High seas adventure, thundering cannons, plundered booty, buried treasure, curved swords, and missing limbs replaced with wooden nubs; these are the classic images we envision when thoughts of piracy come to mind. The pirate’s life was the ideal business venture for a man looking to build his fortune and any country looking to sabotage their enemies. While many think of this as an illegal lifestyle, most of history’s famous pirates were sanctioned by their government as “privateers” to attack enemy ships. The bad guy was only that, if he didn’t share your flag. This was the perfect call to action for adventure seekers and poor alike, looking to bolster their pockets with cargos of gold, sugar, spice, and anything they deemed nice.
Film has glorified many a buccaneer tale and focused primarily on its heyday which was just over a hundred years, ranging from the late 1500s to the early 1700s. It may not look the same today, but piracy isn’t dead. As long as one person is willing to get on a vessel and take another’s belongings, it survives. As long as the media-savvy broadcast unauthorized and unsanctioned material into the airwaves or illegally record a movie from their theater seat, it lives on. Here are the 22+ best pirate movies ever created with ratings from PG to “Arrr”. You knew that joke was coming.
Best Pirate Movies
The execution of this failed, mega-budget blockbuster certainly didn’t turn out as planned, but one must admire the heights to which it aspired. In a rare move we are treated to a female pirate captain played by mid 90’s box office draw, Geena Davis. Perhaps being directed by her then husband Renny Harlin was too distracting for him. In any case, the pieces were visibly there but in the end the final product is a fallen soufflé. That said, there are some elements in this film that do work. Frank Langella as the bad guy is brilliant. He’s over the top and campy while menacing. There are enough explosions and slo-mo to warrant a gold action star. The treasure map being tattooed onto men’s scalps and assembled in a hunt, while being pursued by the British are all standard staples of pirate movies. Perhaps with a few tweaks this could have worked. But it didn’t. One might think that had this come out a few years later and with a better director and leading character, the likes of a Jack Sparrow / Johnny Depp, this film would be just as successful and warrant sequels.
Disney’s take on being shipwrecked never looks like a bad experience. No one is malnourished or thirsty, body hair never grows in at any point, and the land seems to bend itself to your will. Swiss Family Robinson took the idea of being stuck with your relatives and made it appealing to the level of a relaxing vacation. In a nutshell, a few motivated castaways build a palatial treehouse, tame wild animals, create an earthly paradise, and oh yeah they fight off a shipload of pirates by building a makeshift fort. It’s Robinson Crusoe meets Home Alone in a fantasy flick that will make you long to get stuck on an island one day, hopefully with someone that can build things.
Creating an immersive, hyper-realistic, 3D world and covering an extensive sea battle might have actually been more expensive than building ships, hiring pirates, and filming this in live action. Clearly this movie thinks big. Lost treasure is at the center of the story as are the descendants of two captains locked in battle. Throughout the story we are engrossed by flashbacks to this incredible conflict, with a new chapter unfolding in each memory. It’s an unusual way to deliver the story of a pirate treasure, but it is quite effective in its captivation. This is one of those movies that capitalized on the renewed 3D craze of a decade ago with higher ticket prices, but re-watching it without special glasses is also very satisfying for your dose of immersive buccaneer action.
Throughout his career, Bob Hope rarely stuck to a script. As a former vaudeville performer, he was used to tireless improvisation and audience interaction. This honed his comedic craft into the impressive and biting schtick that landed him starring roles in over 50 films. In the 1940’s Bob was the center of the comedic universe. He picked his projects and usually preferred to star with Bing Crosby in a vehicle that would let him riff. The Princess and the Pirate is one of those parts where Bob really stretched himself by playing a stage performer called “Sylvester the Great” in a tough seaside town. He gets too drunk after a show and wakes up with a treasure map tattooed on his chest courtesy of Walter Brennan. The rest of the film is Bob doing what he does like no other. He wears costumes, makes unscripted jokes, and foolishly tries to woo his beautiful costar, who is also being pursued by a fearsome pirate. It’s your classic studio comedy with Bob in his prime and of course a surprise cameo by Bing Crosby.
