The Swashbucklingly Simple Formula That Keeps Pirates of the Caribbean Drifting Right Along

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Pirates of the Caribbean

Buena Vista

To begin, some numbers. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has made over $1.27 billion at the domestic box office. Worldwide, the four films of the venerable Disney series have made over $3.72 billion. On average, each film has made nearly $300M during each American release. For awhile, Pirates was on the upswing ‐ its top earner is actually the second film in the series, while the third is the second-biggest moneymaker ‐ though things took a bit of a dive with the fourth film in the franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which opened in 2011 and only (ha, only) made one billion dollars worldwide. (Weirdly, reviews for each film have only gotten worse each time around, with the last entry earning a 33% Rotten rating over at Rotten Tomatoes, even though the first film has a very respectable 79% Fresh rating.

The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is, in short, a big earner, one of Disney’s most profitable and popular live-action series and one they’re not going to be letting go of any time soon. It also doesn’t hurt that every single Pirates of the Caribbean movie comes complete with the same plot, making it all the more easy to stick Johnny Depp on a boat and make a little movie magic.

The newest entry into the franchise ‐ Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales — has just started filming, despite not hitting the big screen until July 7, 2017 (yes, 2017), and with that news comes the film’s first official synopsis.

Which sounds exactly like every single other Pirates of the Caribbean plot synopsis we’ve ever seen. Take a look:

“Thrust into an all-new adventure, a down-on-his-luck Captain Jack Sparrow finds the winds of ill-fortune blowing even more strongly when deadly ghost pirates led by his old nemesis, the terrifying Captain Salazar (Bardem), escape from the Devil’s Triangle, determined to kill every pirate at sea…including him. Captain Jack’s only hope of survival lies in seeking out the legendary Trident of Poseidon, a powerful artifact that bestows upon its possessor total control over the seas.”

Let’s see: Captain Jack Sparrow looking for adventure, a nemesis, a vague mention of some weirdo area, and a “powerful artifact” of some kind. Sound familiar? It is!

The synopsis for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides:

“Johnny Depp returns to his iconic role of Captain Jack Sparrow in an action-packed adventure. Crossing paths with the enigmatic Angelica (Penelope Cruz), he’s not sure if it’s love ‐ or if she’s a ruthless con artist who’s using him to find the fabled Fountain of Youth. When she forces him aboard the ‘Queen Anne’s Revenge,’ the ship of the legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), Jack finds himself on an unexpected adventure in which he doesn’t know whom to fear more: Blackbeard or Angelica, with whom he shares a mysterious past.”

What have we got here? Let’s see: Captain Jack Sparrow looking for adventure, a nemesis, a vague mention of some weirdo ship, and a powerful artifact.

But, wait, here is the synopsis for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End:

“Just when he’s needed most, Captain Jack Sparrow, that witty and wily charmer of a pirate, is trapped on a sea of sand in Davy Jones’ Locker. In an increasingly shaky alliance, Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann and Captain Barbossa begin a desperate quest to find and rescue him. Captain Jack’s the last of the nine Pirate Lords of the Brethren Court who must come together united in one last stand to preserve the freedom-loving pirates’ way of life.”

Points for adventure, a possible nemesis (Captain Barbossa), a vague mention of some pirate thing we should know about (Brethren Court), and hell, let’s just call Davy Jones’ Locker a bit of an artifact.

What about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest?

“Charming rogue pirate Captain Jack Sparrow is back for a grand, swashbuckling, nonstop joyride filled with devilish pirate humor, monstrous sea creatures and breathtaking black magic. Now, Jack’s got a blood debt to pay; he owes his soul to the legendary Davy Jones, ghostly Ruler of the Ocean Depths, but ever-crafty Jack isn’t about to go down without a fight.”

Where’s that artifact? It’s the chest of the film’s title.

And, one more, the original Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl:

“The roguish yet charming Captain Jack Sparrow’s idyllic pirate life capsizes after his nemesis, the wily Captain Barbossa, steals his ship, the Black Pearl, and later attacks the town of Port Royal, kidnapping the governor’s beautiful daughter Elizabeth. In a gallant attempt to rescue her and recapture the Black Pearl, Elizabeth’s childhood friend Will Turner joins forces with Jack.What Will doesn’t know is that a cursed treasure has doomed Barbossa and his crew to live forever as the undead.”

A cursed treasure. Want to write the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie? Just include some sense of “adventure,” set up a nemesis, set it on or around some kind of pirate-y thing that’s talked about as if it’s something we should already know about, and send everyone looking for some kind of powerful historical artifact. What about the Ark of the Covenant? That’s still more original than the last four Pirates films.

[Box Office Mojo, Wiki, Disney]