For nearly two decades, the existence of a Monkey Island movie adaptation was a total secret. In development in the early 2000s, the project was eventually revealed 2011 with the release of the Monkey Island Special Edition Collection. Within the special features of this release were detailed storyboards from the planned film, showing just how similar it was to Pirates of the Caribbean.
This only added fuel to the long-running rumours that Pirates of the Caribbean actually “ripped off” Monkey Island in a big way — rumours buoyed by several key facts. First, the obvious similarities.
Both franchises focus on piracy, the character growth of a young pirate (Will Turner / Guybrush Threepwood) and a ghostly pirate army led by a skeleton-like captain (Barbossa / LeChuck). Both Monkey Island and Pirates of the Caribbean also featured a young governess in need of saving (Elaine Marley / Elizabeth Swann).
Later films also allegedly strengthened the connection, with characters like the Voodoo Lady sharing similar vibes with voodoo priestess Tia Dalma (although, to be fair — they both relied on common tropes).
Fans also argued both Pirates of the Caribbean and Monkey Island feature similar stories, wherein a ghostly crew of pirates abduct a governess and stow away on a cursed island while an inexperienced protagonist works to save the damsel in distress by becoming a worthy pirate.
But it’s not just the structural similarities of the stories fans have called out.
In an interview with Polygon, two creators working on the film confirmed popular rumours Pirates of the Caribbean screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott were involved in the creation of the Monkey Island film — but to a lesser degree than was originally assumed.
David Carson, a visual artist for Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), told Polygon the pair was brought into the ILM studio on a visit to reportedly coax them to join the Monkey Island film.
“They toured ILM and came over to the story group’s offices,” Carson told Polygon. “We talked with them about films they had developed, and we showed them the artwork we were working on for Monkey Island. What we didn’t know was at that time Ted and Terry were developing a script for Disney based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland.”
According to storyboard artist Tony Stacchi, the pair were pitched Monkey Island and shown key storyboard for “all the beats” of the film.
Rossio and Elliott went on to pen the script for Pirates of the Caribbean, which released in 2003. But both Elliott and Rossio have denied this visit had any influence on their ideas.
Fans, of course, have formulated their own ideas — and concept art revealed in 2011 only fuelled speculation about the links between the two projects.
After several stops and starts in the development of the Monkey Island adaptation it was eventually cancelled, but Carson and Stacchi both claim this was more to do with issues in the story and budget, and it does appear work on the feature stopped well before the release of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Still, it’s fascinating to see how the Pirates of the Caribbean and Monkey Island films evolved in the same time period, and with very similar ideas. While there’s no definitive answer about whether Pirates crimped from Monkey Island, the two projects will always have a strange, intertwined relationship destined to spark that pesky rumour mill.
It’s wild to think about what could’ve been.