18. Hook (1991)
In a sequel to Peter Pan that no one expected, Robin Williams reduces the ad-libbing and soars as the strait-laced Peter Banning. In a refreshing move, Director Steven Spielberg keeps the filmmaking simple and lets the whimsical sets take us as an audience to Neverland. The question of what happened if Peter Pan grows up is finally answered as we witness him trying to recapture his magic, all while disappointing a deservedly impatient and elderly Captain Hook. The movie is definitely meant for children and lacks classic pirate battles one would want, but it does deliver in an odd prank war, G-rated kind of way. The real star of the movie is the rainbow color palette, set design, and lens that we use to view and discover Neverland with, as seen through adult Peter’s eyes. It’s a new twist on a familiar tale and makes the second star to the right feel more realistic than any movie before it.
Radio DJs? These aren’t pirates are they? Yes they are. They have plundered the airwaves and all from a ship parked at sea. Loosely based on a true story, this is the tale of 1960s disc jockeys who rebelled against conservative British radio that refused to play pop and rock music. There was actual legislation that prohibited the BBC or other broadcasters from airing more than one hour of rock music per day. The traditionalist government at the time only wanted classical music to be played. The solution: air your own radio station from a boat in the sea outside of British law, but still easily capable of reaching listeners. Grabbing over half of the available UK radio audience from a homemade station was huge. The film takes many liberties infusing various personalities onto the boat but great casting choices makes it a fun ride. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, and Nick Frost play unique DJ’s with their own tastes in this unusual pirating flick.
Writer / Director Terry Gilliam is a weird genius who has an aptitude for sucking us into his bizarre fantasy worlds that are equal parts hilarious and scary. In this acid trip of a movie, six time traveling dwarfs randomly land in a young boy’s bedroom and whisk him away on an unusual journey across space and time. Their quest is a simple one of piracy as they plot to steal treasures across the world, over different ages. They use a map stolen from a supreme being to navigate wormholes and of course are being pursued by other powerful entities who want it for themselves. Got it? Don’t worry, it doesn’t need to make too much sense. It’s far too fun and unusual to get caught up in the minor details. It’s a great all-ages romp stacked with enormous talent playing characters such as: Sean Connery as King Agememnon, Ian Holm as Napoleon, and John Cleese killing it as Robin Hood.
15. Peter Pan (1953)
How does Disney have their fingers on the pulse of all things pirate? They plunder in the corporate sense, but their flair for cinematic swashbucklers was perfected long before they were gobbling up other studios, much like Blackbeard incorporating captured ships into his arsenal. Rewinding 70 years; in the midst of the golden era of animation, the world is treated to the first installment of Peter Pan via cinema for public consumption. It’s at least the first version in color and with sound. Animation was the perfect way to capture this tale and take us to Neverland as the SFX just weren’t in existence at the time in a believable way. This movie is a great introduction to the world of author J.M. Barrie and gave us one of the best Disney villains ever in their interpretation of Captain Hook. It also established countless crushes on Tinkerbell that many adults hold onto to this very day.
It’s odd that with so many sea shanties floating around out there, we don’t have more pirate musicals. It seems like an obvious move for men adorned in leather, jewelry, and puffy shirts to break into song and dance but there are few entries in the seafaring comedy musical category. Perhaps that’s what makes this movie so refreshing. Based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, this is a stage play transitioned into film and carried beautifully by the always likable Kevin Kline. The Pirates of Penzance is the story of a young man named Frederic who serves on a ship under the Pirate King (Kline), wanting to quit the business and has to wait until his 21st birthday to do so. The problem is he was born February 29th of a leap year and technically only has a birthday every 4 years. Obviously silly and embracing it, the songs and dance numbers will leave you torn in a feeling between longing to see a Broadway show and going on a sea cruise.
