The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is Disney’s highest-grossing live-action movie series, but the studio has continually failed to copy its own success. Walt Disney Studios saw massive box office returns on their 2003 film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which was based on a Disney theme park ride. That initial film follows the pirate Jack Sparrow and a blacksmith named Will Turner as they race to save the kidnapped Elizabeth Swann from a ship full of cursed buccaneers. It made $650 million on a budget of $140 million and has spawned numerous highly profitable sequels for a total worldwide gross of over $4.5 billion.
After such a massive return on investment, Disney sought further success by cashing in on the same formula — yet they can’t seem to discern just what that formula is. The decision has proven costly, as the studio fed massive budgets into other Disney ride-based movies, other swashbuckling adventure films, and even other works from the same writers and director, with little to show for their investment. Today, Disney’s live-action slate is dominated by remakes of their hugely popular animated works; the question of how, or indeed if, they will ever succeed at creating another live-action franchise that matches their past Pirates of the Caribbean success remains to be seen.
Multiple Disney Movies Have Tried To Replicate Pirates Of The Caribbean’s Success
Assuming that the path to replicating Pirates of the Caribbean’s success lay in more jaunty action-adventure films based on established IP, Disney approved a whole slate of big-budget blockbusters based on nostalgic genres. The most promising of these was the swords-and-sandals fantasy film Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, adapted from the popular game series. While the film was successful, even registering as the biggest opening for a video game adaptation at the time of release, it wasn’t the franchise-carrying box office success Disney had hoped for. This, combined with poor reviews and dissipating interest in the video games, led to Disney eventually abandoning Prince of Persia 2 plans.
Other attempts at action-adventure franchises fared even worse; one infamous failure was 2012’s John Carter, a space-fantasy film adapted from the book series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The film failed to make back its monstrous budget, estimated at around $300 million and led to the resignation of studio head Rich Ross. Disney’s next attempt, 2013’s The Lone Ranger, did not fare much better, likewise underperforming on a massive budget. Disney has also attempted other movies based on theme-park rides over the years, including 2003’s The Haunted Mansion, Tomorrowland, and Jungle Cruise. None succeeded at making back their estimated overall budgets including marketing.
Why Disney Has Struggled To Find A Franchise Outside Of Pirates Of The Caribbean
The singular success of Pirates of the Caribbean must be beguiling to Disney, whose attempts to copy its popularity didn’t stray far from the formula. The closest clone was The Lone Ranger, which not only starred Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp but was also directed by original franchise director Gore Verbinski and written by its co-writers. It’s possible Disney’s error lies in the assumption that there’s a formula at all. The first Pirates of the Caribbean was a creative gamble and a clear labor of love; it felt new, vibrant, and original. No franchise Disney attempted in its wake had this ring of authenticity; they felt like imitations.
It’s possible that the bloated budgets Disney doles out cause so many of their projects come to be perceived as failures. It’s worth noting that Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl’s budget of $140 million was smaller than any of its imitators. Prince of Persia’s box office of $335 million is nothing to sneer at, but it seems so when compared to its production budget, estimated at $200 million. Disney saw a similar scene play out more recently, with the disappointment of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny; the film’s $250 million box office would be respectable had it not cost an exorbitant $300 million.
Can Any Upcoming Disney Movies Replace Pirates Of The Caribbean?
Disney has not given up on finding the next Pirates of the Caribbean. The studio is working on two more films based on Disney rides. The trailer for the 2023 Haunted Mansion movie features music eerily familiar to that of Pirates of the Caribbean and even name-drops the popular franchise. While still comedic, Haunted Mansion seems to be a more earnest and faithful affair than the 2003 film based on the same ride and starring Eddie Murphy, and it boasts an impressive cast whose thriving chemistry could match that achieved by the Pirates of the Caribbean leads.
Another upcoming ride movie is a sequel, as Jungle Cruise 2 is in active development at Disney. The first film was a modest success when streaming numbers are accounted for, and it received mixed reviews. Some reviews called the film an unoriginal facsimile of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but a sequel is the filmmakers’ opportunity to expand the characters and the world. Many film sequels have succeeded at surpassing the originals, and Jungle Cruise 2, having been given the extremely rare opportunity for a Disney sequel after an underperforming first outing, has the opportunity to do the same.
What’s Next For The Pirates Of The Caribbean Franchise?
Meanwhile, the Pirates of the Caribbean films remain profitable. The last outing, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, grossed almost $800 million worldwide. While it has been a while since that 2017 film hit cinemas, Disney has confirmed that they still have plans for Pirates of The Caribbean 6. The sequel has been in development for years, with very few hard facts available. It’s also worth mentioning that there was discussion of a potential Margot Robbie-led film in the pirate genre that Disney would produce, but this was never planned as part of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and Disney has since canceled the project.
It’s likely that Pirates of the Caribbean 6 will be a soft reboot for the franchise, with a new cast of main characters. However, producer Jerry Bruckheimer would happily see Johnny Depp return now that his public image seems to have improved. The actor, who has starred in every Pirates of the Caribbean film to date, is the closest thing the franchise has to lead — and his Captain Jack Sparrow is its closest thing to a main character. The script for the upcoming film will reportedly be written by veteran Pirates of the Caribbean screenwriter Ted Elliott and The Last of Us creator Craig Mazin.