Jay Wolpert developed a script based on the theme park ride in 2001, and Stuart Beattie rewrote it in early 2002. Around that time, producer Jerry Bruckheimer became involved in the project; he had Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio work on the script, adding the supernatural curse to the storyline. Filming took place from October 2002 to March 2003 in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and on sets constructed around Los Angeles, California. It was also significant in being the first film released under the Walt Disney Pictures banner to be rated PG-13 by the MPAA.
The film's world premiere was held at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California on June 28, 2003. It received positive reviews from critics and was an unexpected success, grossing over $654 million worldwide with many considering it to be the best in the series. Johnny Depp won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role and earned him nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actor, BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. The Curse of the Black Pearl was also nominated for four other Academy Awards and BAFTAs. The film became the first of the series, with two back-to-back sequels, Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, released in 2006 and 2007. A third sequel, On Stranger Tides, was released in 2011 and a fourth, Dead Men Tell No Tales, was released in 2017.
In the early 18th century, while sailing to Port Royal, Jamaica, Governor Weatherby Swann, his daughter Elizabeth, and Lieutenant James Norrington encounter a shipwreck and recover a boy, Will Turner. Elizabeth discovers a golden pirate medallion around his neck, keeping it in order to protect him. Elizabeth sees a ghost ship vanish into the fog.
Eight years later, Norrington is promoted to Commodore and proposes to Elizabeth, but her corset makes her faint and fall into the sea and activate the medallion. Captain Jack Sparrow comes to Port Royal to commandeer a ship, and rescues her. Norrington identifies Jack, and a chase ensues. Jack encounters Will, now a blacksmith and swordsman. They duel, and Jack is captured and imprisoned.
That night, the Black Pearl, which Elizabeth saw as a child, attacks Port Royal searching for the medallion. The crew of the Black Pearl capture Elizabeth, taking her to meet Captain Barbossa for negotiations. Elizabeth claims her last name is Turner, to conceal her identity as the governor's daughter, but Barbossa takes her prisoner. Elizabeth learns that after Barbossa's crew took the cursed treasure of Cortés from Isla de Muerta, they were forced to bear the curse of undeath; they appear as heavily decomposed corpses in moonlight. To lift the curse, they need to return all 882 gold pieces of eight with the blood of the owner of each piece. Elizabeth's medallion is the final piece.
Will Turner frees Jack to rescue Elizabeth, with whom he is in love. Jack agrees upon learning Will’s surname. The two commandeer the HMS Interceptor and head for Tortuga to recruit a crew, including Jack’s friend Joshamee Gibbs. Jack reveals that Will’s father "Bootstrap" Bill Turner was a pirate, who was thrown overboard while tied by his bootstraps to a cannon. Gibbs tells Will that Jack was captain of the Black Pearl until Barbossa mutinied and marooned him. At Isla de Muerta, Will and Jack witness Barbossa sacrificing Elizabeth's blood and the final gold piece. The curse is not lifted because the medallion belonged to Bootstrap Bill, making Will the owner by bloodline. Will rescues Elizabeth and brings her to the Interceptor, while Jack is captured by Barbossa and his crew and gets locked in the brig of the Black Pearl.
The Pearl pursues the Interceptor, taking the crew hostage and destroying the ship. Will makes a deal with Barbossa to release Elizabeth in exchange for his blood, but Barbossa exploits a loophole in the agreement, marooning Jack and Elizabeth on the island Jack was left on before. Elizabeth makes a smoke signal, and Commodore Norrington brings the HMS Dauntless to rescue Elizabeth and arrest Jack. Elizabeth requests Norrington to return for Will, convincing him by accepting his marriage proposal.
That night, the Dauntless arrives at Isla de Muerta. Jack plans to lure the pirates out to be ambushed by the crew of the Dauntless, but the plan goes awry when Barbossa's crew walks underwater to attack Dauntless. Elizabeth escapes the Dauntless and frees Jack’s crew from the Pearl. They refuse to rescue Will, so Elizabeth sets out on her own while Jack's crew takes the Pearl and flees.