Wait, why didn’t The Goonies land higher on this list? While this film is admittedly a tremendous adventure story with wonderful treasure hunt elements, it doesn’t have much in the way of pirates. Yes, there’s a gorgeous pirate ship we get to see set sail, a map, and treasure, but that’s really where the piracy ends. Other than seeing a few skeletons in the outfits they died in, this film is about finding treasure, avoiding booby traps, and escaping Italian American bank robbers who also want that treasure. Okay, we also get to see Sloth in a tricorn hat slide down a sail with a knife and fight his brothers with a sword. That’s pretty cool. We all know this is a great movie and The Goonies on its own, can cross genres and land on an assortment of catalogs but for the sake of a Best Pirate Movies list it must exist lower in rank than others.
Are you ready for a nautical soap opera? Sit down and get ready for some tea. It’s the early 18th century. Former privateer Captain Pierre LaRochelle, has just been captured by the British. In chains, he is forced to make a deal to get his ship back. He agrees to become a British spy and is purposefully captured by pirate Captain Anne Providence. Quickly, he ingratiates himself into the likes of the infamous Blackbeard and of course the beautiful Captain Providence. Only one of those three is an actual historical pirate, although it’s likely that Anne Providence is loosely based on Anne Bonny. Nonetheless, this fictional Anne falls for Pierre, which makes things interesting as he is married. But hey he’s French, so they can make it work. As things progress, Blackbeard grows suspicious and eventually Pierre is outed as a liar and spy. To exact her revenge, the beautiful captain Anne kidnaps Larochelle’s wife Molly. Without giving away the whole film, this story really holds up as a unique entry that strays from the standard studio pics of the early ’50s. While in hindsight, the action is somewhat laughable and the model ships in the battle scenes are painfully apparent, this movie is fun and memorable thanks to the dramatic storyline.
11. Serenity (2005)
Director Joss Whedon brings his small screen sci-fi western Firefly to the big screen as Serenity in this space pirate romp. So rarely does a TV show become a movie and allow a new audience to step in without needing to watch the source material. This film is able to stand on its own and jump into this plot without a care for the cancelled show it spawned from. It’s a decade plus ahead of similar trending spaghetti space shows like The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. Serenity is the name of a ship, whose crew consists of a charming as hell cast of Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, and others. Chiwetel Ejiofor nearly acts all others on screen out of their shoes as the driven bad guy assassin, and solidifies this as more than a swan song for fans of Firefly. It also showcased Whedon’s ability to mesh space, fantasy, and shoot-em up realism in a way that he wouldn’t get to showcase again until being handed The Avengers movies.
Disney Studios’ version is easily the best pure film iteration of this Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel remade every decade or so. It is a perfectly cast endeavor that set the bar for all pirate movies that followed. Robert Newton’s manufactured accent is the basis for the modern movie pirate vernacular, yes, but more-so he plays the character of Long John Silver with an ever untrustworthy self serving-ness and still somehow makes you root for him throughout. He’s a great everyman who is playing psychological chess while his fellow shipmen are struggling to play checkers. Between the young man learning of piracy, buried treasure, pirate code, peg legs and parrots, this movie checks every necessary box and earns its place on the list.
Okay, hear me out. The same movie as above, except with Muppets. Is there anything that Jim Henson’s Muppets can’t make better? It’s obviously not the exact same film but the stories are obviously similar and this version has far more talking pigs, rats, and of course Tim Curry stealing every scene as Long John Silver. This is just good fun that’s not afraid to laugh at itself and add very fresh energy to a story that was up until that point, out of any new perspective to tell it from.
