Franchise Retrospective: Pirates of the Caribbean – Star Wars For A New Generation

At World’s End (2007)











At this point in time, it appeared that this would be the final Pirates of the Caribbean film (it even has ‘End’ in the title to let audiences know), so Disney started a marketing strategy that would lay the groundwork that they would follow for both Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The first trailer for the film didn’t drop until March 18th, two months before the film was set to open. This was in part because of the cliffhanger ending of the second film; they didn’t want to drop a trailer too early to spoil it for audiences who hadn’t gotten a chance to see it (similar to Avengers: Endgame which didn’t even have an official title till five months before it opened). Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End was one of the first big ‘event’ endings to a pop culture franchise, one that later franchises like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2., The Dark Knight Rises, Avengers: Endgame, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker would later emulate. But before those, the big franchise ending was At World’s End.

There have been a lot of epic finales this century, but there was something truly special about the hype surrounding Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and X-Men all had ‘final’ chapters. Lord of the Rings and X-Men‘s placements as adaptations meant people had an idea of how they would end, and Star Wars was about completing the saga: to see Anakin become Darth Vader. No one knew how the story would end. This was a franchise that, while it had only been around for four years, was special to a lot of people. A massive cliffhanger ending for a second film to be resolved in a third film less than a year away? It sounds a lot like Endgame. This was the precursor to that feeling. I remember being there in a crowded theater opening night.

There is a satisfying finality to it all. Elizabeth’s arc might be the most satisfying. She goes from being bound by what society expects her to be, to making her own path (regardless of what the men in her life tell her), and becomes Pirate King. She has the power and chooses to act or give it up on her own accord. As Elizabeth leaves the Pearl and says goodbye to everyone, there is a mirror reflection of her meeting with many of the crewmates. Barbosa calls her Mrs. Turner (she used Turner as an alias the first time they met, but now it’s her proper name), instead of saying ‘Hello Poppit’ Pintell says ‘Goodbye Poppit,’ and this time it is Elizabeth that tells Jack ‘things would never have worked out between us.’ The trilogy is finally brought full circle as the characters find themselves in similar places to where they were at the beginning of the series. When the trilogy began, Will and Elizabeth were apart, Jack Sparrow was on a small little boat that can barely stay afloat, and Barbosa had betrayed Jack and taken the Pearl. At the end of the trilogy, Will and Elizabeth are apart, Jack Sparrow is on a small little boat that can barely stay afloat, and Barbosa had betrayed Jack and taken the Pearl. There is something both beautiful and tragic about that.

This appeared to be the endpoint the writers wanted, giving a sense of bookend to the story (another Star Wars similarity) but in this rewatch it does feel like the opposite progression the natural character arcs were leading; mainly where it concerns Will and Jack. Will’s end goal from the beginning was getting to be with Elizabeth. Ending the franchise with him only ever seeing her once every ten years is depressing. This is meant to be a mirror and contrast with Davy Jones, whom the second film hints at Will being a parallel to: both are men who loved a woman and went to extremes for them. Parting Will and Elizabeth feels tragic. It seemed that these two would get the happily ever after that had been hinting at since the beginning.

Jack Sparrow, on the other hand, is a whole character rooted in the idea of being free: sailing the seven seas forever would have been his dream. Jack has always wanted to be known as Captain, and here he would have been a captain forever. In each film, Jack undergoes a minor character arc to be a better person. Be it in the first film learning to trust others a little bit, or in the second film where he goes back to save his friends, where he had the chance to do something selfless…that in the end would have served his best interest so it still maintains that classic Jack Sparrow. Jack could have ridden off into the sunset on the Dutchman, and the audience would know Jack Sparrow would always be around. Disney was not done with Jack Sparrow yet, and while this did appear as the final Pirates of the Caribbean film they still wanted more Jack Sparrow adventures. You can’t really do that if you truly give Jack a complete arc. So the franchise now ends on a fun yet extremely bittersweet note.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End opened in theaters on May 25th, 2007 (on the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Wars, fittingly so). It was the first Pirates film to not open in July and from this point on, the later films would open on Memorial Day weekend. With a $300 million budget, it was at the time of its release the most expensive movie ever made, and adjusted for inflation is the fifth most expensive movie. It opened to $134 million over its four-day holiday weekend breaking X-Men: the Last Stand‘s record for biggest Memorial Day weekend. It was the fourth highest-grossing film of 2007 at the domestic box-office (behind Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, and Transformers) but was the highest-grossing film worldwide with a grand total of $960 million.