Jack reaches a deal with Barbossa to operate a pirate fleet, but suddenly frees Will and duels Barbossa, while Elizabeth and Will fight off Barbossa's crew. Barbossa stabs Jack, but the latter is revealed to be under the curse, having taken a piece of gold from Cortez’s chest. Jack reveals the deception as a coup to win back the Pearl. Jack shoots Barbossa, and Will drops both coins into the chest, with his and Jack's blood on them. The curse is lifted, causing Barbossa to die from Jack's gunshot; the rest of Barbossa's crew, realizing that they are no longer immortal, surrender and are arrested.
At Port Royal, Jack is led to the gallows to be hanged for piracy. Elizabeth diverts Norrington's attention and Will attempts a rescue, but Will and Jack are surrounded and held at gunpoint. Elizabeth intercedes and declares her love for Will, leaving Norrington crestfallen. Jack dives into the sea and escapes aboard the Black Pearl, which is waiting nearby. Governor Swann pardons Will and gives his blessing for Elizabeth to marry him. Norrington permits Jack and the Pearl "one day's head start" before initiating pursuit.
In a post-credits scene, Barbossa’s pet monkey "Jack" steals a piece of gold from the chest and regains immortality.
See List of Pirates of the Caribbean characters.Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow: Rightful captain of the Black Pearl, Jack fell victim of mutiny from his crew under the direction of his first-mate Hector Barbossa. Left for dead, marooned on a deserted island, Sparrow is back in search of his ship and those who betrayed him. The role was originally written especially for Hugh Jackman, thus the name "Jack Sparrow"; however, he was not well known outside his native Australia, so Disney cast the more famous Depp as Jack. Depp found the script quirky: rather than trying to find treasure, the crew of the Black Pearl were trying to return it in order to lift their curse; also, the traditional mutiny had already taken place. Initially Sparrow was, according to Bruckheimer, "a young Burt Lancaster, just the cocky pirate." At the first read-through, Depp surprised the rest of the cast and crew by portraying the character in an off-kilter manner. After researching 18th-century pirates, Depp compared them to modern rock stars and decided to base his performance on Keith Richards, who would later appear as Jack's father in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Although Verbinski and Bruckheimer had confidence in Depp, partly because it would be Bloom who was playing the traditional Errol Flynn-type, Disney executives were confused, asking Depp whether the character was drunk or gay, and Michael Eisner even proclaimed while watching rushes, "He's ruining the film!" Depp answered back, "Look, these are the choices I made. You know my work. So either trust me or give me the boot."
Geoffrey Rush as Captain Hector Barbossa: The captain of the Black Pearl, since taken over from Sparrow. Barbossa and his crew suffer a curse from Aztec gold that makes them a team of living-dead. Verbinski approached Rush for the role of Barbossa, as he knew he could hint at the subtle complexities of the character while still portraying a simple villainy that would suit the story's tone.
Orlando Bloom as Will Turner: A blacksmith who teams up with Sparrow in his search for the Black Pearl, in order to rescue the pirate-abducted Elizabeth Swann. Bloom read the script because Geoffrey Rush, his co-worker on Ned Kelly, suggested it to him.
Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann: Governor Swann's daughter and Will's love interest; Swann is taken by the pirate crew of the Black Pearl. Knightley came as a surprise to Verbinski; he had not seen her performance in Bend It Like Beckham and was impressed by her audition.
Jack Davenport as Commodore James Norrington: A commanding Royal Navy officer at Port Royal, and Elizabeth's fiancé.
Kevin McNally as Joshamee Gibbs: Jack Sparrow's friend and first mate; he was once a sailor for the Royal Navy.
Jonathan Pryce as Governor Weatherby Swann: The royal governor of Port Royal and the father of Elizabeth Swann. In contrast to his strong-willed daughter, he is something of a milquetoast. Both Elizabeth and the Governor sailed from England to the Caribbean eight years prior to Curse of the Black Pearl, along with then Lieutenant James Norrington, presumably when Swann assumed the governor's post. Swann is a doting father, and he wishes for his daughter to accept Commodore Norrington's marriage proposal. However, he eventually comes to accept that she truly loves Will Turner. Tom Wilkinson was negotiated with to play the part, but the role went to Pryce, whom Depp idolized.
Zoe Saldana as Anamaria: A female pirate who signs up to join Will Turner and Mr. Gibbs for a chance to confront Jack Sparrow for stealing her ship years before.
