Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)—A Disney Attraction turned Successful Film



Who doesn’t love a good pirate movie? Now I don’t mean pirated movies, but pirate movies. The swashbuckling, rum-drinking and gold-loving plunderers of the sea, pirates are a staple in our culture. Back in the 1990s, two screenwriters, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio wanted to write a pirate film featuring supernatural elements. In 2001, a screenplay was written about Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. While a film written about a theme park attraction seems like a bizarre idea, I’ve seen films being made on stranger premises.

A young Elizabeth Swann discovers a ship wreckage from the sea, and soon, a boy is rescued from said wreckage. He is found with a strange golden medallion around his neck, which Elizabeth takes. Twenty years later, Elizabeth (played by Keira Knightley) is set to marry Commodore James Norrington (played by Jack Davenport) but faints due to the tightness of her corset. Captain Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp) rescues her, but is imprisoned by Commodore Norrington. Meanwhile, the medallion leads the cursed ship, the Black Pearl to Port Royal and the crew capture Elizabeth and bring her to their captain, Barbossa (played by Geoffrey Rush). Jack Sparrow and now blacksmith Will Turner (played by Orlando Bloom) set out to rescue her and stop Barbossa.


Jack Sparrow and Will Turner

The original plot was a simpler story, with Will being a prison guard rather than a blacksmith and Turner and Sparrow teaming up to rescue Elizabeth, who is held for ransom. This would change after numerous rewrites, and the story would become what it is today. Executives were struggling to decide whether to release the film in theaters or direct-to-DVD, but ultimately chose the former and to great success, making $655 million at the box office on a budget of $140 million. This financial success would lead to several sequels being made, starting with Dead Man’s Chest premiering in theaters three years later in 2006, with At World’s End premiering a year after that. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley did not return for the 2011 film On Stranger Tides, but returned for 2017’s Dead Men Tell No Tales. Like most film franchises that go on for too long (looking at you Terminator), the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels feel more and more like cash grabs, especially the most recent two.


Captain Hector Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean
One of the most charismatic villains in the films

Much of the set was actually constructed by the crew. The ships, fortresses, piers and Governor Swann’s palace were all built on site. Additionally, the cast all incorporated prostheses that included fake teeth and contacts to appear rotting or decomposed as well as the special effects makeup to make them look more like undead pirates. The only exception to this was Johnny Depp, who actually went on to have golden inlays in his teeth. Speaking of Depp, the role of Jack Sparrow was originally going to go to Hugh Jackman, but ended up going to Depp due to the latter being a bigger name. Depp took the role of Jack Sparrow to another level, portraying him as a rock star in pirate’s clothing, complete with bizarre hand motions, slurred speech and a slightly drunken demeanor. Despite this, Sparrow is still a likable character who still does the right thing. Jack Sparrow would become one of Depp’s most iconic roles and the franchise would become synonymous with Johnny Depp’s name.


Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow
The one and only Captain Jack Sparrow

I can’t mention Pirates of the Caribbean without mentioning the soundtrack. Composed by the legendary John Williams, the soundtrack features Williams’ iconic use of orchestral instruments and horns to create this epic sound that is reminiscent of his other work. Despite this, the score has its own identity that enriches the film with a sense of adventure. Perhaps the most famous piece of music is He’s a Pirate, which is not only one the most memorable tracks from the film, but also one of Williams’ most iconic scores in his career.

Pirates of the Caribbean was the rave of its time. Every kid wanted to ride the Disney attraction and merchandise for the film was at an all-time high. I can’t remember not seeing something related to the film in every store I went to. The film was so big that Disney considered making films based off of other Disney Park attractions, the most famous being 2003’s The Haunted Mansion, to a much more negative reception. With this box office and critical bomb, Disney learned that not every attraction could be made into a film, instead milking the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.


Jack Sparrow vs. Will Turner
I prefer this to the sword fight on the wheel

Despite the franchise being milked to death, Disney still had its sights on a sixth installment in the franchise. However, in light of a public defamation trial against Johnny Depp, Disney decided to drop Depp from the franchise altogether. While Depp came out as innocent, he stated that he would never reprise the role of Captain Jack Sparrow again, despite rumors that he would be paid $300 million. This is especially sad, as Depp was the heart and soul of Pirates of the Caribbean. Without him, the franchise isn’t the same. Depp’s performance as Jack Sparrow is so iconic that many fans, including myself, believe that he was born for the role.

Overall, 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is one of Disney’s most popular and financially successful films. With action-packed set pieces, memorable characters (especially Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbosa), and an iconic performance by the one and only Johnny Depp, 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean is a fun adventure film from beginning to end and will keep you entertained for years to come!


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