Worst to First: Ranking the Pirates of the Caribbean Movies

Fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean rides at Disney theme parks have always known that dead men tell no tales.  Amazingly Disney managed to release four Pirates movies without using the memorable catch-phrase as a subtitle.  Today sees the release of the fifth and supposedly final entry in the Pirates franchise.  So it seems like as good of a time as any to rank the Pirates of the Caribbean movies from Worst to First.

4. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Domestic Box Office: $241,071,802
Worldwide Box Office: $1,045,713,802
RT Score: 32%
Summary: After completing the highly lucrative if not always well-regarded Pirates trilogy, Disney lured Johnny Depp back for a fourth installment in the series.  Geoffrey Rush was the only other major player to return.  The love story between Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s had been wrapped up to no one’s satisfaction in the previous movie.  The movie introduced a new couple portrayed by Sam Claflin and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, but you’ll be forgiven if you don’t remember them.
In every movie since the original, Depp’s part continued to grow.  On Stranger Tides pushed Jack Sparrow into the central role.  Unfortunately, the movie confirmed what most fans of the first film already knew; Jack Sparrow works best in moderate doses.  Penélope Cruz joined the cast as a love interest for Depp and Ian McShane played the villainous Blackbeard.  Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three movies in the series, was replaced by Rob Marshall (best known for directing Chicago).
The plots to these movies are besides the point.  But this one involved Jack searching for the Fountain of Youth and mermaids who were more dangerous than Ariel.  By this point in the series, American audiences were growing tired of Depp’s eccentric characters.  It probably didn’t help that he was also getting bad press for allegations of domestic abuse.  But the Pirates movies translate well overseas, so despite a weak performance in the US On Stranger Tides managed to make enough money to justify a follow-up.
I haven’t seen the new movie and I’m in no real hurry to do so.  Based on the reviews, it’s pretty much in line with the last one.  Some day when I see it, I will update the article to include my ranking of Dead Men Tell No Tales.  But for now, let’s just assume it’s slumming at the bottom of the list alongside On Stranger Tides.

Next: At World’s End


Post Author: lebeau

16 thoughts on “Worst to First: Ranking the Pirates of the Caribbean Movies


    (May 26, 2017 - 10:31 am)

    I strongly suspect that for a lot of people, their ranking is going to match up with the one here. I know a few people who consider Dead Man’s Chest to be their favorite. But for the most part, the original is rightfully regarded as the best.
    Like The Matrix and Back To The Future, this stands as a cautionary tale about why rushing multiple sequels into production at once is not a good idea.


      (May 26, 2017 - 11:52 am)

      I debated whether or not to rank the Pirates franchise because really, there’s only one good movie in the series.
      I like the concept of filming sequels back to back. In theory, you would think they would be more cohesive. But in practice, there have been more misses than hits.


        (May 26, 2017 - 12:27 pm)

        Filming back-to-back (to back) worked with the Lord of the Rings films. Of course in that case, the filmmakers knew the story and how it would end from the start.


          (May 26, 2017 - 12:47 pm)

          It worked on Lord of the Rings and to a lesser extent the first two Superman movies. Jackson was a lot less successful with the Hobbit trilogy. The Back to the Future sequels aren’t a total miss, but I don’t think anyone would put them anywhere near the original.


          (May 26, 2017 - 12:55 pm)

          Richard Lester’s Musketeers films (The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers) were also filmed back-to-back in the early seventies and turned out quite well. Again, as with LotR (but with the Hobbit films where so much of the story was “filler”), it probably worked because the story was already established by the source material.


    (May 26, 2017 - 10:39 am)

    I’ve only seen the first two. I liked the first one, but felt like it could have been better if it was just a swashbuckling pirate adventure without all of the supernatural gobbledygook. The second one was bloated nonsense which pummeled me to the point that i didn’t care to see anymore of them.


      (May 26, 2017 - 11:54 am)

      I was kind of excited for the ghost story aspect the first time around. But they have gotten progressively bigger, louder and more stupid over time. All the while, the charms of Depp’s Sparrow have dwindled.


    (May 26, 2017 - 12:25 pm)

    Appropriately, this article coincides not only with the opening of the latest movie in the franchise, but with the birthday of On Stranger Tides cast member Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey. 🙂


      (May 26, 2017 - 12:49 pm)

      Happy birthday to Disney’s lesser-known cinematic mermaid.

    Craig Hansen

    (May 27, 2017 - 2:13 pm)

    For what it’s worth, I love the first Pirates movie. What is easily forgotten now is that Johnny Depp made such an impression with his performance here that he was recognized at the Academy Awards with a Best-Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. Before you shrug that off, keep in mind…… this is a pirate movie. Oscars…… pirate movie.
    To be recognized by the Oscars in a summer popcorn movie, you almost have to be twice as good as an actor in a serious dramatic film. Or at least that’s the way I look at it since popcorn films very rarely get acting nominations.

