No one had any clue how successful Pirates of the Caribbean would be. It was a movie based on a theme park ride at Disney land for God’s sake. But with the box-office and critical success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, the idea has become a billion dollar franchise. Even with the outstanding performance by Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow and supporting cast that includes the likes of Orlando Bloom, Kiera Knightley, and Geoffrey Rush, not every one of the films have been as accepted as the Oscar nominated original. Regardless of the constantly inconsistent movies (none are out-right flops in my mind), audiences seem to love returning to the beach for a little rum and swordplay with their favourite pirates. With the May 26th release of the fifth entry in the franchise, Dead Men Tell No Tales, it’s as good a time as any to delve into Pirates once more. Of course, everyone is aware of the massive controversy facing Disney right now, with the stolen copy of the movie being held for ransom; something that’s clearly making this film more relevant. So, alas my children, this is the day that you’ll always remember as the day that you read the 15 most epic stories behind the creation of the Pirates of the Caribbean.
15 The Elephant In The Room
Let’s get the obvious story out of the way. There has certainly been a lot of negative press about Johnny Deep circulating over the past couple years. Whether it’s low box-office results, critical flops, pissing off the Australian government, his financial woes, or the assault allegations made by his ex, Amber Heard, Johnny can’t seem to escape the papers. This continued a couple weeks ago when a stories from the set of Dead Men Tell No Tales began to circulate. Reportedly, Johnny was constantly late for work, causing hundreds of crew members and extras to wait for hours. Someone was eventually staffed to sit outside the house Johnny was renting in Australia to report to the filmmakers when his lights would go on in the morning. This would allow the directors (Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg) to set up everything necessary so that they could start shooting as soon as Johnny’s wardrobe and makeup were done to catch up on all the time they’ve missed. The producers had to come to the set to help the directors find a way to shoot around Johnny. When he finally got to set, however, it’s reported that he was as charming and easy-going as his reputation suggests.
14 Dead Men Shutting Down
The controversies continued on the set of the latest film, Dead Men Tell No Tales, when production had to be stalled when Johnny seriously cut his finger. There have been many stories released on how the injury might have occurred. This was backed-up by Pirates producer Jerry Bruckheimer who told The Hollywood Reporter that he had heard “a couple of versions” of how Depp hurt himself including getting it caught in a car door. Due to the negative press and Depp’s drinking on and off set, it’s been suggested that it was cut during an inebriated altercation with Amber Heard. Though no one can solidify that claim, his drunken antics speak for themselves. His then-agent had to come to set to try and calm Depp who was showing up to set drunk and late.
13 Johnny Depp Wasn’t Originally Jack Sparrow
Did you know that Johnny Depp wasn’t the first choice to play the iconic Captain Jack Sparrow? The role was originally offered to screen-legend Robert De Niro who turned it down as he thought there was no chance the movie could be successful at the box office. Though the reasoning seems laughable now, you have to remember that Disney essentially pulled the idea out of their ass. It was merely based on their theme park ride after all. Johnny Depp ended up taking the part and doing something with it that no one could have predicted. Sure, the character was well-written in the screenplay but the filmmakers allowed him to experiment and improvise. This freedom birthed the charming, boozy, flamboyant, witty sea captain that we’ve all come to adore. He made pirates cool. The role also made Johnny a box-office titan and even earned him an Oscar nomination. He shouldn’t forget to thank De Niro for keeping this opportunity open for him, let’s just hope he doesn’t blow it with the upcoming fifth instalment.
12 Geoffrey Rush VS Keira Knightley
No, the two famous actors weren’t fighting; in fact there are no reports of any major drama going down between the cast on any of the Pirate movies, and that’s saying a lot. Here, Geoffrey Rush was simply concerned that whenever he shared the screen with the absolutely gorgeous Keira Knightley nobody would care to notice him. This was especially important to Rush on The Curse of the Black Pearl as he needed to be seen as the formidable villain. He, the director, and the camera department devised a solution where they’d always place Geoffrey’s diabolical Captain Barbossa on the left-hand side of the screen whenever he and Elizabeth Swan shared a shot. The reasoning here is because Geoffrey thought that most movie-goers were like readers, and looked at an image from left to right so they’d always notice him before their eyes settled on the alluring Keira Knightley.
