Franchise Film Success Case Study: Pirates Of The Caribbean


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How One Movie Just Keeps Providing Brands A Major Partnership Option

It's common these days to find your favorite movie being crafted into hugely popular theme park attractions. However, you're not as likely to find theme park attractions being the source for blockbuster films as say, with The Country Bears, The Haunted Mansion and Tomorrowland having failed to get big bucks for Disney.  A rare example, however, was Pirates of the Caribbean which certainly has shone as a diamond in the rough for theme park rides turned movies.

It was through a stellar cast, unique concept and audience admiration that Pirates of the Caribbean became one of the most successful franchises of the century so far.

In this blog, Hollywood Branded shares the franchise film success case study of Pirates Of The Caribbean and why it has been so embraced by audiences - and brands - far and wide.

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From Theme Park Attraction to Film Franchise

The Pirates of the Caribbean, as a brand, began as a ride in Walt Disney’s Disneyland. The ride was one of the parks staples, containing the memorable shanty “Yo Ho A Pirates Life for Me” and the famous phrase “Dead Men Tell No Tales - which interestingly  is the title of the latest installment of the film franchise.

The development of the first film, Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl came at a time when Disney, stuck for story ideas, were testing the waters for films based upon their classic theme park attractions.  After all - their rides were so well known and beloved, that it seemed reasonable that they would have global built in audiences.  The other films released in this same manner were The Country Bears and Haunted Mansion, neither of which were relatively considered successful at all at the box office. The Curse of the Black Pearl was certainly a diamond in the rough, eventually turning Pirates of the Caribbean into a mega hit franchise and even revitalizing demand for all things pirate in pop culture. Including "Talk Like A Pirate" day.

While the theme of pirates had been successful in the past, it had been many years, decades even, since pirates had any shred of popularity on the big screen. What differentiated this film from others dealing with pirates and indeed the other Disney movies based on theme park attractions, was the way in which it was executed.  It had a very decent cast and added more complex storyline layers and visual effects to the film than may have been previously expected for a blockbuster 'action' film of the time.

Characteres That Were Embraced


While the theme park attraction did serve as the main inspiration for the film, the filmmakers certainly expanded greatly on the attraction’s narrative by adding in unique original characters and making the story about more than just pirates thieving on the mighty seas. Characters were a key part of making the franchise iconic with Captain Jack Sparrow being the clear stand out figure in the entire franchise.

Johnny Depp, known for creating outlandish character is said to have created the character himself, with his key inspiration being Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards, as Depp saw pirates as being the rock stars of their time and envisioned Sparrow as one of the best, thus using one of Rock’s best legends as his own inspiration. Disney executives were initially doubtful of Depp’s portrayal of the character, citing it as unsuitable for family audiences, however, they would soon drop those doubts when the character became embedded in pop culture.

A Risk Well Worth Taking

Pirates of the Caribbean could have easily been a flop for the studio but it was a risk well worth taking as seen by the box office figures for the films. Pirates was groundbreaking in a way for the Disney company as it was the first family film that the company would release with a PG-13 rating, a rating that would frequently be seen in movie after movie by the company soon after with the acquisitions of both Marvel and Lucasfilm.  Gone are the days when Disney means G ratings and superbly family friendly films without any bite.

When initially approached to produce the film, Jerry Bruckheimer almost passed as he felt the original script had no density. However, he did see the potential to make it into a less kid-friendly action adventure movie. It was when screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, who had previously written Shrek, were brought in that the idea of cursed pirates came about, giving the film a unique hook. When searching for a director of the movie, Bruckheimer came across Gore Verbinski, previously known for The Ring. In his direction of the film, Verbinski gave strong attention to the visual effect of the film as well as the intriguing plot.

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A Sequel (Potential) Opportunity Is Born

While it was unknown at the time of filming whether or not the film would bring about a sequel, five central character who could be followed through the series were introduced. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) was introduced as the central (anti) hero of the film, whom many young boys would emulate; Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) would serve as the love interests of the film, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) would be Sparrow’s rival and Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally) as Sparrow’s right-hand man.

Once the first film was deemed successful the second and third were shot back to back with the intent of creating a trilogy. After the pirates of the Black Pearl were freed from the curse in the first film, the sequel saw the hunt for the key to the Dead Man's Chest which contained the heart of Davy Jones, the main villain of the second and third films. The third film then sees the crew defeat Davy Jones with Will eventually becoming the captain of the Flying Dutchman.

As the third film, At World's End, the last film of the planned trilogy, wrapped up a story arc, it was decided that the fourth film would go in a slightly different creative direction. The third film finished with a hint that Jack Sparrow was embarking on a quest to find the fountain of youth, which became the central premise of the fourth film. According to writers, Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, it was when they were thinking of the fountain of youth that they got the idea to incorporate Tim Power’s 1987 novel On Stranger Tides.

Depp was initially the only star confirmed to return for the fourth film, but was later joined by Kevin McNally as his sidekick Joshamee Gibbs and Geoffrey Rush, whose character, Captain Henry Barbossa was now a privateer working for the British government.  The new characters introduced for the film included Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter, Angelica. This film currently holds the record for the most expensive film ever made - at $378.5 million!

The fifth film, Dead Men Tell No Tales went back to the franchise’s roots bringing about a film much closer to the original trilogy, and containing many similar events. The film saw the return of Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner, now as the captain of the flying Dutchman, in minor roles. Depp, Rush and McNally also reprised their roles in the film. The new characters introduced included Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and Carina Smith (Kaya Scodelario) who fill in the space formerly held by Knightly and Bloom’s characters and the captain of the Silent Mary, Armando Salazaar (Javier Bardem) who became the key villain of the film.

Pirates Of The Box Office

While the popularity of the franchise has decreased as time went on, the box office remained relatively steady. The first film, The Curse Of The Black Pearl, released in 2003, made a worldwide total of over $650 million on a on a budget of $140 million, and became the fourth highest grossing film in the worldwide box office, clearly outperforming expectations. The next two sequels would fare even better with Dead Man's Chest earning over $1 billion while At World's End just fell short of the $1 billion mark, with both topping the worldwide box office chart. On Stranger Tides, seen by audiences and critics alike as one of the weakest films in the franchise, interestingly still made over $1 billion at the box office. So much for critics!  With the fifth film yet to finish its run, it's hard to estimate where it stands in the franchise in terms of worldwide box office gross. However, the film is already on the top ten of the year at three weeks in with a box office of over $600 million, and will likely join the $1 billion club. 

Getting Your Brand On The Big Screen

While Pirates of the Caribbean may not be the most placement-friendly franchises, there are many franchises that are. To learn more about film franchises and how they can work for your brand, check out our previous blog why-cinematic-universe-storylines-are-increasingly-popular-for-studios-and-brands.

If you want to consider placing your brand in a film why not check out our product placement 101 guide to find tricks and tip on how to make the best out of product placement.

 Product Placement & Co-Promotions 101 Guide