While the first movie was an unexpectedly massive success upon release, this was part of what doomed the franchise as a whole. Few industry commentators expected the originalmovie, 2003's , to be a huge hit. While was always intended to be a summer blockbuster, the movie’s $650 million box office haul and Academy Award nomination were more than most critics had foreseen for the Disney release.
Swashbuckling adventures were notorious money pits in Hollywood, with expensive misfires likeand 1986’s giving investors good reason to doubt s potential. Not only that, but the biggest star that the original movie boasted was Johnny Depp in a supporting role. and Kiera Knightley into bona fide stars and solidified Depp as an A-lister. However, before the movie’s release, the former were up-and-coming talents while Depp was more so a quirky, mid-budget leading man. There was plenty of reason for producers and reviewers alike to be reticent about , meaning the movie wasn’t made with numerous sequels in mind.
Whileproved a huge hit, the fact that the movie was planned as a standalone outing became clearer and clearer as theseries progressed. The downfall of the franchise has been blamed on a range of factors, but the biggest issue underwriting all the flaws found in the sequels was uncertainty over whether the movies were standalone stories or an interconnected saga. Each of the has its own approach to the story of the series as a whole and, without a clear vision of the overarching plot, none of these movies were able to salvage the franchise.
While was an entirely self-contained adventure with a beginning, a middle, and a thoroughly satisfactory happy ending, its first sequel was a movie that only made sense when watched alongside its predecessor and successor. In contrast with , 2006’s had a classic problem that almost every sequel shot back-to-back with its follow-up faces. From the opening sequence’s overly long comedic interlude to the ending’s felt like a filler movie that was treading water before a bigger finale. As if to underline this issue, even ended on a cliffhanger, meaning the sequel never felt complete as a story on its own terms.
2007’s did not share the problem that had, but the threequel in the franchise did go too far in the other direction when it came to tying up loose ends. was no standalone story, but its convoluted plot required viewers to know obscure lore from both earlier movies and to follow a plot that grew more byzantine as it progressed (while also ). However, while left many questions unanswered, the movie was at least a definitive end to the series and a surprisingly sad one. This became a problem when made a lot of money and turned out not to be the end of the saga after all.
2011’s earned the worst reviews of the series so far, which might have had something to do with the movie jettisoning almost all the characters from the original trilogy. felt lightweight because the sequel was, with the much-delayed release telling a less tense adventure where nothing major was at stake. With all new characters, couldn’t convince viewers that its standalone story mattered partially because was introduced to a series that already had a stable of villains ranging from Davy Jones to the East India Trading Company, to the sea goddess Calypso (none of whom were properly killed off in the preceding movies).
By refusing to bring back any characters from the earlier movies other than Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa, posited itself as a funnier, lighter standalone adventure. The problem with this approach was that it was too late to undo all the sequels' complicated world-building, meaning simply ignored huge swathes of the trilogy's original story while staging another, new plot in the same universe. This was the primary and was addressed by its sequel—although the alternative turned out to be no better.
By trying to combine the old and new stories, 2017's sullied the story of the original trilogy while still inexplicably holding on to the zany cartooniness of . The fifth movie had the lighter tone of , meaning its events never felt impactful, but the cluttered, confusing lore of the earlier trilogy, meaning its story was almost impossible to follow. Moments that should have been massive crowd pleasers, like Will and Elizabeth’s return or the revelation that , ended up falling flat since nothing mattered in this tension-free movie.
Even Barbossa’s sacrifice ran false since the character already died and was revived once before in the series, meaning the movie failed as both a standalone outing and a continuation of the saga's larger story. This noncommittal attempt to please viewers who wanted a simple standalone adventure and fans who wanted a complex, long-running story eventually doomed the movies as they never regained the easy charm and fleet-footed pacing of the original. The franchise couldn’t decide what type of story the movies wanted to tell, resulting in viewers and reviewers eventually deciding they didn’t care either way.