11 No Script For Dead Man’s Chest
Good storytelling takes time and space, both things the screenwriters behind Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End didn’t have. With the success of the first movie, Pirates 2 and 3 were rushed into production simultaneously without even finishing the scripts. This is easily the reason why the sequels were critical flops in comparison to the original. The final script for Dead Man’s Chest didn’t arrive on director Gore Verbinski’s desk until a few weeks before shooting began. This means that he was casting, building sets, and organizing all the logistical elements of the films without knowing exactly what they were shooting; it was utter chaos. He would constantly complain that the material he was giving to the actors was two dimensional and dull, while the writers (Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott) complained that they weren’t given enough time.
10 Location Scouting Adventures
Gore Verbinski, the director of Pirates 1,2 and 3, is a real filmmaker. He wanted to shoot everything as authentically as possible so that the cast and the audience truly felt they were immersed in the world and not into a bunch of CGI. This was especially true for the second movie, Dead Man’s Chest. While location hunting in the Caribbean, Gore took his crew to the most remote locations possible; every place had to be hiked to, swam to, or propelled into. He’d take the crew swimming in the caves where they expected their actors to spend long days, or hiking up mountains in the sweltering heat. This created a bonding opportunity for the main players of his crew which ended up being a smart idea as the gruelling shoot was almost canceled because of budgetary problems, script problems, as well as major logistical nightmares.
9 Dominica: Earth's Secret Paradise
The filmmakers behind Dead Man's Chest chose the remote tropical Caribbean island of Dominica to shoot in. This sovereign island country had such little infrastructure that the Disney Company had to pay for roads to be paved so that the filmmakers could truck in their equipment. Due to the restrictions on the island, the roads ended up being barely wide enough for two cars to drive on simultaneously. Though the circus definitely did come to town, the local government was pleased as it boosted their economy as well as employed hundreds of locals. The remoteness of the island made things difficult for the crew, many of them had to stay off the island and be boated or flown in every day as there was simply not enough accommodations for the 500 plus crew and cast.
8 The Horrific Hurricane Season
It was the worst hurricane season on record in the Caribbean, so of course this is when director Gore Verbinski wanted to shoot both Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End back-to-back. Gore had finally gotten into a good rhythm with his cast and crew when a massive storm shut the production down for a few days. They had to pack up everything and evacuate. Luckily the 120 MPH winds didn’t destroy much of the sets they had built, though it did knock over a trailer or two. Worst of all, the storm devastated the infrastructure of the area, making it harder to move any of their equipment where it needed to go. Once they returned, cleaned up the debris and started to shoot, another storm struck and production was halted a second time.
7 The Kiss Of Death
There’s an unexpected moment in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest where Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann seductively locks lips with Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow. Though there’s a great deal of sexual tension between them throughout the film, even with Swann’s romance with Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), the big kiss is actually a distraction that allows Elizabeth to chain an unsuspecting Jack to the Black Pearl’s mast . This allows Elizabeth and the others to escape the deadly grip of the Kraken as it’s only really after the eccentric sea captain. The moment was left out of the script by the screenwriters and only spoken about with the director and the two actors, in order to capture a genuine look of surprise on Orlando Bloom’s face.
6 The Pirates of China
The Chinese film market is massive, and a must for studios to tap. Most mega-budget blockbusters do their best to appeal to the Chinese audience to be able to recuperate their money. This makes it more difficult for North American creatives to be flexible with their content as China’s rating system is even stricter than that of America. When Dead Man’s Chest was fully banned from screening in China, due to its light-hearted depiction of cannibalism, Disney pressed the filmmakers to incorporate a Chinese element into the third film. At World’s End featured Captain Sao Feng played by Chinese superstar Yun-Fat Chow, as well as a host of Asian characters. Thematically it makes sense as the South China Sea has had a long history of piracy. In the movie there’s even a character called Mistress Ching who was inspired by the real life Chinese pirate Ching Yih Saou who dominated the sea with her fleet in the 1800s. Though it did quite-well in China, a lot of Chow’s scenes were cut by Chinese censors for vilifying and defacing Chinese culture. Without any edits, it did very well in other Asian countries like South Korea and Japan.
5 Gore’s Guitar
No matter how good or bad a Pirates movie is, the one thing you can always count on being fantastic is the score. Klaus Badelt and Han Zimmer’s music has become absolutely iconic and I’ll often be humming it at random while driving or standing in line at the bank – which is why I shouldn’t be allowed to be in public. For Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Hans Zimmer enlisted the film’s director, Gore Verbinski to play the electric guitar for the parlay scene right before the movie’s climatic battle scene. From the beginning of the franchise Gore and Johnny Depp had the idea that pirates were really the rock and roll stars of the time, so Hans incorporated this element into the score.
4 Multiple Jacks
The multiple Jacks… oh, boy; this is clearly one of the most divisive scenes in any of the Pirates movies. Though divisive may not be the best word as most people strongly disliked it. Of course, I’m referring to the sequence in At World’s End where Jack Sparrow converses with multiple versions of himself as he loses his mind in Davy Jones’ Locker. In order to make this scene, the filmmakers dressed a bunch of actors up as Johnny Depp and digitally composite Johnny Depp onto all of them. Johnny would play himself in many ways and therefor the scene had to be rehearsed from every character’s perspective. It was tedious work for the camera department for a sequence that ended up being… well… tedious.
3 The Maelstrom
The maelstrom set-piece at the climax of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is one of the biggest action sequences ever attempted on camera. It took 600 people to build the set in an absolutely gargantuan airplane hangar. Two life-size pirate ships had to be created in just 3 months and rigged to hydraulic systems be able to sway them as if they were on the swirling ocean. Of course they had to develop a drainage system for the rain and wind machines they used. Additionally, specific pieces of the ships had to be recreated to allow the camera to move in more creative ways, and example of this is the mast that Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones fight on. The entire set was surrounded by moveable bluescreens and the ceiling was outfitted with a lighting system that could mimic the sun as clouds crossed it. Of course, it not only had to look good and be practical, but also had to be safe for the 160 actors and stunt-performers in this epic battle scene.
2 Near-Death Experience
For the fourth installment of the mega-franchise, On Stranger Tides, the director’s chair was handed to Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine, Memoirs of a Geisha). With Rob at the helm, a slightly fresher (more polarizing) approach was taken; Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley were scrapped, and Captain Barbossa made into a privateer under the employment of England. Rob and the writers also gave Jack Sparrow a love-interest played by Penelope Cruz (the wife of Javier Bardem, who plays the villain in the upcoming sequel). On Stranger Tides was a massive opportunity for the director, but that almost came to an abrupt end when shooting a scene on a cliff between Depp and Cruz. Marshall was standing on the precipice, chatting with his two stars, when he felt his feet give way. Next thing he knows, he’s barrelling toward the edge. The only thing that stopped him from certain death was a vine he was able to latch on to; oh, the dangers of on-location filmmaking.
1 The Jack Sparrow Impersonator
While filming On Stranger Tides in London a Jack Sparrow impersonator waltzed right onto the set. The security guards didn’t even attempt to ID the man as he looked so much like Johnny Depp in the costume. Little did they know that he was actually just a massive fan trying to catch a glimpse behind the scenes of this highly secretive film. This incident ended up being quite relevant as there is a large sequence in the movie where Penelope Cruz’s character dresses up like Jack Sparrow to be able to recruit a crew to search for the Fountain of Youth. The actual Jack Sparrow ends up in a sword fight with his doppelganger until he’s able to unmask the face of his former lover, Angelica. There’s only one Captain Jack Sparrow, savvy?
Additional Sources: The Hollywood Reporter, Business Insider