Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom
I wouldn't be surprised to find out that this movie is considered one of the more controversial selections on the list, or that my position – I love it – is going to be attacked because this isn't a film that fits the traditional mold of greatness. Don't be fooled by the haters, though; we all know they're gonna hate. The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy is a shining example of what an epic summer adventure movie can and should be, and the best film of the three is the brilliant first installment, The Curse of the Black Pearl.
Gore Verbinski is one of the most underrated directors of our time, in my opinion. Despite being at the helm for one of the scariest and best horror movies of all time, The Ring, as well as the original Pirates trilogy – the stuff that in ten years we'll be calling canon after some other schmuck eviscerates the series with God knows how many sequels to the At World's End – and yet he's never talked about when great directing is being discussed. That's a shame, because the Pirates movies have some of the best cinematography of the last decade and best use of CGI of all time. Seriously. Between that and getting one of Johnny Depp's greatest performances in not one but three movies, playing the only role he has ever appeared in more than once, Verbinski should be at least in the conversation of the most important director of the last ten years.
The first Pirates flick – and unlike most of the films on this list, The Curse of the Black Pearl is definitely a "flick" – takes the very loose concept of a Disneyland ride and builds a complex but never overwhelming mythology around it. We meet a whole slew of characters, but most notably Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, a drunkenly staggering, somewhat effeminate pirate whose knack for getting in (and out) of trouble is unparalleled on the Seven Seas. Aside from Heath Ledger's Joker, I'm not sure a more iconic character has come out of the last decade of film. Sparrow has been betrayed by a crew who mutinied when he was in charge, and they return to ransack towns and ships as cursed men who turn into skeletons in the moonlight. They kidnap female protagonist Elizabeth Swann, played solidly by a gorgeous Keira Knightley. Her secret love Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) teams up with Sparrow to get her back, and finds out that he's more of a pirate than he thought. This all successfully progresses the plot and also gives the viewer tons of badass scenes of skeleton pirates fighting flesh-and-blood pirates on the ocean. In fact, half of what makes this movie great is just what it gives you to look at. Verbinski would milk this even further in his sequels, but the perfect balance is struck here on Curse.
I'm not saying this movie should be discussed with Casablanca (my go-to Hollywood classic?) when lists of all-time greatest movies are being made. What I'm saying is that in the tradition of Jaws and Indiana Jones and Star Wars before it, Pirates of the Caribbean is a series of viable summer blockbusters that execute what they set out to do to near perfection. When The Curse of the Black Pearl comes on TV, there's no one in America who's not going to watch at least five minutes of it before they move on. It's one of the most fun movies ever made, and you'd better believe it deserves to be on this hallowed list.
The Good: Johnny Depp gives his best performance besides Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and creates one of the most iconic characters in film history.
The Bad: Orlando Bloom will never be able to act. Legolas is the worst part of The Lord of the Rings, and yes, Will Turner is the worst part of Pirates of the Caribbean.
The Skinny: Deserves to be on the list, possibly a lot higher, definitely a little higher.