Why Jack Sparrow's Return Is A Massive Problem For Pirates of the Caribbean

  The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise needs jack sparrow to interest the public, as proven by the huge online reaction to his video game return.

  The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise rushed to drop Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow before announcing an upcoming reboot of the series, and the online reaction to his return in video game form proves that the move may have been a mistake. Released in 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was a surprise success for Disney and its director, The Ring helmer Gore Verbinski. The studio had high hopes for the summer release, but their ambitions were tempered by the then-recent failure of swashbuckling flop Cutthroat Island essentially killing off the sub-genre eight years earlier.

  Even the most optimistic forecasts failed to predict how massively successful the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie would soon prove. In a relatively rare achievement for a summer blockbuster, The Curse of the Black Pearl earned as much critical acclaim as it did fan adoration, and sequels were hotly anticipated. Much of the movie’s outsized success could be credited to one unexpected source in particular—the debut of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.

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  Depp has been a reliably successful star by the early ’00s. Still, he had never headlined a blockbuster and worried Disney executives by making a string of risky creative choices when it came to his character. The actor played the roguish captain as a wily, campy vagabond, and Depp even suggested cutting off Sparrow’s nose to give him an edgier appearance. Despite (or arguably, because of) these choices, the turn proved to be by far the most popular part of both the original Pirates of the Caribbean and the movie’s sequels, which would grow to rely more and more on Depp’s magnetism as their plots are less focused and more predictable. However, Depp’s personal troubles and a protracted legal battle between him and his former partner led Disney to drop Depp and the character of Jack Sparrow. This prompted a massive movement calling for the studio to reinstate the actor, and now, the hype around Sparrow’s return (albeit in a non-canon video game) is already proving that Jack’s enduring popularity s central to the appeal of the series for many fans.

  Jack Sparrow’s Return Explained

  Although fans are excited about Jack Sparrow’s return, it is important to clarify that the character is not appearing in a new Pirates of the Caribbean sequel (yet). However, with over a million views in less than 2 days hours on YouTube, it’s fair to say that hype is high for Sea of Thieves: A Pirate’s Life, the Pirates of the Caribbean-themed expansion pack for the existing online game. While the sight of Davy Jones and Tia Dalma was exciting for some franchise fans, the trailer is built around the return of a familiar face—Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow. The very fact that the upload is entitled “Official Jack Sparrow Reveal Trailer” is evidence that the primary appeal of the expansion pack is that Jack is back, and even the Pirates of the Caribbean brand itself takes a backseat to this fact. It's a fact that should be very concerning for a studio that is currently attempting to mount a cinematic reboot of the multi-billion dollar Pirates of the Caribbean franchise without Depp’s Sparrow returning.

  Jack Sparrow's Return Hype Proves POTC Needs Him

  The entire trailer for Sea of Thieves: A Pirate’s Life centers around the return of Jack Sparrow, even if it is in DLC form. The subsequent oversized internet reaction proves that the character still has a huge fanbase that may be bigger than the general Pirates of the Caribbean fandom. Much like the increased focus on Depp’s Sparrow in the later Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, the game’s marketing choosing to focus on this angle proves that the franchise is still centered around the character in the mind of the public and, crucially, relies on his appeal for its hype. Where the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie considered stars as big as Tobey Maguire and Heath Ledger for the role of Will Turner, the most recent two sequels cast smaller names like Skins’ Kaya Scodelario precisely because the studio knew Jack was the primary draw. Judging by the reaction to Sea of Thieves: A Pirate’s Life’s trailer, that is still true, and Disney has a limited time to change that fact before audiences lose interest in the franchise entirely.

  Why A POTC Reboot Can’t Recast Jack Sparrow

  The days of quietly subbing out one actor for another have been gone for decades, and even if Disney could conceivably recast the character Jack Sparrow when his recognizable face is not onscreen, they certainly can’t use this approach in live-action movies. Depp is one of few non-MCU/DCEU actors who has real star power, and attempting to recast him as the Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them franchise has will be far harder since Jack Sparrow is the primary protagonist of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, not a villain. Not only that, but it remains to be seen whether recasting his Fantastic Beasts villain will adversely affect the performance of the franchise at the box office, and the amount of creative input Depp had in the development of the Jack Sparrow character makes it impossible, as well as impractical, for Disney to try finding a replacement.

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  How The Pirates Of The Caribbean Reboot Could Still Succeed

  Hiring Margot Robbie as the reboot’s new lead was a solid start since she has massive star power and has proven numerous times that she can play charming antiheroes. However, if Disney wants to capitalize on the Pirates of the Caribbean brand and build hype for a new movie, this will require spinoffs that build on the lore and mythos of the series without relying on Jack—or responding to fan pressure and rehiring Depp in the role. A Pirates of the Caribbean spinoff that uses existing characters (something Sea of Thieves: A Pirate’s Life does by bringing back Jack’s crew, Davy Jones, and Tia Dalma alongside Jack) could potentially ameliorate audience disappointment at the star’s absence, although it’s unclear whether this strategy would work. Rehiring Depp, meanwhile, may end up being the route that the studio takes if they find themselves continually unable to interest viewers in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise when its central antihero is absent from the action.


Why Jack Sparrow's Return Is A Massive Problem For Pirates of the Caribbean

Hongxia Sun