    Craig Hansen

    (May 27, 2017 - 2:25 pm)

    As I mentioned before I loved the first Pirates film and have watched it a number of times over the years. Ultimately I view the Pirates series much like The Matrix; great first film, incredibly disappointing (and worthless) sequels. I remember missing the 3rd Pirates movie when it hit theaters but bought it sight-unseen on home video which I never do. Boy, what a mistake. Pirates 3 was – at the time – the most expensive film of all time, but even costing over $300M dollars the movie was unbelievably boring. The one time I watched it I really wanted to turn it off before the half-way point but since i had spent $20 bucks on it, I forced myself to sit through it; maybe to make sure I never buy a movie sight-unseen again. Awful movie. The only one I would ever watch again is the original, which was very charming for what it was.


    (June 8, 2017 - 1:22 pm)

    If I had to rank them: 1,4,2,5,3. The first is the only great movie. I do think On Stranger Tides was a nice one-off. It made Jack smart and savvy again, not stupid like 2 and 3 reduced the best/worst pirate on the seas to. At World’s End is one of the worst sequels ever (thought the score by Zimmer is gorgeous). I really think if one 2 hr 20 min movie featuring just the Davy Jones storyline had come out of 2 and 3, that would have been great. I will never understand how the same director and writers so missed what made the first film work. I don’t know that DMTNT is making enough cash for a sixth installment. I honestly think the end of five is a better ending for the original cast then the dismal ending they got in At World’s End, so leave it there. Of course they won’t, but one can dream. Great article!


      (November 17, 2017 - 2:46 am)

      You’re probably the first person I saw who would rank movie 4 which most people agreed is the worst of the bunch in second place. Did you realise movie 3 is the ending of a trilogy and has to, um wrap up a lot of issues raised over the 3 movies and develop and make the characters 3D?


        (November 17, 2017 - 12:35 pm)

        I dont think On Stranger Tides is largely considered the worst film, just the only one outside of the Will and Elizabeth saga. Three is one of the worst sequels ever made. Multiple tiny Jack Sparrows? Calypso was insufferable and both 2 and 3 could have easily been collapsed into one. Were you thrilled by the plight of the East India Trading Company? At any rate, none of them have ever come within a cannon blast of the first.


          (November 25, 2017 - 12:48 am)

          Nope 4 is by far the laziest movie made without little to no inspiration among other reasons.
          See this is what I meant when I say it’s just a matter of personal preference (instead of saying with finality this is the worst movie ever blah blah). Honestly I think it’s a good thing Jack Sparrow isn’t there so much given that people may want to see other characters and know more about them. Not everyone wants to see a narcissist on the screen that much.
          I don’t care much about Calypso and honestly she isn’t even a main character in the movie so I am really not sure how could one minor character even matters that much.
          “Were you thrilled by the plight of the East India Trading Company?” Not sure what you means .East India Company is supposed to be the antagonist and the finale battle between Beckett and the pirates is one of the best battles in the whole series.
          “At any rate, none of them have ever come within a cannon blast of the first.”
          Yeah nobody is disputing that and I never claimed part 3 is the best movie.

    Terrence Clay (@TMC1982)

    (June 22, 2017 - 7:52 pm)

    Franchises burned to the ground with sequel after terrible sequel
    Pirates of the Caribbean
    Before Pirates sailed into theaters, few suspected a big-budget film based on a Disneyland ride and featuring an untested leading man in Johnny Depp, would weather the box office with its budget intact—much less spawn a billion dollar franchise. 
    An unabashed popcorn flick, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl featured a simple but enjoyable premise that stole all the audiences’ booty. The first movie also benefited from an enjoyable, contemporary remix of pirate culture and the roguish charms of Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. Keira Knightley’s swashbuckling heroine Elizabeth Swann also helped the flick land a well-rounded audience, while Orlando Bloom’s awkward but dashing Will Turner and Geoffrey Rush’s treacherous Captain Barbarossa rounded out the talented cast. Of course, Disney used the film’s broad appeal to christen a decade and a half’s worth of passable seafaring vessels. 
    Admittedly, the first two sequels, At Worlds End and Dead Man’s Chest, contained the same high-energy action and offbeat pirate antics as their progenitor. But the saga as a whole lost its strong headwinds when director Gore Verbinski left after Chest, hitting in the movie doldrums with 2017’s Dead Men Tell No Tales. A strong overall showing from the final film could save the Pirates from walking the plank, but without a sizable return on their investment, Disney probably won’t revisit Port Royal—at least until its time for the reboot (sigh).

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