One of Disney’s most well-known and profitable franchises was based off a simple theme park ride. The “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise is beloved by general audiences though critical reception seemed to decline with each entry.
After a fresh rewatch of all five films, how do they hold up and where do they rank amongst each other? Were the later entries deserving of all of the critical panning?
Here are the five “Pirates of the Caribbean” films ranked from worst to best.
5. On Stranger Tides
The first “Pirates” film that didn’t feature Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, “On Stranger Tides” ended up not faring well with critics despite making over 1 billion at the box office. Unfortunately as time has passed, it’s very clear that “Stranger Tides” has become the red-headed stepchild.
That’s not to say this is a bad film, it’s actually a decent watch with some cool ideas. However many of those ideas ended up being half-baked and never fully realized. Plot points like the Spanish searching for the Fountain of Youth are thrown by the wayside and Blackbeard was completely wasted.
The films biggest mistake was by casting Ian McShane as as the legendary pirate. McShane is a fine actor sure, but he’s never threatening in the slightest and was also the shortest actor on set. Not exactly the ideal stature for the most famous pirate of all time.
Despite these issues, it’s still fun to hang out with Jack Sparrow and all of his witty antics. This film also contains the most underrated “Pirates” subplot; the romance between Mermaid Syrena and man of faith Phillip. It’s a romance that shouldn’t work between two different cultures but they defy all odds. It’s cute, charming and has a wonderful payoff in the end.
“On Stranger Tides” is not a great film but it’s a fun film that you could pop in any day of the week.
4. At Worlds End
While most people would have “At World’s End” above “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” this film is simply way too long, convoluted and bloated for its own good. However, it’s the films fantastic grand finale to the OG “Pirates” Trilogy that completely saves this film in the end.
The biggest problem with “At World’s End” is it’s almost 3 hour runtime and the amount of subplots it tried to set up and pay off. The romantic subplot between Tia and Davy Jones goes nowhere. Then there’s Tia’s transformation as female giant Calypso that will literally leave audiences scratching their heads. Also, the entire first act in Singapore is grand to look at but feels completely pointless because every character who set up here is killed off halfway through. Finally, there’s the colossal disappointment of Davy Jones Locker. It’s just a desert with sand crabs, that’s it. All that set-up for a bland boring desert.
Director Gore Verbinski simply had way too many lofty ambitions and trimming 30 minutes off the runtime would have greatly benefited this film.
However, despite its bloated runtime and half-baked ambitions, “At World’s End” is saved by one incredible 3rd Act. It’s big, grand, exciting and it’s everything that Pirates fans could have wanted. All plot points and fleshed out subplots are wrapped up in a neat little bow and the death of Cutler Beckett is both beautiful and satisfying.
“At Worlds End” is a deeply flawed yet ambitious finale to the OG “Pirates” Trilogy. If you can get through it’s sloggy first two acts, one of the greatest third acts in blockbuster history is your “X that marks the spot.”
3. Dead Men Tell No Tales
The fifth entry in the “Pirates” franchise did not deserve the critical beating it got. “Dead Men Tell No Tales” returns the franchise to what made it work in the first place; by being a high seas swashbuckling adventure.
One of the big points that people criticize about this film it’s just how much of a buffoon the franchise had made Jack Sparrow. We simply disagree with this statement. You feel the age of pirates coming to an end and let’s be honest, this is the only life that Jack Sparrow has ever known. It’s clear that he was way past his prime trying to figure out what would keep him going.
Alcohol and women are his only focuses and even goes as far to sell away his compass for booze. A decision that releases one of his oldest foes, Pirate Hunter and Spaniard Captain Salazar; played beautifully by Oscar winning Javier Bardem. He is hell-bent on taking down Sparrow and you completely buy his motivations as a villain. Not saying you want him to win, but you simply understand his point of view.
Again, what makes this film work is the return to what’s familiar. A high-seas adventure, only this time led by the Henry Turner, son of Will Turner. Henry’s mission is simply, break his father’s curse and bring him back home to Elizabeth Swann. Along the way Henry would need to convince Jack to remember what once made him the Caribbean’s most notorious pirate. Jack rediscovering who he was is nothing short of satisfying for the fifth and probably final film in this franchise.
“Dead Men Tell No Tales” is a welcome return to the decks of the Black Pearl. Even though this film doesn’t particularly do anything new, it delivers on exactly what fans wanted. For the fifth film in a franchise, they did one mighty fine job.
2. Curse of the Black Pearl
There is a blockbuster that people often forget just how great it was.
In 1995, “Cutthroat Island” not only became the biggest box office bomb in cinematic history, but it single-handedly killed the pirate film genre as a whole. But in 2003, against all odds, a movie based off a Disney theme park ride put life back into the fledgling genre and spawned one of the most unlikeliest of franchises.
“Curse of the Black Pearl” became one of the biggest hits that year and gave us what may be Johnny Depp’s most iconic role. Johnny Depp IS Jack Sparrow, one of the greatest and most memorable characters in all of cinema. Depp even earned himself an Oscar nomination for his performance (honestly he should have won). Every time he was on screen he oozed charisma and stole every scene he was in; so much so that you forget about some of the other lead characters from time to time.
But this film is far more than just the Jack Sparrow show, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are perfect as on-screen lovers Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. When Elizabeth accidentally leads the undead army led by Captain Barbosa, unlikely allies and friendships are forged to battle a seemingly unkillable foe.
It’s wild, it’s entertaining and it’s a perfectly crafted crafted film while also serving as pure popcorn entertainment.
“Black Pearl” is the ultimate family blockbuster that single-handedly saved the pirate film genre. There’s something here for everyone to love and one of the most fun experiences anyone will ever have in the theaters. Normally “Black Pearl” would be at the top of everyone’s “Pirates” list, but it would be its sequel that takes the top spot.
1. Dead Man’s Chest
While “Curse of the Black Pearl” may objectively be the better film; “Dead Man’s Chest” is everything a grand blockbuster can and should be.
It takes everything that “Black Pearl” did, while making it big and grand without losing what made the first film so special. It’s gorgeously shot, extremely well acted and is the definition of an “epic” blockbuster. There are so many beautiful set pieces, stunning tropical locations and endless hours of effort put into the production design. Seriously, the production design is absolutely gorgeous and all the hard work that was put into making this film come to life did not go unnoticed.
The CGI for 2006 also holds up incredibly well. The film didn’t win the Oscar for Best Visual effects for nothing. The Kraken looks just as good in 2020 as it did in 2006. The Davy Jones design is flawless and you forget that he is a CGI creation. From a technical standpoint, “Dead Man’s Chest” is an absolute masterpiece.
The film is also filled with memorable action set pieces. The Jack vs Will vs James Northington fight on a water wheel is over the top in all the right ways. The fight against the kraken is nail-biting and intense. The escape from cannibal Island is both hilarious and exciting. Everything is amped up to the extreme without crossing the line of ridiculousness.
“Dead Man’s Chest” is the definition of how to do an epic and over-the-top blockbuster. Everything just works and director Gore Verbinski delivered his Magnum Opus. “Dead Man’s Chest” is not only the best in the franchise, but the greatest pirates film ever made.