It’s almost certain that Johnny Depp won’t be returning as Pirates of the Caribbean’s Jack Sparrow, but are there any other major actors Disney could tap in to replace him in the role? The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise wasn’t tipped for massive success. The Curse of the Black Pearl was intended as summer blockbuster fodder. The popularity of Depp’s Jack Sparrow helped drive the franchise to become one of the most profitable in cinema history. As Captain Jack Sparrow, Depp brought both a quirky charm and unexpectedly goofy energy to the antihero role. Many armchair buccaneers have been wondering: will Johnny Depp return as Jack Sparrow for Pirates of the Caribbean 6? The current answer is an almost definite no.
Depp soon made an unlikely icon of the character and the critical acclaim that greeted his performance ensured the Pirates of the Caribbean became a blockbuster franchise. However, Depp’s performance alone was not what made The Curse of the Black Pearl work. Gore Verbinski’s direction, the stellar supporting cast, and a tone that swerved deftly between horror, comedy, and adventure were all important factors—something that Disney did not realize until later Pirates of the Caribbean sequels stripped away these elements to focus more on Depp’s character. From the first Pirates of the Caribbean sequel Dead Man’s Chest, this problem was already evident as Jack Sparrow started to receive the lion’s share of screen-time. However, although mixed-to-negative reviews repeatedly pointed out the imbalance, it wasn’t until 2017’s Dead Men Tell No Tales that it was felt at the box office.
Will Johnny Depp return as Jack Sparrow for Pirates of the Caribbean 6? According to both Depp and Disney, no. A combination of Depp’s tumultuous personal life and the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie’s underperformance led Disney to distance him from the franchise, although the actor’s fanbase campaigned for him to be reinstated in the role. Despite this movement, the schism between Disney and Depp was exposed as being incredibly wide, especially during his defamation trial against ex-wife Amber Heard. The likelihood that Disney will patch things up with the former Pirates of the Caribbean star is negligible. There’s no such thing as impossible, but the chances that Johnny Depp will be back his old character Jack Sparrow are close to it. Disney has indicated they may take the franchise in a new Jack-Sparrow-free direction, but this isn’t a guarantee. If Disney decides to keep the character and recast the role, who can replace Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow?
If Jack Sparrow returns in Pirates of the Caribbean 6, the most straightforward route for the creators is to recast the actor with a similarly quirky indie darling who has a history moonlighting as a blockbuster star. That is what the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them franchise opted to do when Depp was fired from the role of Grindelwald during pre-production on the third movie. Actor Mads Mikkelsen replaced Depp in that franchise and could be called upon to do the same for the Pirates of the Caribbean series. However, there are numerous issues with this proposition. The strategy of recasting Depp didn’t help the ailing Harry Potter spinoff series at the box office, although it was one of the better parts of the movie. The appeal of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise also relies far more on individual actors, meaning Casino Royale villain Mikkelsen would have much bigger shoes to fill as Sparrow. As such, it’s unlikely the Danish star will succeed Depp in the role.
Even if the answer to “will Johnny Depp return to Pirates?” is no, it doesn’t mean there aren’t alternative options for Jack Sparrow, one of whom almost landed the role in Black Pearl. Among the actors originally considered for the role of Jack Sparrow pre-Depp, Matthew McConaughey was initially sought out in the early ‘00s because he resembles the character’s original inspiration, Burt Lancaster. In recent years, McConaughey’s late-career resurgence in popularity has seen him rise out of the rom-com ignominy he was trapped in throughout that decade, and he’s become more popular than ever after taking on more serious roles. However, this critical acclaim has mostly not translated to mainstream blockbuster roles, and the part of Jack Sparrow could be too pivotal to bet on McConaughey’s mixed box office performance in recent years.
Outside of Chris Nolan’s 2014 sci-fi adventure Interstellar, the actor’s most recent major movies Serenity and The Dark Tower were both critical and financial failures that show he may not have the pull to hold a major tentpole franchise together. The Dark Tower’s failure, in particular, isn’t a great sign for McConaughey’s chances of taking over the Pirates of the Caribbean role. It was intended to be a franchise-spawning action/horror blockbuster. Instead, despite Stephen King’s It succeeding and breaking box office records that same year, The Dark Tower crashed and burned. Still, studio execs and fans aren’t always on the same page. The alternate Black Pearl where McConaughey, rather than Depp, asked why the rum’s gone has been speculated over by many since the actor’s rise in popularity. Box office sales aren’t everything, and the number of discussions online about the potential Pirates of the Caribbean in which Matthew McConaughey could have played Jack Sparrow may be a sign that writing him off as a replacement because of The Dark Tower would be a missed opportunity for Disney.
