Pirates of the Caribbean was never supposed to work.
The film was born out of an initiative, started by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, to mine the company’s many theme park attractions for potential movie franchises. It was already off to a wobbly start with Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars and, er, The Country Bears. And pirate movies, of any kind, were seen as box office kryptonite, especially since the last big budget endeavor, 1995’s Cutthroat Island, bankrupted its studio and made the Guinness Book of World Records for the biggest flop. While in production, Disney executives were nervous about Johnny Depp’s fey portrayal of the lead pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow, and the dark tone being conjured by director Gore Verbinski. When the film was released in 2003, it was the first Disney film to carry a PG-13 rating.
And yet somehow, Pirates of the Caribbean has become one of the most dependably bankable franchises in Hollywood. Even the last film, 2017’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, which was already mired in Depp’s controversial private life, grossed $800 million worldwide. And as it was inspired by a theme park attraction, so has it inspired theme park attractions, with Jack Sparrow being added to the classic attraction and a brand new, state-of-the-art ride based on the franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, developed for Shanghai Disneyland (it debuted with the rest of the park in 2016). And recent rumors have suggest that the franchise will be resurrected soon enough, with one possibility being a female-led entry starring Margot Robbie and written by Christina Hodson.
But which Pirates of the Caribbean entry is the most swashbuckling, supernatural creature-filled joy? And which entry should be stranded ashore. You’ll have to read on to find out, ya lousy landlubber.