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Pirates of the Caribbean 6: Why Disney Is Rebooting The Franchise

There are currently two versions of Pirates of the Caribbean 6 in the works, and they’re both reboots. Here’s why Disney’s hitting the restart button.

There are currently two versions of Pirates of the Caribbean 6 in the works, and they're both reboots - here's why. The first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, was a game-changer for Disney when it opened in 2003. At the time, the studio didn't have any blockbuster live-action franchises, and was still years away from buying Marvel, Lucasfilm, or even Pixar. Its animation studio wasn't doing too hot, either. They'd struck gold with Lilo & Stitch a year earlier, but were coming off expensive back to back bombs (Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet) prior to that.

The Curse of the Black Pearl was anything but a sure bet. Disney's previous two attempts at turning their theme park attractions into successful theatrical features (Mission to Mars and The Country Bears) had failed, and similarly big-budget Hollywood swashbucklers had been out of style since Renny Harlin's notorious flop Cutthroat Island in 1995. In the end, things worked out far better than Disney dared dream: The Curse of the Black Pearl earned positive reviews, took home $654 million at the worldwide box office (making it the fourth-highest grossing movie that year), and even landed five Oscar nominations, including a Best Actor nod for Johnny Depp's performance as the rum-swigging Jack Sparrow.

Related: Pirates of the Caribbean 5 Cut a Mermaid Syrena Return Appearance

In the years that followed, Disney would release an additional four Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, all of which outgrossed The Curse of the Black Pearl in theaters. Critically, the films haven't done nearly as well and have yet to come close to scaling the same creative heights as the first movie (much less, match or exceed it). Yet, because it remains the only successful in-house live-action series the studio has going right now (not counting its many remakes of its animated movies), Disney is heading back to the Pirates of the Caribbean well yet again... but this time, with a twist.

Disney is actively developing two different Pirates of the Caribbean movies, neither of which would be a straightforward continuation of the previous five films. The first of these reboots is being written by Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Ted Elliott (Pirates of the Caribbean 1-4), and may or may not include an appearance by Jack Sparrow. Series producer Jerry Bruckheimer has been cagey about revealing details beyond that, so it sounds like the plan is to focus mostly on brand-new characters in this film. It's actually the second time the studio has tried to throw a lifeline to the property in recent years. They previously approached writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Deadpool, Zombieland) for the job, but the pair didn't get far.

The other film would be a wholly fresh beginning for the Pirates of the Caribbean series, featuring all-new characters and stories. Margot Robbie is currently attached to star in the untitled movie, with her Birds of Prey writer Christina Hodson working on the script. The news of this project (which, to reiterate, is not a spinoff) has been generally well-received, with some fans rightly pointing out the franchise was originally a female power fantasy anyway, before the focus veered away from Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Swann in the original trilogy. By no coincidence, that's also when the franchise really started to decline in quality.

Related: Pirates of the Caribbean 6 Should Be About Disney's Controversial Ride Character

As mentioned earlier, it's basically been downhill for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies since The Curse of the Black Pearl. The first two sequels, Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, drew mixed reviews upon their release, with critics applauding their expansion of the series' mythology, yet docking them points for their bloated runtimes and strained efforts at recapturing The Curse of the Black Pearl's wit and charm. Unfortunately, the franchise hit a low when it then tried to continue without two of the trilogy's three leads (Elizabeth and Will Turner) with 2011's On Stranger Tides. The sequel made Jack the central focus, but mostly succeeded in proving the character is too flat to work as a protagonist. On top of that, its new heroes and villains were forgettable and the set pieces were far less inspired than those from Gore Verbinski's first three films.

More recently, 2017's Dead Men Tell No Tales attempted to course-correct things by casting Brenton Thwaites as Will and Elizabeth's grown son Henry and sending him on an adventure with Jack. Critics once again felt it lacked The Curse of the Black Pearl's clever humor and tight storytelling, yet agreed its action sequences and antagonists were a step-up from those in On Stranger Tides. It even reoriented the franchise, making it more of a female power fantasy again by introducing Kaya Scodelario as Carina Smyth, the daughter of Hector Barbossa and a character who, along with Henry, could potentially carry the series on her shoulders. At the same time, Dead Men Tell No Tales made it impossible to ignore the elephant in the room that is Jack Sparrow - a character who was once the series' anchor, but is now threatening to sink the whole thing.

Related: Pirates of the Caribbean: What Happened to Elizabeth After At World's End

If On Stranger Tides demonstrates Jack isn't protagonist material, Dead Men Tell No Tales suggests Disney's run out of ideas for what to do with the character. The film's version of Jack is a thin caricature of the rascally pirate in the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie and his stale schtick drags everything down whenever he's onscreen. Depp's performance is all the more tired for it and he seems to have lost the zest he once had for playing the trouble-making buccaneer. The actor's involvement has also caused problems for the franchise off-screen, with his ever-growing salary contributing to its ballooning budgets. It's estimated Disney could save as much as $90 million on Pirates of the Caribbean 6 simply by not bringing Depp back.

Despite fans petitioning online for Depp to reprise his famed role in the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie, audiences seem to have lost interest in Jack's antics. Dead Men Tell No Tales was not only the second lowest-grossing Pirates of the Caribbean film so far, both it and On Stranger Tides made less in the U.S. than The Curse of the Black Pearl did (even without adjustments for inflation). It's no wonder Disney's taking steps to move on without him, be it with a reboot featuring Jack in a minor capacity or not at all. They could also decide to split the difference by bringing the character back for one last voyage before killing him, a la Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame. Whichever way you cut it, the series needs to leave Jack behind if it's going to have a future beyond Pirates of the Caribbean 6.

NEXT: No More Jack Sparrow? Johnny Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean Future Explained

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