Lee Arenberg as Pintel: A pirate aboard the Black Pearl who, with Ragetti, serves as comic relief for most of the film. He and Ragetti dress up as women to provide the distraction that allows the cursed pirates to board the Dauntless near the end of the movie.
Mackenzie Crook as Ragetti: A pirate aboard the Black Pearl, Pintel's buddy, with a wooden eye that never seems to stay in place.
Damian O'Hare as Lieutenant Gillette: The second-in-command to Commodore Norrington.
Treva Etienne as Koehler: One of Barbossa's pirate crew.
Michael Berry Jr. as Twigg: An Irish sailor who is often paired with Koehler
David Bailie as Cotton: A sailor who had his tongue cut out, is now mute and has a macaw to talk for him.
Christopher S. Capp as Mr. Cotton's Parrot.
Martin Klebba as Marty: A dwarf pirate who also lived in Tortuga until hired by Jack and Will to rescue Elizabeth.
Isaac C. Singleton Jr. as Bo'sun: The bo'sun of the Black Pearl, and under Barbossa's command. He fought Lieutenant Gillette during the battle of Isla de Muerta.
Giles New as Murtogg: A dutiful but daft Royal Marine. He serves under the command of Commodore Norrington.
Angus Barnett as Mullroy: A dutiful but daft Royal Marine.
Greg Ellis as Lieutenant Theodore Groves: a lieutenant who admires Sparrow, to the ire of Norrington.
During the early 1990s, screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio began to think of a supernatural spin on the pirate genre. Walt Disney Pictures had Jay Wolpert write a script based on the ride in 2001, which was based on a story created by the executives Brigham Taylor, Michael Haynes, and Josh Harmon. This story featured Will Turner as a prison guard who releases Sparrow to rescue Elizabeth, who is being held for ransom money by Captain Blackheart.
Disney was unsure whether to release the film in theaters or direct-to-video. The studio was interested in Matthew McConaughey as Sparrow because of his resemblance to Burt Lancaster, who had inspired that script's interpretation of the character. If they chose to release it direct-to-video, Christopher Walken or Cary Elwes would have been their first choices.
Stuart Beattie was brought in to rewrite the script in March 2002, because of his knowledge of piracy. When Dick Cook managed to convince producer Jerry Bruckheimer to join the project, he rejected the script because it was "a straight pirate movie." Later in March 2002, he brought Elliott and Rossio, who suggested making a supernatural curse – as described in the opening narration of the ride – the film's plot.
In May 2002, Gore Verbinski signed on to direct Pirates of the Caribbean. He was attracted to the idea of using modern technology to resurrect a genre that had disappeared after the Golden Age of Hollywood and recalled his childhood memories of the ride, feeling the film was an opportunity to pay tribute to the "scary and funny" tone of it.
Jim Carrey was considered for the part of Jack Sparrow. However, the production schedule for The Curse of the Black Pearl conflicted with Bruce Almighty, which has been one of Carrey’s biggest successes. Others considered for the role include Michael Keaton and Christopher Walken. Although Cook had been a strong proponent of adapting Disney's rides into films, the box office failure of The Country Bears (2002) made Michael Eisner attempt to shut down production of Pirates of the Caribbean. However, Verbinski told his concept artists to keep working on the picture, and when Eisner came to visit, the executive was astonished by what had been created.
As recalled in the book DisneyWar, Eisner asked "Why does it have to cost so much?" Bruckheimer replied, "Your competition is spending $150 million," referring to franchises like The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix. Eisner concurred, but with the stigma attached to theme-park adaptations, Eisner requested Verbinski and Bruckheimer remove some of the more overt references to the ride in the script, such as a scene where Sparrow and Turner enter the cave via a waterfall.
Ted Elliott was allegedly writing a Steven Spielberg-produced animated film adaptation of The Curse of Monkey Island, which was cancelled before its official announcement, three years prior to the release of The Curse of the Black Pearl. This film was allegedly in production at Industrial Light and Magic before being cancelled.
Ron Gilbert, the creator of the Monkey Island series, has jokingly expressed a bitterness towards Pirates of the Caribbean, specifically the second film, for its similarities to his game. Gilbert has also stated that On Stranger Tides, a novel by Tim Powers which was adapted into the fourth film, was the principal source of inspiration for his video games.
