How one great movie ultimately conspired to lose Disney almost a billion dollars

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Bandwagons are there to be jumped on, but based on the fact not even the sequels to the Disney movie that launched a wide-ranging trend could manage to stuff the lightning back into the bottle, perhaps the Mouse House shouldn’t have continued trying to make it happen twice.

Thanks to Cutthroat Island losing so much money, it helped put an entire studio out of business, and the cinematic swashbuckler was declared a dead genre. However, Gore Verbinski had other ideas, with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl proving to be a monumental success.

As well as earning Johnny Depp his first-ever Academy Award nomination and turning Captain Jack Sparrow into an icon overnight, the blockbuster was a breath of fresh air, packing wit, charm, and whimsy into a fantastical story trading in undead villains, secret treasure, and intertwined destinies.

Of course, the series got progressively worse through its four sequels as the law of diminishing returns set in. Still, Disney nonetheless decided that because of one film, theme park adaptations and Pirates clones were worth funnelling hundreds of millions of dollars into. The boardroom would have been supremely confident, but every single one of them ended up losing a fortune.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was basically ‘Pirates of the Caribbean in the desert’, and while it became the top-earning video game adaptation in history, it still failed to turn a profit. Similarly, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice sought to replicate the formula in the world of magic but ended up in the red, too.

The Lone Ranger even recruited the director, star, writers, and producer of the Pirates saga to see if it would work in the Wild West, only for it to end up as one of the biggest bombs of all time. The misguided marketing of John Carter painted it as ‘Pirates on Mars’, with those two films alone combining to lose somewhere in the region of $400million.

Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, which was derived from the theme park attraction of the same name? Catastrophic flop. Justin Simien’s Haunted Mansion, a reboot of a movie based on a theme park attraction? Catastrophic flop. Dwayne Johnson’s Jungle Cruise, both a Pirates imitator and a theme park attraction? The pandemic was partly to blame, but it was still a catastrophic flop.

Every single one of those aforementioned titles was backed by Disney, every single one of them cost at least $150million to produce, and every single one of them failed to live up to expectations. The cumulative losses spread out across them come to within touching distance of a billion dollars all told, so maybe it’s time the house that Walt built learned its lesson and stopped trying to recreate the Pirates of the Caribbean phenomenon.

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