On this day, and every other day since June 28th 2003, we will all remember Pirates of the Caribbean as one of the most swashbuckling fantasy series ever to be created by Hollywood. Based on the beloved Disney theme park rides, the four movies have (so far) combined romance, adventure, action and plenty of witty banter from Johnny Depp’s wily Captain Jack Sparrow, as well as slapstick gags from Mackenzie Crook and Lee Arenberg as pirates Pintel and Ragetti.
Pirates of the Caribbean may be one of Disney’s most profitable original franchises, so you’d expect it to adhere to Disney’s lighter and less gory approach. But like any other family-friendly stories from the Mouse House, there are darker and more sobering emotional moments among the fun and frivolity. Having said that, Pirates really does feature some stygian, shocking moments. It often takes the proverbial biscuit with Disney’s guidelines and launches them straight into the gaping, fearsome jaws of the Kraken!
What are these sequences? Why are they so messed up? And, in a series with killer mermaids, cannibal tribes and cursed/un-dead pirates, what makes these moments stand out?
Below, for your convenience, are the grimmest and goriest moments in this most epic series, yet beware! Here thar be monsters, pirates and SPOILERS below- as well as the one and only Jack Sparrow.
8. “I think... I am.” – At World’s End
This is probably the tamest entry on the list- having said that, it’s still pretty bleak. Jonathan Pryce’s bumbling Governor Weatherby Swan is in serious danger a few scenes beforehand, yet it's still shocking and saddening to discover that he’s been killed off-screen.
For a mostly comedic character, he’s quite endearing, but the devastation of the scene lies in Elizabeth’s (Keira Knightley) heart wrenching pleas. She begs for her dead father to return with them to the land of the living, but he is unable and unwilling to, accepting his fate with a disconcerting calmness. It's just my hay-fever, honest...
7. “You know my name?” – At World’s End
This scene is pretty similar to the first, in that it isn’t overtly gory or disturbing; moreso that it becomes quite perturbing when you think about it. Like with Jack Sparrow, Bootstrap Bill’s (Stellan Skarsgård) mental faculties start to suffer as his imprisonment by Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) lengthens. As he’s slowly absorbed into the ship and is feasted upon by sea life, his dwindling sense of self is clear when he sees Elizabeth.
Scarily reminiscent of real mental illnesses, it’s a truly gloomy part of the movie when we discover the only thing keeping him going is a seemingly hopeless idea. His true shock and happiness that someone simply knows his name is also incredibly saddening.
6. He’s ‘armless! - The Curse of the Black Pearl
Pirates of the Caribbean features plenty of morbid humour, and this scene is a perfect example of that. Defending himself from the cursed crew of the Black Pearl, Weatherby Swan separates a skeletal arm from its owner. His farcical attempts to subdue the arm are amusing, as is his reaction when the enchantment on the pirates has been lifted.
However, now that it’s more than likely grown all its flesh back, it’s quite horrible to think about the mess its making in his cabinet, or the fact that there’s a pirate probably bleeding out elsewhere.
5. Shivver Me Timbers - Dead Man’s Chest
The fictional - but no less controversial- Pelegostos certainly had to make this list! Captured by the cannibalistic tribe, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Gibbs (Kevin McNally) try to formulate an escape plan so that they can evade their grisly fate. After asking where the rest of the crew is, Gibbs ominously states:
“These cages we’re in? Weren’t built until after we got here.”
Entrapped by the eaten corpses of their comrades? Will’s disgusted reaction says it all really.
4. “Fish-people, by dint of being fish-people...” - Dead Man’s Chest
Ok, now we’re getting into the big leagues. One of the most notably striking things about the series is how the villainous Davy Jones and his crew are realised. The CGI and makeup are simply fantastic! Corrupted by Jones's warped morality, they are all augmented by crustaceans, fauna and are becoming sea life themselves. In this scene, Will Turner boards a recently wrecked vessel, and is attacked by Davy Jones’s men.
As the swords come out to play, he slashes open a crew member's stomach, and rather than finding the usual intestinal contents, he is met with a fountain of bloodied fish which wriggle in their death throes. Ew.
3. A Family Affair- Dead Man’s Chest
Again, this isn’t gory, but it’s definitely grim. When you look back on Bootstrap Bill’s role in the series, you can’t help but feel a tad sorry for him. He is betrayed by his own crew, and left, in his own words, “unable to move or die” for quite some time before escaping and becoming one of Davy Jones’s crew.
All alone and presumed dead, it must have been quite something to reunite with your only child some ten years after seeing him... and then being forced to flog the skin off his back mere seconds afterwards.
His tears speak a thousand words, and Davy Jones’s sadistic smirk is horrible. If that’s not barbaric, I don’t know what is.
2. The Death of “Mister Beard” - On Stranger Tides
On Stranger Tides’ McGuffin is the legendary Fountain of Youth, which, to paraphrase Angelica (Penelope Cruz), essentially takes the life from a person and grants the time they would have lived to someone else. This is Disney, yeah? So you’d expect some form of rapid aging and collapse, right? A less horrifying version of Donovan in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, perhaps? Hell no!
Through his usual trickery, Jack ensures that Blackbeard (Ian McShane) is on the giving end. Instead of wrinkles and premature greying, a vortex of water literally strips the flesh off Blackbeard’s body in a bloody swirl...whilst he’s still conscious... and even trying to escape as he’s reduced to a mere skeleton...as his daughter looks on...
You do know that kids will be watching this, right Disney?
1. Mercer's Sticky End – At World’s End
Bill Nighy’s cruel Davy Jones is undeniably one of the highlights of the series. He’s incredibly memorable, fantastically realised and is one of the most complex and sympathetic characters in the whole series. But he’s still a sadistic and formidable villain, and this scene is a perfect example of this.
Seizing his chance in the heat of battle, Jones takes his revenge on Mercer by forcing his facial tentacles (beard-acles?)into his captor’s open orifices, with relish.
We’re not sure exactly what kills Mercer (Did he choke? Did the tentacles scramble his brains?) but the sickening sound effects of him choking, plus his bloodied eyes and face in the aftermath, ensure that this method of dying won’t feature on anyone’s list of preferred ways to go.
So there you have it!
Those were the darkest moments of the Pirates of the Caribbean series! Thought Disney would play it safe and family friendly eh? You and me both. Mind you, talking about Pirates has made me want to re-watch the swashbuckling, supernatural epics once again!
And better yet, we have the next installment coming soon! Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales sails into theaters on 26th May 2017...and it sounds marvelous already!