It seems like the universe is conspiring against Pirates of the Caribbean 5. With less than two weeks to go to the film’s release, Disney’s tentpole picture has been hit with one controversy after another. It’s fighting star Johnny Depp’s personal issues, which include a divorce, a much-publicised lawsuit, and a sting of flops.
The film is being held for ransom by hackers who are threatening to leak it online if their demands aren’t met. And most importantly, it’s up against the audiences’ growing apathy for a franchise whose last entry was released six years ago - back when Depp was a box office god.
But since then, Depp’s films have underperformed. Two of the biggest disasters have been fellow Disney movies - 2013’s The Lone Ranger (which is said to have lost $150 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter) and 2016 sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass (losses estimated at over $65 million). He has also gone through a much-publicised divorce from Amber Heard, and a venomous lawsuit that revealed details about his luxurious lifestyle (bills of more than $3 million a month). It’s no wonder that Disney is holding back on promoting the fifth Pirates movie, budgeted at an estimated $320 million (Rs 2000 crore), with Depp’s name.
Remember, he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Captain Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates movie, which was released in 2006. Also remember, he is said to have made over $70 million per film through smart backend deals which gave him a cut of the profits. But now, 11 years later, it took two whole trailers before we even saw his face.
But the studio has been on a mission to course correct. They held a lavish premiere in Shanghai last week, signalling the importance of the world’s second-largest movie market. And Depp, for his part, has missed no opportunity to make appearances and interact with fans. He showed up at Pirates rides in Paris and California unannounced, leaving fans ecstatic, and more importantly, excited about the new movie.
But the movie itself wasn’t easy to make. If a recent Hollywood Reporter article is to be believed, Depp’s antics on set - drunken debauchery, physical fights with his now-ex - forced the crew to hire a man to keep a constant eye on him. Often, his tardiness would cause delays in production, and a mysterious injury to his hand shut the film down for weeks.
In the end, for Pirates of the Caribbean 5 to turn a profit, it would have to make more than twice its budget, plus advertising costs (which usually range in the $150 million range for films like this, going by The Lone Ranger). That amounts to $800 million just to break even. The last movie in the franchise, 2011’s On Stranger Tides, managed to cross the coveted $1 billion. But things were in its favour.
Disney held a sneak preview of the film at the Las Vegas CinemaCon in March, but the reactions were mixed. Many critics praised the film’s action, tone, and said that it was a definite improvement on its immediate predecessor, but they were also the first to admit that this isn’t saying much.
Pirates 5 could be a pivotal moment in Depp’s career. It was seen as a fallback, a safe, sure shot hit, but its failure could signal the end of one of the biggest movie stars the world has ever seen.
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