Between the Kraken and zombie monkeys, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies didn’t always pay close attention to historical accuracy, but one line offers a nod to the real-life captain of the Titanic. Released in 2003, The Ring director Gore Verbinski’s action-adventure/horror/comedy mashup Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was a surprise smash hit summer blockbuster for Disney. After the year’s earlier theme park adaptation The Haunted Mansion underperformed and pirates movies as a whole were sunk by Cutthroat Island years earlier, expectations were low for Verbinski’s movie.
But Curse of the Black Pearl defied odds and ended up winning a rare combination of audience approval and critical acclaim, with the first Pirates of the Caribbean becoming an instant classic that introduced audiences to Johnny Depp’s most iconic role as Captain Jack Sparrow. The Pirates of the Caribbean sequels struggled to recapture the original movie’s magic, but Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were two of the more engaging follow-ups.
One thing none of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies can boast is much in the way of historical accuracy (although the series does make an admirable stab at depicting the rise of the East India Company, octopus-faced Davy Jones notwithstanding). However, during the action of the first Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, 2006’s Dead Man’s Chest, one crew member of the Flying Dutchman notes that “the captain goes down with his ship.” The throwaway line occurs during one of the movie’s many action sequences, but whether it was intentional or otherwise, the comment is a reference to an adage made famous by the real-life captain of the Titanic, Edward Smith.
It’s most likely an unintentional reference, as few viewers (and potentially few screenwriters) are likely to know how recent the phrase’s origins are. But given the fact that the Pirates of the Caribbean series seems to be set somewhere around the mid-1700s, it is nonetheless notable that this sailor quotes the now-famous sailing maxim. Despite seeming to be a piece of wisdom as old as sailing itself, the phrase “the captain goes down with his ship” actually never appeared in print until well after the action of the Pirates of the Caribbean series ended.
The phrase’s first recorded use was as recent as 1901 and even then it didn’t become a popular piece of nautical lore until the famously brave captain of the doomed Titanic refused to abandon ship during the vessel’s sinking in 1912. It’s unclear whether the character or screenwriters knew it, but this Pirates of the Caribbean shipmate is quoting a phrase that wouldn’t have come into the popular lexicon until long after his years on the sea ended, and referencing a famous hero of the ocean in the process.