Inside 2003's Lavish $2 Million 'Pirates of the Caribbean' Disneyland Premiere

Ahead of Friday's premiere of 'Dead Men Tell No Tales,' look back at the original's star-studded premiere that took place almost 15 years ago.
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On June 28, 2003, Anaheim's Disneyland closed its doors to the public to host its first red carpet premiere at the park — an event that cost about $2 million. The film's extravagant premiere welcomed an eclectic group of guests, from the film's stars Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp to Amanda Bynes (nearly a decade before the child star's DUI and hit-and-run arrests). 

The action-adventure movie broke multiple records at the box office following its star-studded premiere. It opened to $13.5 million in 3,269 theaters, marking the best Wednesday opening of 2003, surpassing Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which earned $12.4 million the week before.

But the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced film made its biggest mark on movie history by breaking "the curse of the pirate movies," as Chuck Viane, president of Buena Vista Pictures distribution at the time, described the phenomenon in 2003. The Curse of the Black Pearl won its opening weekend with an estimated $46.4 million, went on to gross $305.4 million domestically and restored faith that a pirate movie could be a hit blockbuster yet again. 

Before moviegoers met Captain Jack Sparrow, pirate films had a bad run in recent years; 1995's Cutthroat Island infamously scared off genre lovers when it opened to $2.4 million and grossed only $11 million, while it reportedly cost more than $100 million to make. 

Disney needed the adaptation of the historic ride to be a hit. It was coming off the heels of the panned Country Bears, a film based on another park attraction. MGM's 2002 bomb was disliked by critics and ultimately grossed only $16.9 million.

In honor of Captain Jack returning to the big screen in Pirates of the CaribbeanDead Men Tell No Tales, look back at the historic premiere by reading THR's original coverage below.

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The Walt Disney Co. rolled a 900-foot red carpet down Main Street on Saturday at Disneyland in Anaheim to celebrate the world premiere of Buena Vista’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. It was the first such event to take place at the famed theme park.

During the six-plus-hour event — for which the park was closed to the public — attendees took in such attractions as the Haunted Mansion, Thunder Mountain and, of course, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, before and after watching the film on a giant outdoor screen.

Disney spared no expense — the event cost nearly $2 million — as the park came alive with performing pirates, including stilt-walkers, jugglers, musicians and a disco-inspired pirate band, the latter of which played aboard a ship docked in front of the screen. A post-screening fireworks extravaganza was timed to the film’s Klaus Badelt-composed score.

“Disneyland is a magical place, and to be here in the place where Pirates of the Caribbean originated for the premiere of the movie … I can’t think of any better place we could have done this,” Disney’s Richard Cook said.

For the film’s Keira Knightley, who had been to Disneyland a handful of times, the premiere scene was nearly overwhelming. “I’m a veteran in terms of Disneyland, but it’s slightly different this time around,” she said.

Disney’s Nina Jacobson, Chuck Viane and Jason Reed (Michael Eisner was a no-show) joined guests Drew Carey, Amanda Bynes, Taye Diggs, Gary Busey, Raquel Welch, David Hasselhoff, Eric Idle, ICM’s Chris Andrews, UTA’s Jim Berkus, Tracey Jacobs and Adam Isaacs, CAA’s David O’Connor, Fred Specktor, Beth Swofford and Brian Siberell and Endeavor’s Spencer Baumgarten and Steve Rabineau. — Josh Spector

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