While audiences may have been shocked to see star Keira Knightley leave the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise after only three movies, in retrospect, the actor clearly made the right call. Knightley was only 17 years old when she signed on to play Elizabeth Swann in 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
That first movie ended up exceeding even the most optimistic box office projections, making bona fide A-list stars of its central cast. Although the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise never really worked as a whole, this didn’t hurt its continued success through the first two sequels. Despite its popularity, though, Keira Knightley opted not to return for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
When Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was released in 2011, the sequel performed well at the box office. However, most reviews of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie noted that the outing sorely lacked the chemistry that Knightley, Orlando Bloom, and Johnny Depp — as Elizabeth, Will Turner, and Captain Jack Sparrow — brought to earlier installments. The fifth movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, further damaged the critical reputation of the series, proving that Knightley made the right call to depart the franchise when she did.
Why Keira Knightley Left Pirates of the Caribbean
When cast in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Keira Knightley signed on for a self-contained three-movie trilogy and always thought that was the extent of her involvement with the series. In the years between the first installment and the pre-production of the fourth movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Knightley had racked up an impressive number of other credits and was one of the most in-demand actors of the decade.
Outside of her other commitments, however, Knightley also recognized that Elizabeth’s arc from the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy was over. The first movie in the franchise transformed her from a sheltered, spoiled aristocrat into an independent, rebellious action heroine. The next two installments gave Elizabeth and Will’s story a fittingly sad ending while also reaffirming her status as one of the toughest, most heroic characters in the series. Put simply, Pirates of the Caribbean had nowhere else to take Elizabeth Swann’s character, and Knightley knew it.
Pirates of the Caribbean’s Original Trilogy Ended Right
While it has some major plot holes, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End was at least a self-contained story with a tragic but fitting ending for the franchise. It might have been fun to see Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann involved in some of Jack Sparrow’s episodic adventures after the events of the third movie, but the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy’s ending left her a single mother awaiting the return of her love — hardly in a place to drop everything and search for the Fountain of Youth on a whim.
How Pirates of the Caribbean 4 Handled Knightley’s Exit
There was no easy way of writing Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner out of the fourth installment, but Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides fumbled this task. Both characters were replaced by similar yet forgettable substitutes while Jack Sparrow was beefed up to main character status, and the quirky pirate became an over-familiar action hero as a result. The franchise attempted to make up for this misstep by bringing back Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom in the next movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Why Knightley (Barely) Appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean 5
Keira Knightley showed up in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales to wrap up the story of Elizabeth and Will’s son, Henry. However, Henry’s actor, Brendon Thwaites, noted that Knightley’s cameo was added after he shot his scenes with Orlando Bloom, meaning there was a cut of the movie without her. This shows in the final edit of the movie, which barely mentions the pair until its closing moments. Elizabeth and Will’s highly publicized cameo doesn’t even feature any dialogue from Knightley. On top of that, Henry’s age doesn’t match up with their appearances at all. The cameo was just a lazy, underwritten way of bringing back the duo that smacked of desperation. Ultimately, the dreadful reviews and underwhelming box office returns suggest it failed to even drum up the intended audience’s interest.
Why Pirates of the Caribbean 5 Didn’t Need Keira Knightley
Keira Knightley doesn’t speak a word in her brief appearance in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and her reunion with Bloom is clearly only intended to draw in fans of the earlier movies. It was a cheap tactic given the fact that the majority of the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie is a standalone story involving Jack and Barbossa versus a ghost pirate and has little connection to the original trilogy.
New characters like Henry Turner and Kaya Scodelario’s heroine, Carina, get little time to distinguish themselves in Dead Men Tell no Tales since the movie is so busy trying to woo fans of the original trilogy, resulting in a sequel that might have been better off jettisoning Elizabeth and Well’s appearance entirely. After all, Knightley’s prior decision to leave the franchise after the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie ultimately proved to have been a wise decision at the time.