“I am the captain now”. We all know it, we’ve all heard it. It’s a great line delivered perfectly that sums up this modern tale. It’s the plain truth of one man striking terror into Tom Hanks and moviegoers, as we feel the very real dangers of present-day piracy. Based on the true story many of us witnessed live on the news in 2009, Hanks plays the title character, a captain of a cargo ship who is hijacked by Somali pirates. This film lifts the curtain of the often romanticized lore of swashbuckling and shows today’s version in its rawest form. The poor and desperate load up motorized dingy and take on unmatched large container vessels carrying mystery shipments in hopes of finding anything to alleviate their starvation. There is no glory here, no fanfare, and no clashing of ideals.
Burt Lancaster is the most handsome buccaneer the world has ever known as Captain Vallo, The Crimson Pirate. Billed as the Robin Hood of the Seven Seas, Lancaster smiles in nearly every frame and is all bravado as he pursues every woman and every foe with relentless charisma. This film should have been called “Ham and Cheese” as Burt hams it up and cheeses through every scene, even somehow when he’s fighting. This is a fun watch and definitely shows the magnetism of Lancaster as a tall, tanned, leading man who can do his own somersaults and backflips. It is, and was meant to be a popcorn action flick which is why the campiness still plays. I can’t imagine it wasn’t intended to be over the top as there’s a large, final battle where a professor has island rebels build tanks, Gatling guns, a hot air balloon, and a submarine which is clearly not period appropriate. But that’s the vibe of this movie. The Crimson Pirate thinks outside the box and gets the job done all while melting hearts.
Director Gore Verbisnki came out swinging in this sequel to The Curse of the Black Pearl. Huge action set pieces, exciting new characters, and a much heavier dose of fantasy rule this second installment of Pirates of the Caribbean. This was intended to be massive, as installments 2 and 3 are their own story separate from the first and were shot together to have consecutive annual releases. In this version we are treated to the same magical formula that worked in the first film but with an addition of Davey Jones, who is more sea creature than man and rides the cursed Flying Dutchman. We are also haunted by the Kraken who appears in a less Greek iteration and fits nicely into this sea monster riddled universe. In addition to the already chemistry-rich cast we are given Bill Nighy, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hollander, and Naomie Harris to sweeten the pot. This is one of those rare sequels that’s as good as the original.
After a long hiatus from the genre, Disney came back hard in the early 2000’s and perfected their pirate formula with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. In a less gritty format, many elements of the modern pop film era were infused, such as low body counts (even in massive battles), and heroes being beautiful while the villains are ugly and malformed. Also, the supernatural was finally introduced into the canon, which stayed in every installment whether it be curses, black magic, mermaids or monsters. The obvious star of these vehicles and the only reason they work so well, is Johnny Depp. He gave us a wonderfully likable adult scamp character in Jack Sparrow, who serves only himself and never even desires to go after the damsel, unless there’s neither treasure or rum present.
Golden era megastar Errol Flynn returns to the big screen as a pirate. Okay, he didn’t go anywhere but he made 12 pictures in the five-year span between his first pirate outing as Captain Blood and this endeavor as The Sea Hawk. The man was a work horse. By this point in his career, Flynn was a much larger name and box office draw. He had already cemented his legacy as Robin Hood, and everything he signed onto as lead had money coming at it. The budget for this film was bigger, the fight scenes broad and this is absolutely action-packed start to finish. While The Sea Hawk is a great entry on its own, when compared to Captain Blood the plot lacks the twists and engrossing story that made Flynn’s first pirate experience so epic. Comparisons aside, this movie has huge scale naval battles and all the sea faring a buccaneer could ask for. It delivers on the historical beef between England and Spain as the infamous Armada was being assembled to invade Britain. The Sea Hawk borrows heavily from the life of Francis Drake without mentioning him directly and ties his mythos into a fictional tale of romance and adventure that fits nicely in the Flynn catalog.
