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The pirate theme in movies continues to be as alive and well in 2021 as it was 100 years ago. Disney’s recent ride-inspired film The Jungle Cruise scored A-listers Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt as the leads and the upcoming live-action Peter Pan & Wendy starring Yara Shahidi and Jude Law is set to be released in 2022. Thankfully, you don’t have to wait to watch a great pirate film today, matey.
From action films that pack literal punches (it wasn’t just the bad diet that made pirates lose their teeth) to family-friendly films that have just enough scares to keep teens and adults entertained, the world of the best pirate movies is as wide as the open seas.
Pirate movies can be a fun way to get inspired for Halloween (yay, costume ideas!), or they can simply serve as a night of entertainment. Dream of sailing the high seas, searching for treasure, and pulling off a hat and bird-on-shoulder combo? Check out our favorite pirate movies below, if you dare … there’s a lot of curses in the best pirate movies.
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
It doesn’t get much more swashbucking than the first installment in the hugely successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Inspired by the Disney theme park ride, the film doesn’t conclude with a trip through a gift shop, but it did lead to four more films and a renewed interested in all things pirate (see: every Halloween costume after 2003). Johnny Depp’s introduction to his Keith Richardson-inspired Jack Sparrow character, a drunken sailor who is just smart enough to stay alive through fights, follies and scurvy, earned him an Oscar nomination. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley help to ground the film and add a love story with plenty of sword fighting, while Geoffrey Rush’s villainous Barbossa brought a splendidly spooky aspect to a pirate movie that features pirates both living and dead.
2. Captain Phillips (2013)
BASED ON A TRUE STORY
If you judge a film’s success based on how well iconic lines are remembered, Captain Phillips definitely earned its spot on our list. Based on the true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the hostage situation of his merchant boat by Somali pirates, this pirate movie earned six Academy Award nominations, including one for newcomer Barkhad Abdi i.e. ‘the captain now.’ Tom Hanks stars as Phillips in the Paul Greengrass-directed film, which packs pulse-racing action and real-world stakes into a two-hour film that proves real pirates are just as scary, if not more so, than the fictionalized version audiences see in movies.
3. Hook (1991)
BEST FAMILY FILM
In Steven Spielberg’s beloved 1991 pirate movie, Peter Pan finally grew up and became … a corporate lawyer. Yeah, this is exactly what he was afraid of happening. When his children are kidnapped by Captain Hook, Peter, who has no memory of his childhood, must figure out what it means to use his imagination and fly. Robin Williams is brilliant as Peter and the all-star cast is rounded out by Julia Roberts as Tinker Bell, Maggie Smith as Wendy Darling, Bob Hoskins as Smee, and Dustin Hoffman as the eponymous Captain Hook. From the stunning sets to the high-action fight scenes, Hook remains a classic family film that will still have young viewers believing in magic and chanting for Rufio.
4. The Goonies (1985)
BEST COMING OF AGE FILM
The Goonies may have the least amount of water of all the pirate films on our list, but the classic Spielberg coming-of-age film still has plenty of yo-ho-ho’ing to earn its spot. While trying to save the homes in their neighborhood from foreclosure, a group of friends known as the Goonies stumbles upon a treasure map leading them to a fortune once owned by a pirate. The film made stars out of its young cast, which included Sean Astin, Josh Brolin and Corey Feldman, and continues to be a fan favorite that new generations of movie-goers can enjoy.
5. Peter Pan (2003)
Starting in 1953 with Disney’s animated film, which, tbh, still holds up, the story of Peter Pan and Neverland continues to be celebrated on screen. There’s Hook, Pan, Wendy, the aforementioned upcoming Peter Pan & Wendy, plus several live-action movies made for TV. One of the best forays into the world of the Lost Boys was in 2003’s Peter Pan. The film failed to land on its feet at the box office, possibly due to a lack of big-name stars attached, but it remains one of the best retellings of J.M. Barrie’s classic story. From intricate backdrops to impressive special effects, the film is filled with several pirate-heavy fight scenes and has all the magic and wonder of Barrie’s original tale.
6. The Pirates: Band of Misfits (2012)
BEST ANIMATED FILM
Most pirate films focus on a central character who is an impressive commander of the seas. This is not one of those movies. The hilarious and family-friendly pirate movie, The Pirates: Band of Misfits, is a stop-motion flick that centers around a band of misfit pirates (it’s right there in the title) as they try to win the Pirate of the Year award. The film was helmed by Wallace & Gromit creators Aardman Animations and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film. Featuring voices by Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Salma Hayek, Imelda Staunton, and David Tenant, the fun-loving film has enough humor to keep adults entertained without the blood and gore that makes most pirate films too scary for kids.
7. Treasure Island (1950)
BEST DISNEY FILM
There’s no shortage of examples of Disney’s take on the pirate genre, but one of the most important was the studio’s 1950 pirate move, Treasure Island. Starring Bobby Driscoll and Robert Newton, Treasure Island was Disney’s first film that was completely shot in live-action. Bringing Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel to life, the film was a marvel at the time thanks to its impressive sets and action scenes. While more recent Treasure Islands have had the benefit of improved special effects, the OG film of Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver was a marvel at the time of its release.
8. The Crimson Pirate (1952)
BEST CLASSIC PIRATE FILM
For a fun take on the pirate genre, the 1952 pirate movie The Crimson Pirate brings action, comedy, romance and even some impressive stunts for the time period. A tongue-in-cheek pirate flick that stars Burt Lancaster and his abs, the action-packed film is part pirate-spoof, part pirate homage. The classic film has earned an impressive 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and continues to be a delightful watch for anyone looking for a pirate film that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
9. The Princess Bride (1987)
As evidenced by the 2020 re-enactment featuring today’s biggest celebs and a virtual table read by the original cast, the love for all things Princess Bride continues. The film about two lovers separated by pirates continues to be one of the most beloved comedies ever made. Adapted from William Goldman’s 1973 novel, the 1987 Rob Reiner pirate movie didn’t open to great fanfare at the box office but has since become a cult classic. Rumors of a remake were quickly shot down (prepare to die, remake rumors) by film lead Cary Elwes and Jamie Lee Curtis, whose husband Christopher Guest also appeared in The Princess Bride. A perfect pirate film left untouched for future audiences to enjoy? As you wish.
10. Cutthroat Island (1995)
It can get lonely on the high seas, so naturally, there are some pirate movies with a touch of romance. Exhibit A is Cutthroat Island, a film plagued by rewrites and panned as one of the biggest box office bombs ever … but to be clear, it’s still pretty entertaining. We’re not watching pirate films for Oscar-winning performances, right?* While the script may be a bit outlandish (again, it’s a pirate movie), Geena Davis and Matthew Modine star in the 1995 movie that serves up plenty of action and stunning backdrops. For a pirate film that purely entertains, Cutthroat Island continues to be a fun romp.
*Ignore several of the Oscar-nominated films above when reading this statement.