Saturday August 6, 2022

The six-year gap between the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise’s fourth outing, On Stranger Tides, and its fifth movie, Dead Men Tell No Tales, could be what killed the series for good in the eyes of many viewers. The Pirates of the Caribbean movies were an unlikely success story, making it no surprise that the franchise was unable to sustain its popularity throughout its five outings. However, while every Pirates of the Caribbean sequel after the original movie struggled to win back critical approval, somewhere between the fourth and fifth outings of the series, the franchise lost its appeal to audiences, too.

The fifth (and, thus far, final) Pirates of the Caribbean movie Dead Men Tell No Tales arrived in cinemas six years after the fourth movie, On Stranger Tides. It had been fourteen years since the original Curse of the Black Pearl started the successful franchise but, despite the critical acclaim heaped on that 2003 hit, Dead Men Tell No Tales soon became the first movie in the series to earn less than its predecessor. This comparative financial failure, paired with by far the worst reviews of the series, seemed to spell the end for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

Related: Pirates of the Caribbean: Every Jack Sparrow Love Interest

As proven by Will and Elizabeth’s pointless cameo in the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, there were plenty of issues with Dead Men Tell No Tales on the level of storytelling and writing. However, the fact that viewers failed to flock to cinemas upon release has less to do with the quality of the movie and more to do with the waning loyalty of much of the Pirates of the Caribbean fanbase. The movie’s issues aside, it was the long wait between On Stranger Tides and Dead Men Tell No Tales that proved to be the final nail in the franchise’s coffin. While 2011’s fourth outing was not well-loved either, it was less slated due to arriving in theaters closer to At World’s End and during a less tumultuous period in its leading man’s screen career.

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The frequently changing plan of Dead Men Tell No Tales took six years to reach theaters, thanks to On Stranger Tides director Rob Marshall leaving the franchise for Into The Woods and the original trilogy’s director Gore Verbinski turning down the chance to return. Verbinski stated he could see no reason other than money to make another Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and this resulted in a less experienced pair of directors being hired to helm the fifth movie in the franchise. Even when this directing duo was found, original screenwriter Terry Rossio’s script was rejected as it had a female villain and the studio was worried that this would make Pirates of the Caribbean 5 remind viewers of the relatively recent Johnny Depp-starring flop Dark Shadows. That lesser Tim Burton horror movie had far bigger problems than its female antagonist, but the decision was made to start the scripting process over from scratch with a new screenwriter.

This choice pushed off production by another two years, meaning that the sequel originally slated for a 2013 release would now not materialize until 2015 at the earliest. On top of that, original villain actor Christoph Waltz left the role of Salazar, prompting the creators to recast the character with Javier Bardem, and Keith Richards’ unavailability resulted in his cameo being replaced by one from Paul McCartney. While none of these individual changes doomed the prospects of Dead Men Tell No Tales, the myriad delays did give the movie’s star time to go from an Oscar contender to a Razzie nominee.

On Stranger Tides arrived on screens while Depp was still a bankable star, with massive hits like Alice In Wonderland being tempered by under-performing star vehicles like the underrated Rango and the flawed thriller The Tourist. However, by 2017, a string of flops from Dark Shadows to The Lone Ranger, to Transcendence to Mortdecai, to Yoga Hosers had all dimmed the light of Depp’s stardom, and hits were few and far between on his recent screen CV. Even the success of 2017’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was tempered by the under-performance of Alice Through The Looking Glass, particularly because Depp shared his minor role in that blockbuster with Colin Farrell. While many can’t imagine Pirates of the Caribbean without Johnny Depp, the actor’s formerly strong box office appeal was beginning to show cracks as early as 2011 and was far from bulletproof by 2017.

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Related: Why Pirates of the Caribbean Didn’t Inspire Any Rip-offs

Without Depp to rely on as a huge box office draw, the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie floundered in its attempts to pull in new viewers. The promised cameos from Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley weren’t enough to entice audiences since the duo already had a solid ending to their original trilogy love story, and the return of Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa was tempered by the fact that the actor appeared in On Stranger Tides too. Newcomers Kaya Scodelario and Brenton Thwaites may have tempted some viewers into the cinema, but many viewers were already disappointed by Jack Sparrow’s character devolution before Pirates of the Caribbean 5 was even released, and new characters were unlikely to help that.

A lack of enthusiasm for Depp’s star power should not ordinarily have been enough to sink a series as big as the massive Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. However, the sheer length of time between installments (over half a decade) meant that interest in the series had waned. Many viewers had moved on from the Pirates of the Caribbean series, meaning that, even though the movie still made an impressive $750 million, its terrible reviews and audience disappointment meant a sixth in the series soon seemed like it would never happen. As Margot Robbie’s proposed Pirates of the Caribbean 6 earns audience backlash for potentially writing out Jack Sparrow and the actor shows no sign of returning to the franchise, the series seems more dead in the water with each passing year. The Pirates of the Caribbean movies may have been able to eke out a few more releases if it weren’t for the huge wait between sequels, but the 6-year wait for Dead Men Tell No Tales ensured that possibility would likely never become a reality.

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More: Pirates of the Caribbean’s Pirate Betrayal Was Deeper Than You Realized

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