At first blush, pirate purists will scoff at this film and claim that there’s nary an eye patch, parrot, or peg leg to be found. What Master and Commander provides its audience is something far more beautiful. The hierarchy of large ships, officers, and the cadence of warfare are exhibited like few other movies can show without putting one to sleep. Russel Crowe and Paul Bettany are superb as English compatriots battling against a masterful French privateer on an elusive vessel. Director Peter Weir has given his movie unusual pacing which is essentially all build. Much like battles of old, it’s waiting and waiting until BAM, seemingly immediate, large scale excitement. The final battle is spectacular and is absolutely worth the wait, in the splendid period piece of naval exploration.
This is not just one of the best pirate movies ever made, it’s one of the best movies ever made. You know the premise, you know many of the lines, and if you don’t, you need to climb out under the rock you’ve been living under and feel the sun on your face. Director Rob Reiner and Writer William Goldman take what is at its base a children’s story, and transform it into a fun, whimsical, and hilarious adventure with adult overtones. Watching the Dread Pirate Roberts overcome shrieking eels, a ham-fisted giant, rodents of unusual size, the most-skilled swordsman in the world, and Sicilian mastermind Vizzini is the stuff of legend. With a purposefully kitschy score and landscapes that feel as if they couldn’t live in any other, this dark fairy tale with a murderers row of memorable characters continues to stand the test of time and make us remember our kindly grandfathers. Even if you are mostly dead or stuck in the pit of despair, there’s always time to sit down and watch this ageless classic.
Legendary Director Michael Curtiz brings Captain (and Doctor) Peter Blood to life with golden era icons Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. In the late 1600s Dr. Blood (played by Flynn) is wrongfully convicted of taking part in a British rebellion and sent to Jamaica as punishment. While that doesn’t sound so bad today, in the 17th century it was comprised of plantations and slaves. Luckily for Dr. Blood he’s purchased by Arabella Bishop (de Havilland) and is able to treat her dad’s gout and re-earn position as a doctor of sorts. What is this story and where’s the pirate stuff you ask? It’s coming. Yes this is chock full of pirates but it’s also a complete story with repeated call backs and fun twists. As luck would have it, a Spanish ship attacks Port Royal giving Blood and his friends rare opportunity to seize the vessel and become buccaneers themselves. He’s now Captain Blood, terror of the Caribbean. Again, fortune smiles upon Blood as he’s able to purchase a captured Olivia de Havilland, and settle a score. Finally Captain Blood is given chance to sign his ship into the British navy to fight the French and become an English hero, which would pardon his “crimes” and give him status once more. Of course in all this is the swashbuckling, rope swinging, tumbling, and swordplay that made Errol Flynn famous. This film really introduced the world to Flynn as headline talent and replaced Douglas Fairbanks as the go-to action star in old Hollywood. It received Academy Award nominations for best Picture and best Director. It continues to be a timeless hit with massive influence in pop culture. The Goonies paid heavy homage to it as Sloth watched the movie in his cell and later emulated a Flynn fight scene in the climax. Even large portions of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme park ride is obviously based on the battle scene between the Spanish ship and Port Royal. That same ride spawned the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and reinvigorated the genre, so one could say that Captain Blood is the father Abraham of cinematic swashbucklers.
More Pirate Movies
- The Black Swan (1942) rather than capturing the two pirates this buccaneer was tasked with finding, he kidnaps a beautiful woman instead.
- Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968) when a man buys an old bed warmer at a charity auction, he finds a book of spells inside and manages to conjure up the ghost of Blackbeard himself.
- Yellowbeard (1983) answers the question: What if Cheech and Chong were in a stoner pirate movie?
- The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012) finds unlikely pirates set on winning the annual Pirate of the Year competition, featuring well-done stop-motion animation.
- The Pirates of Somalia (2017) is based on a true story where Canadian journalist Jay Bahadur ingratiates himself with real-life Somali pirates.
- Our Flag Means Death (2022-) is a TV show that takes a hilarious look at an alternate history of real-life duo Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet, starring Taika Waititi and Rhys Darby.