With five movies and over $4.5 billion in box office takings, it seems hard to believe that the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise was initially viewed as a huge risk on Disney’s part. Shelling out $140 million on an adventure based on a theme park attraction set in an irrelevant genre was indeed a gamble, especially when Johnny Depp was far from a proven draw as a leading man in major studio projects.
Of course, the actor went on to score the first Academy Award nomination of his career for an instantly iconic turn as Captain Jack Sparrow, which is made all the more impressive when the Oscars very rarely tend to acknowledge performances given in action-packed blockbusters. The studio heads were famously concerned about what he was doing in terms of the character’s eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, but it would be an understatement to say it worked out pretty well for all parties in the end.
Depp essentially had carte blanche to do whatever he wanted with Captain Jack, which included improvising many of the franchise’s most famously quotable lines. With the shackles well and truly off, then, director Gore Verbinski went for broke in first sequel Dead Man’s Chest, which went on to become just the third movie in history to ever earn a billion dollars at the box office.
Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones still holds up today as one of cinema’s most convincing CGI creations, and it turns out that Depp improvised the “I’ve got a jar of dirt” line, with the surprised reactions of his co-stars during the scene in question being completely genuine. Of course, the franchise is now set to continue with a sixth installment and a spinoff both in development, but most people are firmly in agreement that Pirates of the Caribbean simply won’t work anywhere near as well without Jack Sparrow.