Pirates have appeared in Disney films since the very start of the company’s existence, Walt Disney’s first live-action film being a feature-length adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Treasure Island (1950). That release was followed up by the even more popular animated outing Peter Pan just three years later, another huge hit for scallywag pirates and mermaids. The company’s fascination continued from there, the Disney brand producing pirate archetype after pirate archetype for animated and live-action releases alike for all 7 of the decades since.
In 1967, the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction debuted at Disneyland, California, further illustrating the company’s fascination with outlaw sailors and the pursuit of golden treasure chests. It was 36 years after that (2003), that their theme park attraction would finally be monetised on the big screen, the mythos of pirates put front and centre for a live-action adventure the likes of which we had never seen before.
Led on the screen by the now iconic “Captain” Jack Sparrow, played by famed character actor turned international megastar Johnny Depp, and produced by blockbuster powerhouse production company Jerry Bruckheimer films (Top Gun; Armageddon), the Pirates of the Caribbean tapped into the fan-base of the theme park attraction (now available at 4 different parks) to create a monster box office hit.
Now 5 movies deep, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has become a staple of cinema. And, with a reboot reportedly in the works, now seems like the perfect time to revisit the series to judge which films worked and which ones didn’t so much.
That’s why, in this edition of Ranked, we’re ranking the Pirates of the Caribbean films from worst to best.
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5. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Director: Rob Marshall
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is by far the worst Pirates film of the franchise.
The anticipation to see Jack and Will back together for another adventure of swashbuckling excitement was strong, but due to scheduling conflicts and Orlando Bloom’s personal preference to not return to the franchise for a 4th installment, that didn’t happen.
Will is nowhere to be seen, and perhaps more sad than that, Jack is a caricature of himself.
The plot was also lacking, the villainous Blackbeard (Ian McShane) – the most iconic of all antagonistic pirates – was more of a cockney loudmouth than a vicious and believable foe, and there were plot points tacked onto his character that seemed to be divulged to the audience and then forgotten about moments later, his magic sword that can manipulate rope being one of those things.
Penelope Cruz debuted in the series as Jack’s ex-love interest, Angelica, while The Irishman star Stephen Graham and Love Wedding Repeat lead Sam Claflin made up parts of the supporting cast, but the film sadly never achieved its potential nor lived up to the standards of its three predecessors.
Rob Marshall had already proved himself as a worthy director to take on this high budget franchise having directed Chicago (2002) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), but he ultimately couldn’t do enough to overcome the sub-standard content he was working with.
If you can overlook some truly terrible writing, this film could offer a bit of fun, but overall it falls short of all expectations, making for the most disappointing entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
Director: Gore Verbinksi
Originally written as a two part entry into the Pirates franchise, the biggest issue with At World’s End is its writing – a brilliant hook in the form of a mass pirate hanging is soon lost to the film’s over complicated and jam-packed narrative; it really is a film trying to offer too much content all at once.
Generally, the aesthetic is nice – it even features the best sequence in all five movies (the beautifully crafted death scene of Governor Beckett) – and it’s a darker, more solemn look at what we had already seen in the trilogy up to this point, confronting the more vicious sides of Pirates and colonial navy forces, as well as the entire psyche of a pirate on the open ocean; Davy Jones’ Locker representing to us exactly how it must feel to be lost at sea, or to never quite know exactly where you’re going. Unfortunately, much of this more adult exploration comes across in contradiction to the film’s mainstream blockbuster intentions, and the result is therefore one of a number of important pieces not quite fitting together properly, the film not quite having the self-assurance that previous entries did.
At World’s End isn’t a bad Pirates movie, and indeed it does feature a number of strong points – not least the franchise’s best villain Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), who is both chilling and manipulative, but who is also entirely believable in his intentions and motivations – and it would therefore seem cruel to rank this film any lower in this list. However, with an open ending that seemed to take all of the closure it had promised away from us in the final moments, and with more films being added to the franchise that negate the need for this film’s overly long 2 hours and 49 minutes run-time, it seems every bit like a film sent out to earn money rather than fulfill an artistic goal, sitting the trilogy-ending Dead Man’s Chest at number 4 in our list.