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Debating Pirates of the Caribbean’s best love interest

Was it Will Turner, Jack Sparrow, Norrington or an underdog?

Three characters from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean in heart shapes over a background of a pirate ship at sea. Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon

With the Pirates of the Caribbean movies more accessible than ever, and a summer season void of blockbusters, this month we’re diving deep into Disney’s swashbuckling series. Grab your cutlass and hoist the colors: here be Polygon’s take on all things PotC.

The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise juggles a lot of balls, but perhaps one of the most gripping threads is romance. Throughout the original trilogy, Elizabeth Swann is the central point of a triangle formed by Will Turner, Jack Sparrow, and James Norrington. The films end with Elizabeth choosing Will — but was he the right choice?

To discuss the pivotal romance in the original Pirates trilogy, three Polygon staffers — Karen Han, Emily Heller, and Petrana Radulovic — convened to talk over Elizabeth’s three potential beaus, as well as all of the other high-seas heartthrobs introduced throughout the series.

will and elizabeth kiss in dead man’s chest Image: Walt Disney Pictures

Karen: I’d like to start with the Big Three: Will, Jack, and Norrington. You guys have told me before that you both love Will — why is that?

Emily: I do love Will Turner. I love a boy who pines.

Karen: So there was never any competition?

Emily: No, and in fact, I was annoyed whenever Jack Sparrow would get flirty with Elizabeth, and whenever anyone I talked to was into Jack Sparrow. I was anti-Jack Sparrow.

Petrana: I did not like Jack in the way a lot of people I know did. I do love a charming rogue, and as an audience surrogate crush, I get it, but I never wanted him for Elizabeth.

Karen: Please expand on why you love Will so much.

Petrana: I think Orlando Bloom is very cute. I think that was 85% of it, especially when I watched those movies. I also like a good “childhood best friend” love story, and I liked that it was mutual. They were both into each other, and society didn’t like it, but they decided, hey, fuck society.

Emily: For me, I love a loyal character who has a moral code that they stick to even when they’re teaming up with someone who is not necessarily sticking to that. What’s interesting is that I was not an Orlando Bloom gal, I was not into Legolas. I was into Sam, that was my guy. It’s that sort of loyalty that I really dig.

Petrana: I do like that Will has these principles. Norrington is the other character who has a strict moral code, in contrast to Jack, but his is a code of honor, which is hot in its own right. Whereas Will’s devotion is to the people he loves.

norrington and will in dead man’s chest Image: Walt Disney Pictures

Karen: The next logical talking point is Norrington, because he is the third love interest, but I feel like he’s someone no one really considered until his arc in the second and third movies.

Petrana: I actually saw the movies in reverse order. I wasn’t allowed to watch them because they were scary, so I saw the third one with my friends when I was old enough, then I saw the second one with my cousin. I finally saw the first one because I told my parents I was really into those movies. I think seeing them in reverse really elevates Norrington’s story. He sacrifices himself for Elizabeth, and he was really hot in the second one. But then you watch the first one and it’s weird that she knew him when she was 11 and he was, like, 25.

Emily: I did not think of Norrington as anything other than an obstacle between Elizabeth and Will in the first movie. I agree that he was hot in the second and third movies. Removing that powdered wig really helped him out there.

Karen: So in the second and third movies, were you no longer like, “Get him out of here, Will and Elizabeth need to kiss,” because it was clear that Will and Elizabeth would get together?

Emily: I think because it was clear that Norrington did not have a chance with Elizabeth, that she was in love with Will and it was great, I did not see him as a threat then, and he was allowed to be cute without being a hindrance. The second movie is actually where I got really mad about the Jack Sparrow stuff, because that’s where Elizabeth kisses him, and the look on Will’s face when he sees it happen is devastating, because he doesn’t know why she’s doing it!

Petrana: The kiss is for the greater good! She kisses him for Will! It’s the only way to save all of their asses. But he doesn’t know that, so it’s dramatique.

jack sparrow and will in dead man’s chest Image: Walt Disney Pictures

Karen: So both of you, from the beginning, were like, “She should be with Will Turner, there is no alternative, this is who she should choose.” I will say I haven’t found Orlando Bloom attractive until very recently — starting from when he was a villain in the Three Musketeers movie. I wasn’t in love with Will while watching these movies. But I wasn’t in love with Jack Sparrow, either. I was more interested in Norrington because of his redemptive arc; that’s the story trope that really works for me. I find it interesting that both of you were with Will Turner from the beginning, because I feel like so much of the fandom thinks she should’ve gotten with Jack Sparrow.

Petrana: The fact that her choice is very clear from the beginning makes the other men good for the audience to project upon. Jack doesn’t have a love interest until Penélope Cruz in the fourth movie (which doesn’t count).

Emily: I never really went for the bad boy thing, I remember I got really mad at my sister for being really into the Phantom of the Opera. That’s part of why I wasn’t into Jack Sparrow. If I was going to go for a bad boy, I would be into a bad man, i.e. Captain Barbossa.

Petrana: I have to wonder what it is specifically about Jack that I didn’t get, because I usually do go for the rogue. I think the key thing missing is the heart of gold. Jack doesn’t really have it. He’s an interesting character, but lacks the ride-or-die appeal of Will.

elizabeth and will in at world’s end Image: Walt Disney Pictures

Karen: Yeah, the interesting thing about the end of the second movie is that he’s trying to make an ultimately selfish and very villainous choice. So, of the three main love interests, the consensus is, two out of three, that Elizabeth made the right choice. But who would you pick?