Verbinski did not want an entirely romanticized feel to the film: he wanted a sense of historical fantasy. Most of the actors wore prosthetics and contact lenses. Depp had contacts that acted as sunglasses, while Rush and Lee Arenberg wore dulled contacts that gave a sinister feel to the characters. Mackenzie Crook wore two contacts to represent his character's wooden eye: a soft version, and a harder version for when it protrudes. In addition, their rotten teeth and scurvy skin were dyed on, although Depp did have gold teeth added, which he forgot to remove after filming. Depp also used a genuine pistol which was made in 1760 in London, which the crew bought from a dealer in Connecticut. A number of swords were built for the production by blacksmith Tony Swatton. The crew spent five months creating the cavern in which Barbossa and the Black Pearl crew attempt to reverse their curse, filling it with five feet of water, 882 Aztec coins, and some gold paint on the styrofoam rocks for more impressions of treasure. The crew also built the fortress at Port Royal in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, and Governor Swann's palace was built at Manhattan Beach. A fire broke out in September 2002, causing $525,000 worth of damage, though no one was injured.
The filmmakers chose St. Vincent as their primary shooting location, as it contained the quietest beach they could find, and built three piers and a backlot for Port Royal and Tortuga. Of most importance to the film were the three ships: the Black Pearl, the Dauntless, and the Interceptor. For budget reasons, the ships were built on docks, with only six days spent in the open sea for the battle between the Black Pearl and the Interceptor. The Dauntless and the Black Pearl were built on barges, with computer-generated imagery finishing the structures. The Black Pearl was also built on the Spruce Goose stage, in order to control fog and lighting. The Interceptor was a re-dressed Lady Washington, a full-scale replica sailing ship from Aberdeen, Washington, fully repainted before going on a 40-day voyage beginning December 2, 2002, arriving on location on January 12, 2003. A miniature was also built for the storm sequence.
Principal photography began on October 9, 2002 and wrapped by March 7, 2003. The quick shoot was only marred by two accidents: as Jack Sparrow steals the Interceptor, three of the ropes attaching it to the Dauntless did not break at first, and when they did snap, debris hit Depp's knee, though he was not injured, and the way the incident played out on film made it look like Sparrow merely ducks. A more humorous accident was when the boat Sparrow was supposed to arrive in at Port Royal sank. In October, the crew was shooting scenes at Rancho Palos Verdes, by December they were shooting at Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and in January they were at the cavern set at Los Angeles. The script often changed with Elliott and Rossio on set, with additions such as Gibbs (Kevin McNally) telling Will how Sparrow allegedly escaped from an island – strapping two turtles together with rope made of his back hair – and Pryce was written into the climactic battle to keep some empathy for the audience.
Because of the quick schedule of the shoot, Industrial Light & Magic immediately began visual effects work. While the skeletal forms of the pirates revealed by moonlight take up relatively little screentime, the crew knew their computer-generated forms had to convince in terms of replicating performances and characteristics of the actors, or else the transition would not work. Each scene featuring them was shot twice: a reference plate with the actors, and then without them to add in the skeletons, an aesthetic complicated by Verbinski's decision to shoot the battles with handheld cameras. The actors also had to perform their scenes again on the motion capture stage. With the shoot only wrapping up four months before release, Verbinski spent 18-hour days on the edit, while at the same time spending time on 600 effects shots, 250 of which were merely removing modern sailboats from shots.
The film score was composed by Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer, who also served as music producer. Seven other composers, including Geoff Zanelli and Ramin Djawadi, are credited for "additional music". Verbinski oversaw the score with Badelt and Zimmer, who headed 15 composers to finish it quickly. Alan Silvestri, who had collaborated with Verbinski on Mouse Hunt and The Mexican, was set to compose the score, but Bruckheimer decided to go with Zimmer's team instead, who were frequent collaborators of his productions. Silvestri left the production before recording any material.
The teaser was attached to The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Pirates of the Caribbean was the first film released under the Walt Disney Pictures banner to be rated PG-13 by the MPAA; one executive noted that she found the film too intense for her five-year-old child. Nonetheless, the studio was confident enough to add The Curse of the Black Pearl subtitle to the film in case sequels were made, and to attract older children. Verbinski disliked the new title because it is the Aztec gold rather than the ship that is cursed, so he requested the title to be unreadable on the poster.
