Disney revealed back in October that they’d be sailing their Pirates of the Caribbean franchise into reboot territory with a sixth installment. The plan involved bringing Deadpool scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick to pen the film’s script, which would focus on a female lead swashbuckler. While at the time it wasn’t clear whether or not Johnny Depp would return to his swaggeringly drunk alter-ego as Captain Jack Sparrow, it’s now been confirmed that the studio won’t be bringing back the star — at a savings of $90 million dollars.
Forbes reports that there were a number of factors swaying Disney’s decision to raise the Jolly Roger without their A-list star. For one, the last Pirates film, 2017’s Dead Men Tell No Tales, turned in the series’ lowest domestic gross, earning $172,558,876 (a cool $70 million less than 2011’s On Stranger Tides). The film was still profitable, sure, bringing in a worldwide total of $794.9 million on a $230 million production budget; but for a franchise expecting to surpass the billion dollar mark, even $800 million is a bit of a let down.
Dead Men also received the most critical bashing of any of the Pirates films, a series which had always seen diminishing critical returns. It scored a measly 29% on Rotten Tomatoes, the likely result of some shoddy scripting and lengthy delays.
And at the center of those script and production issues? Captain Jack himself, Depp. Apparently, the actor was responsible for Terry Rossio’s original script being axed because he worried that having a female villain “would be redundant to Dark Shadows…” (Right, because having one movie with a female villain makes all other women baddies redundant.) Eventually, Depp collaborated in an unspecified capacity on another version of the script with Jeff Nathanson, leading to a pretty flat high-seas adventure with some huge (and hugely expensive) set pieces for Captain Jack.
With all the delays (Dead Men was released six years after On Stranger Tides, the longest gap in the series), poor reviews, and subpar returns, it makes sense that the studio would want to move on from Depp. Not helping matters is the actor’s recent public image, which has taken a hit due to domestic abuse allegations in the wake of his split from Amber Heard and unflattering profiles that revealed a man prone to drunken extravagance.
Of course, the studio isn’t really saving $90 million by writing out Depp, as someone will have to step in to take the lead character’s paycheck, though likely at a considerable discount. According to the UK’s Daily Express, that’s likely to be a female actress taking on a character reportedly named Redd. Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence have had their names mentioned, while fans have suggested Daisy Ridley or Karen Gillan.