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Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a 2003 adventure film, based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney theme parks. The story follows pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) as they rescue the kidnapped Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) from the cursed crew of the Black Pearl, captained by Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). The film was directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and became the first Walt Disney Pictures release to earn a PG-13 rating by the MPAA (all previous WDP releases were rated G or PG).

The world premiere was held at Disneyland Resortmarker in Anaheim, Californiamarker, on June 28, 2003. The Curse of the Black Pearl was an unexpected success, with positive reviews and grossing over $653 million worldwide. The film became the first in a series, with two back-to-back sequels, Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, released in 2006 and 2007. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Depp.


As Governor Weatherby Swann and his 12-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, sail to Port Royalmarker, Jamaicamarker, their vessel, HMS Dauntless encounters a shipwreck with a sole survivor, the young Will Turner, floating among the wreckage. Elizabeth finds and hides a gold medallion she found around the unconscious Will's neck, fearing he would be accused of piracy. She then glimpses a ghostly pirate ship (the Black Pearl), disappearing into the mist.

Eight years later, Captain James Norrington of the Britishmarker Royal Navy is promoted to Commodore. At his ceremony, he proposes to Elizabeth. Before she is able to answer, her over-tightened corset causes her to faint and fall off the rampart, tumbling into the bay. The medallion she is wearing emits a mysterious pulse through the water.

Meanwhile, pirate Captain Jack Sparrow has arrived in Port Royal to commandeer a ship. Seeing Elizabeth fall, he rescues her, but Norrington recognizes him as the notorious pirate and he is arrested. He then escapes and ducks into a blacksmith shop where he encounters Will Turner, now a blacksmith's apprentice and self-taught expert swordsman. Following a swordfight with Turner, Sparrow is knocked unconscious and jailed, set to be hanged the next day. That night, Port Royal is besieged by the Pearl, answering the medallion's mysterious call. Elizabeth is captured and invokes parley— an agreement ensuring one's safety until meeting and negotiating with the opposing side. Not wishing to reveal that she's the Governor's daughter, Elizabeth tells Captain Barbossa her surname is Turner. She negotiates for the pirates to cease the attack on Port Royal in exchange for the medallion. Barbossa agrees but, employing a loophole in their agreement, keeps Elizabeth prisoner, believing she is the key to breaking an ancient curse they are under.

When Commodore Norrington refuses to take immediate action, Will, who loves Elizabeth, persuades Captain Jack Sparrow to help him rescue her in exchange for freeing him from jail. Jack agrees only after learning Will's last name is Turner. After commandeering the HMS Interceptor, Jack and Will recruit a crew in Tortugamarker with help from Jack's old friend, Gibbs, a former boatswain in the Royal Navy. They set sail for Isla de Muerta, a mysterious island Jack knows the pirates will go to in order to break the curse.

While en route, Will learns about Jack's past. He was once the captain of the Pearl, but when he shared the bearings to a hidden chest of Aztec gold coins, First Mate Barbossa instigated a mutiny and marooned Jack on an island. Jack escaped three days later. The pirates found and spent the treasure, but soon learned it was cursed—turning them into near-immortal skeletal beings whose true forms are only revealed in moonlight. The curse can only be lifted when every coin and each pirate's blood is returned to the chest. William "Bootstrap Bill" Turner, Jack's only supporter, sent a coin to his son, Will, believing the crew should remain cursed for what they did to Jack. Barbossa had Bootstrap tied to a cannon and thrown overboard, only to realize later that his blood is also needed to break the curse; a Turner relative must now take his place.

In a cave full of treasure on Isla de Muerta, Barbossa, believing Elizabeth is Bootstrap's child, anoints the last coin with her blood and drops it into the chest—unsurprisingly, the curse remains unbroken.

Reaching the island, Will suspects Sparrow may betray him and knocks him out. He rescues Elizabeth, and they escape to the Interceptor. Jack barters with Barbossa—he will reveal Bootstrap's real child in exchange for the Pearl. Jack's negotiations come to naught, however, when the Pearl pursues the Interceptor, sinking her and taking the crew captive. Will reveals that he is Bootstrap Bill's son and demands that Elizabeth and the crew be freed, or he will shoot himself and fall overboard, lost forever. Barbossa agrees but craftily applies another loophole and maroons Elizabeth and Jack on a deserted island (the same island Jack was on 10 years before) and throws Jack's crew into the brig. Will is taken to Isla de Muerta for the ritual. On the island, Elizabeth discovers the truth behind how Jack really got off the island. The island that Jack was imprisoned on was used as a cache by rum runners, who are long since out of business ("Probably have your bloody friend, Norrington to thank for that").

Elizabeth burns an abandoned cache of rum to create a signal fire that is spotted by Norrington. She convinces Norrington to rescue Will by accepting his earlier marriage proposal. Returning to Isla de Muerta, Norrington sets an ambush outside the cave while Jack goes inside and persuades Barbossa to form an alliance. He tells him to delay breaking the curse until after they have taken the Dauntless and killed the crew. Jack then removes a coin from the chest, rendering himself immortal. But whatever Jack's actual intent is, his plan goes awry when Barbossa orders his crew to infiltrate the Dauntless from underwater. Elizabeth infiltrates the Pearl, frees Jack's crew and destroys the two pirates guarding it. She tries to enlist the crew's help, but they refuse and make off with the Pearl while Elizabeth heads to the island to aid Will. Elizabeth saves Will and together they destroy the three cursed pirate guards while Jack, immortal, reveals his true allegiance and battles Barbossa. Jack tosses his bloodied coin to Will, who returns the last two medallions to the chest, adding his own blood to his, breaking the curse. Jack then shoots Barbossa in the heart with the shot he had saved for the past 10 years. No longer immortal, the wounded Barbossa falls dead. Realizing they are no longer cursed, the now-mortal pirates surrender to the navy.

