Jerry Bruckheimer on the Challenge of Turning a Disneyland Ride Into One of the Most Beloved Film Franchises Ever

A-Digit/Getty Images
A-Digit/Getty Images

What was the most challenging part of the creation of the Pirates of the Caribbean films? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Jerry Bruckheimer, Producer of Film and TV, on Quora:

There were two enormous challenges facing us [when creating the Pirates of the Caribbean films]: first, how do you turn a theme park attraction into a viable feature film? This wasn’t a book or a play that the film was based on, but a ride. A great one, perhaps the greatest of all time, but in the end, a ride; and secondly, how to do you revive a film genre which, at that point, had been dead and nearly forgotten for decades? You’d have to go back to the late ‘50s or early ‘60s to discover the last successful period pirate movie. The answer, as we were to discover through the development process, was to first, go back to the soul and spirit of that wonderful Disneyland attraction by mixing history with humor and a large measure of scary supernatural fun. 

Before I brought director Gore Verbinski and screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio onto the project, there were earlier versions of the script which, though containing some very good ideas, were straightforward pirate adventures. I felt they were too linear and didn’t quite have the pizzazz that I like to give an audience, and to be honest, at that point I wasn’t so excited about producing the film. Ted and Terry recognized that the supernatural element of the attraction was an important element of what made it so special and created the idea of cursed pirates. That was the edge which made me think that this was a film which audiences could really love and get behind. Also, because they admired the attraction so much, Ted and Terry incorporated lots of elements from the ride into their script.

I knew that with Gore’s brilliant and visionary directing and the terrific screenplay which Ted and Terry wrote, we could create a pirate movie unlike any which had been seen before, and which could perhaps break the curse of failure which had surrounded the genre for so many years. The next challenge was casting the four leading roles, especially Captain Jack Sparrow. The earlier versions of the scripts depicted Captain Jack more as a handsome, heroic rascal, sort of like Errol Flynn in “Captain Blood” or Burt Lancaster in “The Crimson Pirate.” We had something less conventional in mind. Ted and Terry envisioned Captain Jack as a trickster, who not only keeps all of the other characters guessing as to whether he’s good or bad, the best pirate ever or the worst… but the audience as well. I figured that the way to get the audience to embrace the movie was to completely go against the grain. 

At the time, Johnny Depp was known as an artistic actor who starred in a series of very good, but usually quirky films, not blockbusters. He was never seeking a huge audience base. I flew to France twice to meet with Johnny, and he was definitely interested in the film, partially because his daughter was very young at the time and he wanted to do a movie which she could enjoy. Johnny committed to the film as soon as he read Ted and Terry’s script, and of course, he had some absolutely brilliant and totally original ideas on how to play the character. We were then lucky enough to enlist the great Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa, and then Keira Knightley—who at that point was pretty much only known for “Bend It Like Beckham”—as Elizabeth Swann, and a young actor named Orlando Bloom, who had been in the ensemble of my production of “Black Hawk Down,” as Will Turner. I’m proud to say that the rest is history. 

Captain Jack Sparrow became one of the most beloved and iconic characters in movie history, the film kicked off a pirate craze which continues to this day, and of course, we’ve now had five Pirates of the Caribbean films, and—bringing things full circle—an entire section of the new Shanghai Disneyland is partially inspired by the movies, as well as by the original Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.

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