Disney would argue that no actor is bigger than the brand, and in most cases, they’ve been proven completely correct. Star Wars has thrived for over 40 years despite reshuffling the cast on multiple occasions, the procession of live-action remakes are largely sold on nostalgia rather than the people starring in them, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe has recently suffered the losses of Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, but nobody is expecting audiences to stay away because two of the franchise’s biggest stars are no longer a part of it.
However, the relationship between Johnny Depp and Pirates of the Caribbean is different. For most fans, the actor is the face of the entire series, and the thought of a movie without his involvement doesn’t interest them in the slightest. When the 57 year-old was originally dropped from his iconic role as Jack Sparrow, there was outrage, and things didn’t get any better when it was announced that a sixth installment and a spinoff were both in development, neither of which would feature Captain Jack.
Box office takings for fifth outing Dead Men Tell No Tales were already drastically down from the previous three sequels, and without the main selling point of the entire franchise, you’d imagine that the numbers would fall even further if Pirates can’t rely on Jack Sparrow to anchor the marketing campaign and sell yet another new entry to the masses.
Disney have three obvious choices for how to proceed here, then. They could bring Depp back, but given that we know they want some fresh blood to headline the series in the future, he’d presumably be relegated to a minor supporting role.
Alternatively, they could make the movies without him and run the risk of alienating the fanbase, or otherwise he could get a cameo where he’s either killed off or written out. That last option seems most likely at this stage, too, given the actor’s continued legal troubles and the reports of him eyeing up roles in both the MCU and Sherlock Holmes 3. And, as mentioned above, if they hope to avoid backlash from fans, they need to bring Jack back in at least some capacity to give him a send-off. Having him return in a cameo then and writing the character out that way would seemingly please all parties.
Whatever direction they head in, though, the future of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise will be very interesting to follow.