Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is still four months away from theaters, but Disney is already preparing another Pirates movie. According to Deadline, the studio has hired screenwriter Terry Rossio (who co-wrote the first four Pirates films with Ted Elliott) to draft a new screenplay, and is also trying to lock in Tides director Rob Marshall for another go-round. They’ll likely not have to worry about the franchise star; Johnny Depp told EW that he would “most definitely consider” a fifth film. Maybe Pirates 4 will be a box office bust, but that’s unlikely. It’s opening unopposed on May 20th, a busy get-out-of-school weekend. Which means, my friends, that the Pirates series will almost certainly be embarking on the most terrifying adventure for any film franchise: The Fivequel.
There aren’t that many Number 5′s in film history. This is for good reason. Sequels are generally bad (see the Sequel Map). Threequels are usually worse. A franchise that reaches Number 4 has usually devolved into self-parody (see Indiana Jones and the Nuked Refrigerator) or has moved so far beyond the franchise’s original inspiration that it’s become unrecognizable (see Terminator: Salvation, which looked much more like The Road Warrior than the original Terminator.)
So a fourth sequel often smacks of desperation, if not outright money-grubbing. Even the most stalwart Rocky fan can’t abide Rocky V. Even the most die-hard Star Trek fan knows Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is so bad, it makes Star Trek III: The Search for Spock look like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Really, the only two fivequels of real note are You Only Live Twice (the fifth James Bond movie) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
So I guess the question is: Do you think the Pirates franchise is a new James Bond series? Can you visualize Jack Sparrow in an infinite number of variations? (Captain Jack goes to the North Pole! Captain Jack vs. the Ottomans!) Or conversely, do you think the Pirates franchise has the narrative heft of the Harry Potters? (Since Pirates 4 appears to sweep the deck clean of half the main characters from At World’s End, that seems unlikely.)