Back in Port Royal, Jack is about to be executed. Believing that Jack deserves to live, Will attempts to rescue him. Both are quickly captured, but Elizabeth lends her support and declares her love for Will. Will is granted yet another pardon (having been previously cleared of stealing the Interceptor) and is allowed to marry Elizabeth with the blessing of Norrington and Governor Swann. Jack escapes by leaping (falling) from the fort and into the bay. His crew, who escaped with the Pearl, rescues him and makes him Captain. Norrington is impressed enough to allow him one day's head start before giving pursuit.

After the credits, Jack the monkey (knocked off the Pearl by Elizabeth during the battle) swims back to the treasure chest, near Barbossa's dead body, and steals a gold coin. The camera shows his skeleton body, and Jack jumps at the screen, which blacks out.


  • Orlando Bloom as Will Turner: A blacksmith's apprentice working in Port Royal, he is in love with Elizabeth Swann. Will struggles with the fact his father, "Bootstrap" Bill, was a pirate, unable to reconcile that he was a good man too. Bloom read the script after Geoffrey Rush, whom he was working with on Ned Kelly, suggested it to him.

  • Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow: An eccentric pirate noted for a slightly drunken swagger, accompanied by slurred speech and awkwardly flailing hand gestures. His obsession for rum is only matched by his obsession with regaining the Black Pearl, which he captained ten years before. Jack uses his wits rather than weapons, and has gained a reputation with made-up stories of how he escaped from the deserted island he was put on. The actor 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. 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."

  • Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann: The daughter of Governor Weatherby Swann, Elizabeth has been fascinated with pirates since childhood. During the Black Pearl's attack on Port Royal, she gives her name as Turner and is mistaken for "Bootstrap" Bill's child. She also is in love with Will Turner. Elizabeth abandons the "damsel in distress" image and in time her personality changes to that of a noble pirate. Knightley came as a surprise to Verbinski; he had not seen her performance in Bend It Like Beckham and was impressed by her audition.

  • Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa: The captain of the Black Pearl, he was Captain Jack Sparrow's first mate before he led a mutiny ten years before. He and his crew stole cursed Aztec gold, for which they walk the earth forever. He has a love of green apples and his monkey Jack, which never leaves his side. Verbinski approached Rush for the role of Barbossa, as he knew he would not play it with attempts at complexity, but with a simple villainy that would suit the story's tone.

  • Jack Davenport as Commodore Norrington: An officer in the Royal Navy who is in love with Elizabeth, and also has a deep-seated dislike for pirates. He considers Jack Sparrow to be "the worst pirate I have ever heard of."

  • Lee Arenberg as Pintel: A pirate aboard the Black Pearl. 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. He and Ragetti provide the majority of the comic relief for the pirate side of the story.

  • Mackenzie Crook as Ragetti: A pirate aboard the Black Pearl, Pintel's buddy, with a wooden eye that never seems to stay in place.

  • Kevin McNally as Joshamee Gibbs: Jack Sparrow's friend and first mate, he was once a sailor for the Royal Navy. He is usually the one who tells the legends of Jack Sparrow.

  • Zoe Saldana as Anamaria: A female pirate furious with Jack Sparrow for stealing her boat. He promises her the Interceptor in an attempt to assuage her.


During the early 1990s, screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio began to think of a supernatural spin on the pirate genre. Disney 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. The studio 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.

Although Cook had been a strong proponent of adapting Disney's rides into films, the box office failure of The Country Bears 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 pondered "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.


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 Londonmarker, which the crew bought from a dealer in Connecticutmarker. 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 Royalmarker in Rancho Palos Verdes, Californiamarker, and Governor Swann's palace was built at Manhattan Beachmarker. A fire broke in September 2002, causing $525,000 worth of damage, though no one was injured.
The barge used for the Dauntless
The filmmakers chose St. Vincentmarker as their primary shooting location, as it was the quietest beach they could find, and built three piers and a backlot for Port Royalmarker 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 functional sailing ship from Seattle, 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.


Shooting began on October 9, 2002 and wrapped by March 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 Grenadinesmarker, 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. He also had to quickly manage the score with Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer, who headed 15 composers to finish the score 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 as he felt more comfortable with them, and Silvestri respectfully left the production before he recorded anything.


See the soundtrack page.


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) a notable flop. The film was also based on a theme park ride, and Johnny Depp, known mostly for starring in cult films, had little track record as a box office leading man. Walt Disney Pictures also took a big risk in allowing it to be the first PG-13 rated film by the studio, with one executive noting 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. Their confidence paid off: 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.

Critics favorably received the film, as indicated by a 79% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 153 positive reviews out of 193 listed. 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. 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 Best Actor at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the MTV Movie Awards, and the Empire Awards, and was also nominated but didn't win at the Golden Globes, the BAFTA Awards, and the 76th Academy Awards, in which The Curse of the Black Pearl was also nominated for Makeup, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. Awards won by Curse of the Black Pearl include Best Make-Up/Hair at the BAFTA Awards, a Saturn Award for Best Costumes, a Golden Reel Award for Sound Editing, two VES Awards for visual effects, and the People's Choice Awards for Favorite Motion Picture.

Home release

The DVD and VHS editions of the film were released five months after the theatrical release, December 2, 2003, with 11 million copies sold in the first week, a record for live action video. 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 2004.

A UMD 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.


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