Petrana: Will, but if Norrington kept his look from the second movie, that might sway me a little. I am very shallow and I love a man with dirty blonde hair.

Emily: I would also choose Will, but I do, as a 27-year-old woman versus a 10-year-old girl, understand the appeal of Norrington being much more established, and a more stable life is appealing to me, personally, as a tired adult.

Petrana: Will as a blacksmith has a stable income, but Will as captain of the Flying Dutchman doesn’t.

Karen: He doesn’t have a stable income, and the only thing that’s stable is he can only come see you once every 10 years or whatever. What do you guys think of the way Will and Elizabeth’s story ends?

Petrana: I was looking into this because I was curious. In the director’s commentary, they say that, because Elizabeth was faithful to him, the curse was broken, which I clung to as a little girl. Of course, they retcon that in the fifth movie, but I loved that tragic trope. There is the big question of why she doesn’t just go with him. Her dad is dead, so why not?

Karen: Yeah, there is nothing preventing her from going with him. But I guess if you want to live in a nice house you wouldn’t go because … the Flying Dutchman is not very nice. Now, I want to dig into Emily’s comment about Captain Barbossa. Personally, I wouldn’t not choose Barbossa.

hector barbossa in the curse of the black pearl Image: Walt Disney Pictures

Emily: I love Barbossa, especially as he’s juxtaposed with Jack Sparrow, because where Jack is morally ambiguous and kind of loosey-goosey and his whole thing is this stumbling rockstar thing, Barbossa is not loosey-goosey. He is controlled, he is tight, he knows exactly what his code is, which is none. I love that he absolutely does not care about anything besides his very specific goals. When he bites into the apple and the juice runs down his face? It’s hot. I’m sorry. Also he has a monkey, and that’s cool.

Karen: Did you find him attractive during the first movie or is this something that has cropped up as you’ve grown up?

Emily: In the first movie, I was terrified of him. By the third movie, I was into him. I was 15, and I was like, “Yeah, I like this guy.” I was still all-in for Will, but I had some tinglings of, “What about him, though?”

Karen: Petrana, I’m curious if there are any other characters that you looked at and were like, “Hm, I do like them.”

Petrana: I’m not even sure if it’s romantic but I think Tia Dalma deserves so much more. I want to know more about her and Calypso. Her whole thing is kind of handwaved. Also Naomie Harris is just a beautiful woman.

tia dalma in at world’s end Image: Walt Disney Pictures

Karen: I like when she turns big and then turns into a bunch of crabs. I do like that that’s her ending: “I am a sea goddess, goodbye.” My huge crush was Davy Jones. I was so obsessed with him when these movies came out, and for a long time afterwards. I don’t know if my crush on Bill Nighy came first or if liked Davy Jones first, but he’s just so mysterious and cool. When I was 13, I was so into him that my friends made me a poster that was just a collage of pictures of Bill Nighy on a bunch of printer paper. They also got me a little piece of official movie merch which was a pen with a Davy Jones head-topper on it, which I treasured. I think it’s still in my childhood bedroom. That one moment where he turns into a man in the moonlight was hot. Not that Davy Jones with a squid face wasn’t hot ... I don’t look at Davy Jones with a squid face and think, “I want to kiss him,” but I don’t look at him and think I don’t not want to kiss him.

Emily: I mean, if we want to talk crushes that the room will not relate to: Jonathan Pryce, man.

Karen: He’s a devoted dad and has a nice house!

Emily: I like the wig, but also when he takes off the wig. He’s got that messy wig hair. It’s good. Also, those Turner genes are strong because I’d absolutely smooch Bootstrap Bill. Stellan Skarsgård ... he’s daddy, I don’t know what to tell you.

Karen: Big, big same. He’s a hunk! More of a hunk than Will, in my opinion. Those barnacles ain’t nothing to me! I do have to bring up that when we were discussing this roundtable, Emily, you brought up the pirate Ragetti.

ragetti in at world’s end Image: Walt Disney Pictures

Emily: Yes! Specifically because of the scene where they’re doing the ritual to return Tia Dalma to her true form as Calypso, and the ritual says they have to speak to her like they’re talking to a lover. I love Barbossa, but he does this big, performative voice, and then Ragetti just walks up to her and whispers into her ear. She does this little shiver. I would, too. Also, Mackenzie Crook is a cutie.

Karen: I do love Pintel and Ragetti a lot. They are extremely cute together. OK, so what if Pirates of the Caribbean was a dating sim? If you were playing it right now, who would romance?

Emily: I think Governor Swann, just to see if the game would let me.

Petrana: I will say that I would not pick Will because he and Elizabeth were a first OTP for me, and I wouldn’t want to mess with it. I want go with Norrington because I think that would be a challenging route. Whenever I’m playing a game with romance options I have to choose the one that would be an uphill battle. (Disclaimer: this is not how I approach real-life romantic relationships.)

Karen: You have to fix him. It reminds me of Cullen’s route in Dragon Age: Inquisition, where you have to get him over his drug addiction.

Petrana: I picked that route.

Karen: I know you did. Obviously, I would romance Davy Jones. He was always my number one in Pirates of Caribbean. I was never into Will, Jack, or Norrington. I am fully aware he was not in the first movie, but I don’t care. I love him. I love his little claw. He’s like a big octopus! Also, I feel like a new relationship would be good for him.