The DVD and VHS editions of the film were released December 1, 2003 in the UK and December 2, 2003 in the US, with 11 million copies sold in the first week, a record for live action video. It earned $235,300,000 from DVDs as of January 2004. The DVD featured two discs, featuring three commentary tracks (Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski; Jerry Bruckheimer, Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport; and the screenwriter team), various deleted scenes and documentaries, and a 1968 Disneyland episode about the theme park ride. A special three-disc edition was released in November 2, 2004 in the US and April 25, 2005 in the UK.
A PSP release of the film followed on April 19, 2005. The high-definition Blu-ray Disc version of the film was released on May 22, 2007. This movie was also among the first to be sold at the iTunes music store. The Curse of the Black Pearl had its UK television premiere on Christmas Eve 2007 on BBC One at 20:30. It was watched by an estimated 7 million viewers.
Before its release, many journalists expected Pirates of the Caribbean to be a flop. The pirate genre had not been successful for years, with Cutthroat Island (1995) being a notable flop. The film was also based on a theme park ride, and Depp, known mostly for starring in cult films at the time, had little track record as a box office leading man.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl opened at #1, grossing $46,630,690 in its opening weekend and $70,625,971 since its Wednesday launch. It eventually made its way to $654,264,015 worldwide ($305,413,918 domestically and $348,850,097 overseas), becoming the fourth-highest-grossing film of 2003. Box Office Mojo estimates that the film sold over 50.64 million tickets in the US.
Overseas, it dominated for seven consecutive weekends at the box office, tying the record of Men in Black II at the time. Only three movies after that broke the record; its sequel, Dead Man's Chest, (with nine consecutive #1 weekends and ten in total), Avatar (with 11 consecutive #1 weekends) and The Smurfs (with eight consecutive #1 weekends). It is currently the 71st-highest-grossing film of all time.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 79% based on 206 reviews, and an average rating of 7.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "It may leave you exhausted like the theme park ride that inspired it; however, you'll have a good time when it's over." At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average rating to reviews, the film received an average score of 63 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
Alan Morrison of Empire felt it was "the best blockbuster of the summer," acclaiming all the comic performances despite his disappointment with the swashbuckling sequences.
The performance of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow was particularly praised by critics and audiences alike. Review site PopMatters applauds Depp's performance by saying "Ingenious and mesmerizing, Johnny Depp embodies the film's essential fantasy, that a pirate's life is exciting and unfettered." James Berardinelli of ReelViews also applauds Depp's performance by saying "Pirates of the Caribbean belongs to Johnny Depp...Take away Depp, and you're left with a derivative and dull motion picture."
Roger Ebert acclaimed Depp and Rush's performances, with "It can be said that [Depp's] performance is original in its every atom. There has never been a pirate, or for that matter a human being, like this in any other movie... his behavior shows a lifetime of rehearsal." However, he felt the film went for too long, a criticism shared by Kenneth Turan's negative review, feeling it "spends far too much time on its huge supporting cast of pirates (nowhere near as entertaining as everyone assumes) and on bloated adventure set pieces," despite having also enjoyed Depp's performance.
For his performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp won several awards, including Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role at the 10th Screen Actors Guild Awards, Best Male Performance at the 2004 MTV Movie Awards, and Best Actor at the 9th Empire Awards. Depp was also nominated for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy at the 61st Golden Globe Awards, Best Actor in a Leading Role at the 57th British Academy Film Awards, and Best Actor at the 76th Academy Awards, in which The Curse of the Black Pearl also received nominations for Best Makeup, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects. Awards won by Curse of the Black Pearl include Best Make-up/Hair at the 57th British Academy Film Awards, Saturn Award for Best Costumes, Golden Reel Award for Sound Editing, two VES Awards for Visual Effects, and the People's Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture.American Film Institute Lists
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)—Nominated
AFI's 10 Top 10 – Fantasy—Nominated
The film spun off three sequels, with a fourth sequel released in 2017. The first two were back-to-back sequels in 2006 and 2007, Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, respectively. The third sequel, On Stranger Tides, was released in 2011. The fourth sequel was revealed to be called, Dead Men Tell No Tales. Production was slated to begin in October 2014 and was scheduled for a summer 2016 release, but was eventually delayed to May 2017. It was directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg.