The question is: how is such a tired franchise continuing to make so much money?
This opening total is down on the previous Pirates films. Black Pearl, an unknown quantity at the time, only opened with $46.6m, but Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End opened with $135.6m and $114.7m respectively. They also, however, got progressively worse. Starting with Black Pearl at 78% on Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregates went down to 54% then 45%. The latest, On Stranger Tides, has managed to undercut them all with an appalling 34%. This doesn’t seem to have dampened the audience interest, however, and it is looking at this point like Pirates of the Caribbean is one of those franchises that is almost critic proof.
Let’s face it, Johnny Depp is the reason the series has been so successful. His Captain Jack Sparrow routine is what drew audiences in for the first movie, and the stories have been built around Depp and Sparrow throughout. The problem with this is that the movies are suffering as a result. Relying on his schtick to carry the films through means we are not being offered anything fresh. After the last two movies received such a critical mauling, the smart move would have been to either pack it in, or hire a screenwriter known for their quality storytelling. Instead, Disney seem to have just gone for the easy money, and put the weight back on Jack Sparrows shoulders, perhaps having too much of their attention divided by other projects.
The thing that amazes me is that we are in a cinematic period where people are complaining about too many sequels, bemoaning the lack of original material. Yet we are still paying good money to see unimaginative retreads with these financially motivated sequels. The clear truth is that, in fact, the majority audience love sequels.So many people are afraid of change, and if you go and see a well established, though well worn, franchise you know what you are going to get. We may be only sporadically entertained, but hey, it’s better than taking a risk on the unknown, right?
Despite such poor critical reception, and star Depp recently saying he’d like to see a little time go past before we see a Pirates 5, with the money On Stranger Tides has made both domestically and globally it seems likely Disney will be keen to press on with a fifth installment. It will be very interesting to see what would happen if Depp did indeed decline to come back. Would they press on regardless with new characters? Would this actually be the key to increasing the quality of the overall product?
Tron: Legacy did not go down too well with critics, but the general public seemed to quite like it. It was also financially successful, so a third movie is on the cards. As long as movie goers are happy to return for follow-ups, the studios are, quite sensibly, more than happy to provide them. It is, obviously, much easier to put a sequel to an existing movie together than to come up with a concept from scratch. Don’t forget, Pirates of the Caribbean was initially a gamble on adapting a theme park ride to the big screen, so inspiration is clearly pretty thin on the ground. If we don’t think a film is up to scratch, but go back for more punishment anyway when the time comes, we really have no right to complain when we are let down again.
We are stuck in a cycle of sequels. This year sees a record total of them at cinemas, and whilst I am not against sequels as a rule, there needs to be more care taken with them. If a compelling and entertaining story does not come naturally to them, it means they are not justified. Some movies are just meant as stand alone pieces of art, and no matter what we might like to think, the memory of any great movie is watered down by its legacy. All we, the audience, can do is vote with our feet. Because in this industry, money talks. And, right now, the money is saying we want recycled trash. I don’t. I want great movies, and so far this year I haven’t seen enough of them.
Bazmann – You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann