leads alongside Depp, but I don’t think they should. Few reports claim that Disney is proceeding with a sixth film, which is a suicide mission headed straight for an iceberg.
Pirates of the Caribbean is a ship that has sailed its course, and the six-year hiatus should’ve lasted indefinitely. Making more films that people don’t love or even want just ruins the series. Sometimes I find myself forgetting that a fifth movie happened last year.
Disney has a lot of creative properties, and have even purchased 20th Century Fox recently. Explore those. Let our once-beloved pirates rest in peace.