On a calm sea, with waves crashing gently along, a ship moves on its destined route. It’s a happy crew with songs and banter going all around. Suddenly, a cannon ball is hurled into the ship and explodes as the unsuspecting sailors scamper for their dear lives. As the remaining men gear up for a fight, the sight of the Jolly Roger makes their blood run cold. After all, it’s a pirate ship!
The genre of pirate movies was a rage during the early days of Hollywood as it was an extension of the famous swashbuckler genre. Larger than life persona of a do-gooder man helping the poor and fighting a caricaturish archenemy while saving the damsel in distress was fun to watch. Slowly, with time, it lost its charm and Hollywood stopped making them. But then came along ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and everything changed. With that said, we, at the Cinemaholic, bring you a list of top pirate movies ever made. You can find some of these best pirate movies on Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime or Hulu.
11. The Princess Bride (1987)
Regarded as one of the greatest fantasy/comedies of all time, ‘The Princess Bride’ is an incredibly entertaining fairy tale flick. In the film, the protagonist, Westley sets out on an adventurous journey to rescue the love of his life, Princess Buttercup, from the feared Dread Pirate Roberts, who is notorious for his utter disregard for human life. Overall, the film is a fun-ride, and has an endearing tone that keeps you glued to it throughout. The way it blends romance, comedy, and fantasy is remarkable. And above all, it’s the treatment that director Rob Reiner gives to the story that turns it into a unique cinematic experience. Because quite frankly, such a story, which certainly seems cliched on paper, could have gone horribly wrong with an ordinary approach. ‘The Princess Bride’ is without a doubt, in my opinion, one of the better films of the 80s and one of Rob Reiner’s best works that deserves more love.
10. Pirates (1986)
Consider this. A peg legged pirate with an eye on the prized golden Aztec Throne along with his faithful first mate who’s in love with a beautiful dame. Titled ‘Pirates’ with director Roman Polanski at the helm, the general consensus of this would have been a blockbuster, isn’t it? Turning out to be one of the biggest duds of all time, starring Walter Matthau as Captain Red, ‘Pirates’ was globally panned by the audiences. One of the rarest of Polanski’s failures, the only saving grace of this movie was its spectacular score and the galleon Neptune which is currently on display at the docks of Genoa, Italy. Over the years, this movie has garnered a cult following for its wry humour and weird take on pirates.
Perhaps what went wrong here was Polanski’s approach to the genre. The vision here is unclear, and it feels like Polanski got lost in his own ambitions. It sure could have been a fantastic movie at the hands of a more experienced action movie director. It just wasn’t Polanski’s zone. However, I do believe there are several positives here. It has a very weird, quirky tone that makes it look distinctive although the vision isn’t entirely realized. And looking back at it now, one could clearly see the influence this film has had on the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean‘ film series.
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9. The Buccaneer (1958)
In a highly fictionalized version of the war of 1812, General Andrew Jackson prepares his meagre group of men to defend New Orleans against the mighty Britishers. While his team of 1200 soldiers are most likely to fall short against 16000 British soldiers, the outcome of the war is to be decided by the last buccaneer of his time, the pirate Jean Lafitte. Hated by the ruling government and loved by the masses, his heart bleeds for America. To save the beloved motherland, an uncomfortable alliance is formed between the general and the pirate. Starring Yul Brynner, this was a remake of the movie of the same name, earlier released in 1938 and directed by the great Cecil B Demille.
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8. Peter Pan (2003)
No discussion of pirates can continue without the mention of the boy who wouldn’t grow up and his archenemy, the nefarious Captain Hook. Based on J M Barrie’s famous play, ‘Peter Pan’ is a story of a boy and his adventures in Neverland. Although the basic premise of the story revolves around Peter Pan, it’s the murderous one-handed Captain Hook who steals the show. Hook despises Peter for having one of his hands cut off and fed to the crocodile and thus looks for every opportunity to bump him off. Jason Isaacs, before he became Lucius Malfoy, played Captain Hook in this epic fantasy film.
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7. Crimson Pirate (1952)
Before Burt Lancaster dabbled into serious roles, he used his acrobatic skills in the ‘Crimson Pirate’ to play a feisty, swashbuckling pirate Captain Vallo. ‘Crimson Pirate’ is a feel good story of a do-gooder pirate who rallies behind the people of Cobra island to defeat their common enemy. While the pirates featured in the movie are typically old school, believing in pillaging, the film is fun to watch, with them engaging in acrobatics and acts of buffoonery.
