Sailing to Port Royal, Jamaica, Governor Weatherby Swann, his 12-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, and Lieutenant James Norrington encounter a burning shipwreck and an unconscious young boy, Will Turner. Elizabeth conceals a gold medallion worn by Will, fearing it will identify him as a pirate. Elizabeth then glimpses a ghostly pirate ship, the notorious Black Pearl, sailing away.
Eight years later, now Commodore Norrington proposes marriage to Elizabeth. However, her over-tightened corset causes her to faint before she can answer, and she falls from the fort into the bay. The gold medallion she wears as a necklace emits a pulse in the water which signals the Black Pearl. She is saved by pirate Jack Sparrow, who is in Port Royal to steal a ship. Norrington recognizes Jack as a pirate and orders his arrest. Jack attempts to escape, but runs into an adult Will. After an evenly matched sword fight with Will, soldiers arrive and capture Jack. He is jailed to await his execution.
That night, the Pearl and its immortal crew besieges Port Royal. Drawn to her necklace, pirates Pintel and Ragetti capture Elizabeth and return with her to the Pearl. Believing she has been kidnapped as the Governor's daughter, she conceals her identity by identifying herself as Elizabeth Turner. In exchange for the medallion, Captain Barbossa stops the attack on Port Royal, but keeps Elizabeth prisoner.
Will, who is in love with Elizabeth, breaks Jack out of prison and persuades him to help rescue her. Jack agrees after learning that Will's surname is Turner. Will and Jack commandeer HMS Interceptor and recruit a crew in Tortuga. With help from Jack's old friend, Joshamee Gibbs, they set sail for the remote Isla de Muerta, where the Pearl ports.
Will learns that ten years earlier, Jack was the Black Pearl 's captain, on a quest for Aztec gold, when his first mate, Barbossa, mutinied and marooned Jack on an island, leaving him with a pistol and a single shot, intended for suicide. Jack escaped three days later, keeping the pistol and bullet to kill Barbossa. Meanwhile, Barbossa's crew found and spent the treasure but learned too late that it was cursed, leaving them unable to satisfy their desires, and turning them into immortal skeletal beings whose true forms are revealed under moonlight. The curse can be lifted if the gold is returned, with a sacrifice of each pirate's blood. William "Bootstrap Bill" Turner, Jack's only supporter during the mutiny, sent a coin to his son, Will, believing the crew should remain cursed. Barbossa had Bootstrap tied to a cannon and thrown overboard, before realizing that his blood was needed to break the curse.
At Isla de Muerta, Barbossa, believing Elizabeth is Bootstrap's child, anoints the last coin with her blood, but the curse remains. After reaching the island, Will suspects Jack may betray him and knocks him out. Will rescues Elizabeth and they escape to the Interceptor, leaving Jack behind. Jack barters with Barbossa, offering Will in exchange for the Pearl, but Barbossa rejects his offer and pursues Interceptor, sinking the ship and imprisoning its crew. Will reveals that he is Bootstrap's son and demands that Elizabeth and the crew be freed, or he will shoot himself and fall overboard. Barbossa agrees, but maroons Elizabeth and Jack on the same island Jack had been left on ten years earlier. Elizabeth discovers how Jack escaped before: the island was used as a cache by rum runners and Jack bartered passage. However, the rum runners have long since abandoned the island, making another rescue impossible.
Elizabeth burns the cache of rum to create a signal that Norrington's ship spots. She convinces Norrington to rescue Will by accepting his marriage proposal. Norrington locks Elizabeth in his cabin in order to keep her safe. Returning to Isla de Muerta, Norrington sets an ambush while Jack persuades Barbossa to form an alliance, telling him to delay breaking the curse until they have taken Norrington's ship, HMS Dauntless. Jack's plan goes awry when Barbossa orders his undead crew to infiltrate the Dauntless from underwater. Meanwhile, Elizabeth escapes and sneaks aboard the Pearl to free Jack's crew. They leave with the Pearl while Elizabeth heads to the island alone to save Will. Jack duels with Barbossa, and is seemingly killed. Barbossa is then shocked to discover that Jack is also immortal after having taken one of the medallions while attempting to negotiate with him.
Meanwhile, Norrington and his men fight the cursed pirates. When Barbossa attempts to kill Elizabeth, Jack shoots Barbossa as Will drops the last two medallions, stained with his and Jack's blood, into the chest. Now mortal, Barbossa collapses and dies. The remaining cursed pirates — heavily outnumbered and also now mortal — aboard Dauntless surrender. Despite the victory, Jack is arrested and condemned to death.
At Port Royal, Will attempts to rescue Jack at a public hanging. Both are captured. Jack manages to escape by jumping into the ocean and swimming to the newly repaired Black Pearl, which is waiting nearby. Will is pardoned by Governor Swann and allowed to marry Elizabeth. The Pearl 's crew pulls Jack from the water, appointing him captain. Jack then looks at his compass while singing "A Pirate's Life for Me".
In a post-credits scene, Jack, Barbossa's pet monkey, steals a gold coin from the chest, thus cursing itself once again.
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