Given the overwhelming success of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which went on to earn $654 million at the box office, land Johnny Depp the first Academy Award nomination of his career thanks to his instantly iconic performance as Jack Sparrow and spawn four sequels that combined to earn close to $4 billion, it’s often easy to forget how much of a risk the first movie was.
Director Gore Verbinski was best known for his Hollywood remake of Japanese horror hit The Ring at the time, Depp was hardly the first name on anyone’s list when it came to casting the lead in a big budget blockbuster, and the pirate genre itself was all but dead following the disastrous Cutthroat Island eight years previously, which became the single biggest bomb in the history of cinema.
It was a perfect storm of circumstances that allowed The Curse of the Black Pearl to turn out the way it did, with the convoluted plot actually working in the movie’s favor, while Depp’s eccentric portrayal of Captain Jack won him a legion of fans and swiftly turned him into one of the biggest and highest-paid stars in the business.
In a new interview, Verbinski reflected on his time at the helm of the Pirates franchise, and admitted that everyone from the crew to the Disney boardroom was incredibly nervous that their $140 million swashbuckler was destined to fail.
“I would say that Pirates 1 had an energy to it, which was essentially, ‘You’re crazy’. I remember pitching it to Hans Zimmer and he said, ‘You’re mad! You’re making a pirate movie? Nobody’s going to see a pirate movie’. It was resoundingly, ‘That’s the worst idea ever’. And there was something exciting about that. It was so doomed to fail. You’re setting out to go make a genre that literally doesn’t work, or there’s so much historical proof that it will not work. So, you’re making everybody nervous. The studio’s nervous. Everybody’s nervous about Johnny Depp’s performance. Everybody’s nervous about the story. It’s convoluted; they’re returning the treasure, wait they’ve taken the treasure back, they’re cursed? Everything about that had a spirit of madness to it.”
There are now two new Pirates of the Caribbean movies in the works, neither of which are expected to involve Johnny Depp, but the law of diminishing returns has long since set in, with The Curse of the Black Pearl still having never been bettered as the franchise’s high point.