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6. Treasure Island (1950)
Growing up, we all read Robert Louis Stevenson’s masterpiece and were in awe of the one-legged crook, known as Long John Silver. Armed with a talking parrot as a side kick, Long John Silver is one of the most cunning and wicked pirates ever. While Long John has his eye set on the lost treasure, the question that has always intrigued the readers as well as the viewers is the dynamics between him and Jim Hawkins. Though he uses the boy as a pawn in his scheme of things, he seems to have a soft corner for him. Nevertheless, ‘Treasure Island’ is one of the greatest pirate movies of all time and is immensely watchable.
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5. The Goonies (1985)
In the quest of a lost treasure of pirate One Eyed Willy, a group of children who call themselves the Goonies set out for an adventure of a lifetime. Well, technically this is not a pirate movie per se, but the storyline and the way the Goonies and the evil Fratellis confront each other is reminiscent of the classic pirate movies. Towards the end of the movie, the Fratellis even make the Goonies to ‘Walk the Plank’! Full of treasure, booby traps, skeletons and hidden pirate ships, ‘The Goonies’ is a must watch for suckers of adventure movies.
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4. The Sea Hawk (1940)
Starring the dashing Errol Flynn as the privateer Geoffrey Thorpe, who along with other privateers plunder Spanish ships for gold, ‘The Sea Hawk’ is a classic pirate tale. Adding a flavour of patriotism, it’s a take on the age old rivalry between Spain and England. One can find glaring similarities between the antagonist King Philip II of Spain and Adolf Hitler as the former seems to be modeled after him, in the time of the Second World War.
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3. Captain Blood (1935)
Loosely based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini, this movie brought Errol Flynn into limelight and established him as a star in Hollywood. The physician Peter Blood gets arrested for treating rebels and is deported as a slave to the Caribbean. Escaping from the clutches of the English, he leads a group of sailors to become pirates, taking the name Captain Blood. The battered, bruised yet unbroken image of a good man wronged by the system was deeply appreciated by the audience. The movie was a blockbuster and became a milestone for Warner Bros.
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2. Captain Phillips (2013)
One of the rarest mainstream movies of recent times to have focused on the growing menace of the Somalian pirates in the Indian ocean, ‘Captain Phillips’ is a riveting watch. Based on the real life incident of the hijacking of Maersk Alabama in 2009 by Somali pirates who end up taking the captain hostage, played brilliantly by Tom Hanks, the film gives a real time peek at the ordeal faced by the crew and the perilous lives of sailors in difficult situations. After its release, controversy erupted as the real life crew members questioned its authenticity. But all said and done, it retains itself as a brilliantly made thriller. It received six academy award nominations including best picture.
‘Captain Phillips’ is, without a doubt, one of the finest thrillers of the decade. It may not be the most stylish, visually appealing film you’ve ever seen, but it certainly is gripping and tells a story that deserves to be told in the most earnest manner. What’s most impressive about the film is how it gets straight to the point. Thrillers often indulge in convoluted plot-points that add little to no value to the main story. But ‘Captain Phillips’ keeps things simple and maintains its focus throughout its 134-minute long running time. The scenes are shot brilliantly, and we could feel the tension running throughout. There’s a palpable sense of fear that pervades the film, that is further heightened by the unforgettable performance of Barkhad Abdi, who plays Abduwali Muse, the leader of the pirates. The screenplay is well constructed and the characters are extremely well written. As viewers, we are able to empathize with these men, and could see the human being beneath the facade of a devil.
Both Abdi and Hanks play a major role in ensuring that the film’s tense tone is maintained throughout. Hanks is known for his portrayals of heroic characters; he’s the good guy of American cinema. But in ‘Captain Phillips’, he dons a more realistic avatar and puts himself in the shoes of an ordinary man who needs to do something extraordinary in order to protect his men. The final scene where he breaks down while the medical experts evaluate him has to be some of the best acting I’ve ever seen. You could feel the disbelief and shock in his eyes as he tries to come to terms with the fact that he survived the devastating ordeal. Sometimes, the simplest things could be the hardest to pull off, and that is exactly what Hanks does here. His job here is to make the character look believable, and human, and he does that with remarkable ease. Truly, one of the most underrated performances by an American actor in this decade.
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1. Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Finally, we bring you the crown prince of the pirates – Captain Jack Sparrow. He’s quirky, flamboyant and has flair. He often gets into trouble but soon gets out of them using his unmatchable wit. And boy, who else has that weird vocabulary! After ‘Cutthroat Island’ became a major dud, there was a long lull in Hollywood before anyone tried making pirate movies. And then ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ happened. A rich amalgamation of fantasy, swashbuckling heroes, horror and comedy of errors, it went on to become one of the biggest blockbusters of all time. For that a huge credit goes to Johnny Depp for playing Captain Jack Sparrow so spectacularly. Also starring Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, it became a major franchise churning out sequels and spin offs.
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