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Why Pirates Of The Caribbean 6 Isn't A Sequel

There are probably still a bunch of studio executives out there somewhere scratching their heads over the success of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean series. It can be tough to remember, but back in 2003, before the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the picture sounded less like a gamble and more like a gigantic money flush. Never mind the fact that the movie was (very loosely) based on one of the flagship rides from Disney's theme parks; pirate movies in general had quite recently proved themselves to be not just money losers but studio killers. As recently as 1995, the would-be epic Cutthroat Island, which cost $115 million to produce and managed a worldwide gross less than one-tenth that amount (via Forbes), had famously bankrupted studio Carolco Pictures, which then promptly sunk to the depths of the sea and was never heard from again. 

Yet here we are, five movies and $4.5 billion later (via The Numbers), discussing the ins and outs of a sixth Pirates of the Caribbean film. Of course, the X factor that nobody could have predicted nearly two decades ago was the performance of Johnny Depp, who brought an unrealistic amount of swagger and charisma (not to mention a healthy dash of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards) to the role of Captain Jack Sparrow, the roguish seafarer who has anchored every film thus far. Working from admittedly thin source material — again, a theme park ride — Disney has managed to build a serviceable cast of characters and interesting mythology around Depp's character, which has become nothing short of iconic. In 2019, though, after flirting with the idea of continuing the series with Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, it was announced that the series would be rebooted, without the involvement of Depp (via Deadline). Here's why the next Pirates of the Caribbean flick won't be a sequel.

The Pirates of the Caribbean series has been running out of creative steam

The Pirates flicks have had their financial ups and downs; while two of the movies have broken the billion-dollar mark at the worldwide box office, it was only the second entry — 2006's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest — that cleaned up the hardest. The most recent, 2017's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, is the second-lowest grossing installment behind only the first, which is likely a reflection of the fact that creatively, the series is well and truly beginning to circle the drain. 

In fact, every single entry in the series has received a lower Rotten Tomatoes score than the one before it, which is a rare and dubious feat for a long-running film franchise to achieve. Dead Men Tell No Tales bore all the signs of a monumental creative struggle; it took six years from the release of the previous film to make it to the screen, as a revolving crew of directors and screenwriters tried to wrangle a workable story into existence. According to director Gore Verbinski, who passed on the fourth and fifth flicks after helming the first three, there's a pretty sound reason everyone involved had such a tough time. "I wish them well, and we're still kind of in touch," Verbinski told the Los Angeles Times in early 2017. "But there's no reason other than financial [to make a fifth movie], and I think that that's death. There are easier ways to make a living."

Ouch. If the original steward of the franchise had that to say about the last flick — a movie which basically spent half a decade in development hell — then it's safe to say that the series as a whole could stand a fresh approach.

Continuing on with Johnny Depp would be a major gamble

Another major factor which ol' Mickey has been forced to take into consideration: Pirates' greatest asset has recently become its greatest liability. Not many celebrities' stock has fallen harder in recent years that Depp's, due to a very high-profile, very public legal battle — complete with lots of terribly ugly allegations of abuse and generally awful behavior from both sides — between Depp and former flame Amber Heard. Regardless of the truth of the situation (which, of course, we the public may never be entirely privy to), the sheer ugliness of it all has undoubtedly tarnished Depp's image in a big way, and we probably don't have to tell you how Mickey Mouse feels about his high-profile movie stars going back and forth with their significant others in extremely public fashion with allegations of physical abuse, gaslighting, and intentional bed-pooping

Prior to Disney cutting ties with Depp, he had previously been let go by another employer over the whole brouhaha: Warner Bros., producers of the Fantastic Beasts series, who have replaced him with the always-awesome Mads Mikkelsen in the role of dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald in the upcoming third installment in the series (via Entertainment Weekly). As tough as it is to imagine a Pirates of the Caribbean movie without Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, it's even tougher to imagine Disney executives plowing ahead on a sixth entry with the troubled star aboard, especially after the comparatively paltry box office garnered by the last film (which happened to be released right around the time Depp and Heard's public battle was beginning to ramp up in earnest).

Just because Depp has been deep-sixed, though, doesn't mean that the entire franchise has to go down with him. Fortunately for Mickey, some very talented parties are currently hard at work charting a new course for Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Pirates of the Caribbean series needs a fresh creative voice

Per Deadline's 2019 announcement, those parties include screenwriter Craig Mazin, who wrote or co-wrote a slew of comedies (and also worked on 2016's The Huntsman: Winter's War) before creating, producing, and writing the acclaimed 2019 HBO miniseries Chernobyl, which won about a billion awards and dominated water cooler conversations for months. Mazin is working with Ted Elliott, who has a bit of experience with the franchise, having co-written the first four movies.

The future of the franchise would likely be in good hands even if Mazin's and Elliott's were the only hands it was in, but that's not the case. In June 2020, news broke that ace screenwriter Christina Hodson — who penned Bumblebee and Birds of Prey, and is currently at work on The Flash and Batgirl — has also been tapped to come up with her take on the franchise, which will reportedly be a female-fronted project led by Birds star Margot Robbie (via The Hollywood Reporter). It's not exactly clear whether Disney is shepherding both projects into production, or if Mickey intends to pit the Mazin-Elliott project against Hodson's in a (hopefully metaphorical) duel to the death. One thing, however, is clear — Disney is loath to let the cash-cow Pirates franchise die on the vine, and with such formidable talent exploring the reboot possibilities, we're pretty certain it's a ship that will continue to set sail for years, if not decades, to come. Keep it here, because we'll have details about what's next for the franchise as soon as they become available.