Joaquin Phoenix may seem like an odd name to connect with Pirates Of The Caribbean’s Jack Sparrow, but the acclaimed actor’s career has the requisite balance between critical acclaim and mainstream blockbuster success that Depp enjoyed before he took the role. However, Phoenix may already be too successful for the part, as he has shown little interest in taking on roles in tentpole projects (other than the dark, hard-R Joker, and its upcoming sequel Joker: Folie à Deux) and seems unlikely to be interested in lighter comedic work. While Depp could use the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels to boost his profile and fund more personal projects, the combination of Joker’s huge box office success and his Oscar win means Phoenix hardly needs help in that department and is unlikely to board Disney’s sinking ship as a result.
The fact that Disney announced a Margot Robbie-starring Pirates of the Caribbean spinoff and attempted to ape the success of the franchise’s success with 2021’s Jungle Cruise could indicate there is no replacement being lined up for Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. There’s a reason his removal has caused such controversy – he’s the lynchpin of the franchise. Disney built Pirates of the Caribbean around Jack Sparrow. The studio could be aware that, according to a portion of the fanbase, the character can’t be recast and no alternative will fully satisfy viewers. Disney probably isn’t willing to give up on the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Despite Dead Men Tell No Tales being the least successful of the franchise, it still managed to net $795million gross internationally from a budget of $230million. Yes, it was the least successful, but an estimated $565 million profit is still a healthy return for a movie and more than enough further investment in reworking the franchise instead of abandoning it.
It will take some work, though. Speculation on Depp’s rehiring will likely never truly die, particularly given how intensely promotional tie-ins with other media like the recent Sea of Thieves/Pirates of the Caribbean crossover still rely on Jack Sparrow to spark fan interest. The decision doesn’t only lay with Disney, either. Depp has repeatedly stated he has little to no interest in revisiting the role after he was dropped by the studio. Despite false reports that the actor was considering a return now that the defamation trial has concluded, the proposed $301 million fee is over twice the total budget of Curse of the Black Pearl. If this ludicrous sum wasn’t indication enough that reports were false, Johnny Depp’s team have also gone out of their way to categorically put the rumors to bed, and state that he wouldn’t return “even for $300 million and a million alpacas” (via Metro.co.uk). It seems Disney’s options are to recast Depp or find a new future for Pirates of the Caribbean that doesn’t include Jack Sparrow at all.
Pirates of the Caribbean 6 has been confirmed but doesn’t have a release date. Margot Robbie is tipped to star, possibly as Redd, a popular pirate queen from the Disneyland Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The movie has been in pre-production for several years, first being announced in 2018. Initially slated for a release in the early 2020s, Pirates 6 has been delayed for a number of reasons, such as the pandemic. Depp’s removal undoubtedly necessitated a complete rework of whatever was in place at the time of the 2018 announcement, too. Not much is known about the plot or what to expect when audiences eventually return to the High Seas. However, there has been some news about where the movie sits in its production journey.
There have been two scripts written for new Pirates of the Caribbean movies. One of these will be Pirates 6, and the other looks to be either a spin-off or prequel. There’s also a chance the secondary project may become a Disney+ series, similar to Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s metamorphosis from movie to series after the failure of Solo: A Star Wars Story. The Disney+ limited series for franchises like Star Wars and Marvel have been an incredibly successful venture for Disney, so the possibility of a big-budget multi-part small-screen Pirates adventure shouldn’t be written off.
One of the Pirates projects is penned by Birds of Prey screenwriter Christina Hodson, so Robbie and Hodson will be reuniting after Robbie’s standout performance as Harley Quinn in the Suicide Squad spinoff. Harley Quinn as played by Robbie is a similar quirky antihero to Sparrow (albeit much more R-rated), and this has led to some speculation that Robbie might have been tapped specifically to fill the void left by Depp based on her performances in Birds of Prey, The Suicide Squad, and Suicide Squad (2016). There are unconfirmed rumors that some former non-Depp cast members, such as Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly, will return. While there are no story details yet, and the progress has been slow on the sixth installment, it’s clear Disney is still banking on Pirates of the Caribbean as one of its tentpole franchises.
More: What The Suicide Squad’s Box Office Means For Margot Robbie’s POTC Reboot