While being a huge hit, it did elicit a similarly mixed reaction as many third installments; fans were disappointed with the final installment, mainly taking issue with the runtime (almost three hours) and the confusing mythology and lore behind it. Audiences had so many questions that the DVD came with a pamphlet that answered a lot of fans’ questions. Even in this rewatch after all this time certain details just now fell into place. Combine that and the idea that every character has their own objective and double-crosses one another, it could make for a frustrating view, despite it feeling right with the characters and always keeping the action moving.

So a franchise third final film disappointing a bunch of fans? Now it appears a lot like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man, and Shrek all had third installments that year, all released in the same month. While it was apparent Spider-Man would be getting a fourth film (or at the time it seemed so) and Shrek also would return, it did feel like the ending of the story of Jack Sparrow and company. Transformers also came out that summer and seemed to be the start of the next big Hollywood mega-franchise. Yet the water would shift the next year with the release of two films: The Dark Knight for WB and a little known film called Iron Man which would kickstart the MCU to become the biggest movie franchise in the world.


“Jack Sparrow must find a place in the new world or perish.” This line is said by Beckett to Will Turner, but it is a line with a meta weight to it now. The blockbuster scene has changed so much since these films, does Jack Sparrow have a place in it anymore? Does the concept of Pirates of the Caribbean appeal anymore?

That’s not an easy answer.

I can say that I think we owe a lot to this franchise. This was a franchise that led Disney to experiment with more PG-13 franchises (the MCU and the Star Wars universe). These films get quite dark for a Disney film. The third film opens with them hanging a child! And this is family-friendly for Disney+?!

It was so weird yet audiences ate it up. With so many mystical talismans, curses, and a variety of sea creatures and pirate alliances it appeared that this was the point creatives and studios realized audiences will buy into whatever weirdness you invite them on as long as they care about the characters. If you look at it from the outset, a bunch of people got really excited over a high-concept aquatic adventure epic made by Disney.

At World’s End is less an individual film and more a piece in a larger whole: a film about expanding-on and paying off plot threads and mysteries built up since the first film (similar to Avengers: Endgame). For example, the sword that Will presents to Norrington in the first film gets spotlighted in At World’s End – when Jones kills Norrington he says “nice sword,” and it’s the same sword that ends up piercing the heart by Will Turner. This was the first time in the shifting landscape of blockbuster movies in the 21st century, which was based on adapting traditionally nerdy IP, where the storytelling nature of a comic book/series was utilized. It drew power not only from this film but those proceeding it. This is the groundwork that the MCU would build its entire identity around.

Why wouldn’t an audience get behind the concept of mystical stones that control different aspects of the universe that a giant purple alien was after, when they also accepted a movie that involved a sea creature captain who fell in love with an ancient goddess of the sea and ripped his heart out when he was betrayed and taught a pirate council how to bind her to human form? Not too crazy, right?

Both the Pirates of the Caribbean films and MCU films utilize post-credit scenes. And while the Pirates ones on the surface don’t seem important, they do offer slight hints that are paid off in the following film. Even the tired and worn out criticism of “Marvel humor” seems to ignore the fact that Pirates of the Caribbean, one of the biggest franchises in the world, was based around physical humor, gags, and a character who became an icon for being humorous. You can see shades of Jack Sparrow in Tony Stark and many of the other Marvel heroes with how their character informs the type of humor of their films.

While watching these films together I remembered what made me fall in love with them in the first place. The wonderful characters, the sense of adventure to explore crazy new places with insane visuals, a fun story, and just an overall good old fashioned enjoyable time at the movies. These feel like quintessential blockbusters and are always a good time. These will be films that the generation who grew up with them will be excited to show their kids.

So drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.

1 2 3 4