Hollywood has always loved a good pirate tale starting with Douglas Fairbanks in the old silent days and on up through the phenomenal success of Johnny Depp
as Captain Jack Sparrow. So if you want to find adventure on the high seas here are the best cinematic buccaneers to set sail with. Plus a couple of female pirates to cross sword with.
© Warner Home Video
epitomizes the roguish, swashbuckling captain as a good doctor who becomes a pirate to get revenge on the officials that wrongly accuse him of treason in this stellar adaptation of Rafael Sabatini's novel. (Another of his novels was the basis for the 1940 The Sea Hawk
). With his dashing good looks and devilish grin, Flynn is born to play these Sabatini heroes. He had just the right blend of sincerity, brash charm, and humor. Here he is paired with the lovely Olivia de Havilland. Basil Rathbone plays his arch nemesis. And just when Rathbone is about to whip him within an inch of his life, the town is attacked, and Flynn exclaims with a grin, "What a timely interruption!" Absolutely delightful.
© Warner Home Video
As a young man Burt Lancaster had joined the circus as an acrobat. As the titular Crimson Pirate, he gets to put those skills to excellent use and to partner with his circus buddy Nick Cravat. Set in the Caribbean of the late 1700s, this jocular, robust, and colorful adventure involved tons of swordplay, a prison break, a revolution, and an eccentric scientist. Lancaster and Cravat fly around the sets with amazing acrobatic skill, and Lancaster flashes some pearly whites that are downright blinding.
© MGM/Fox Home Video
is a young farm boy who takes on the persona of Dread Pirate Roberts in order to save his beloved. Rob Reiner's
film manages to be utterly sincere at the same time that it sends up every fairy tale cliché with enchanting wit. The costume for Dread Pirate Roberts was modeled on what Douglas Fairbanks wore in The Mark of Zorro
. Mandy Patinkin plays the dashing and revenge driven Inigo Montoya, which only adds to the film's wonderful sense of swashbuckling fun.
© 20th Century Fox
Most Hollywood pirate films are about adventure and a fantasy image of what pirates are like. A High Wind in Jamaica
tries to temper that fantasy with a little sense of what real pirate life might have been like. But just a little. The film is essentially told from the point of view of two English children who end up on a pirate ship. The children are thrilled, and the young girl even develops a friendship of sorts with the pirate captain. But the crew want to rid themselves of the troublesome youngsters and the story eventually takes a tragic turn. Anthony Quinn and James Coburn are the sympathetic pirates.
© Universal Studios
This film adaptation of Joseph Papp's production of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta is highly uneven, but it does boast one of the best screen pirates in Kevin Kline's
Pirate King. Kline's performance is so larger than life that it practically leaps off the screen. Kline displays an old school matinee idol charisma that proves far more memorable than the film.
© Walt Disney Pictures
Another instance of the film being flawed but the central pirate being irresistible. Johnny Depp
plays Captain Jack Sparrow in this adaptation of the Disneyland
theme park ride. He captivated audiences and is set to play the role in six franchise films. His take on the conniving captain is to play him like a rock star and to walk as if he were constantly trying to compensate for a swaying deck -- even when he's on dry land. Depp revealed that he looked at the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards
for inspiration, and in later films Richards made cameo appearances as Sparrow's wayward dad. Yo ho, yo ho a sailor's life for me!
No pirate list can be complete without at least one Douglas Fairbanks
film. Here he plays a nobleman who becomes a pirate to avenge his father's death. The ever-exuberant and athletic Fairbanks is great fun to watch and the film boasts an early Technicolor process.
© 20th Century Fox
was a handsome leading man of the '40s, and here he stars in a vibrant Technicolor pirate adventure. The story involves a reformed pirate captain who enlists former buccaneers to help him rid the seas of pirates. Power is one of the reformed pirates and George Sanders and Anthony Quinn are two of the troublemakers. Maureen O'Hara is the love interest. A rollicking good time for all.
© Sony Pictures
The only good thing on display here is the sense of menace Christopher Lee
brings to his role as the ruthless pirate Captain LaRoche. The violence in this Hammer
production was repeatedly cut back in order to get a more kid-friendly rating, so both piranhas and the word harlot were excised from prints. Oliver Reed also appears as one of the pirates, and Lee would play another Hammer Films pirate in The Devil-Ship Pirates
© Walt Disney Pictures
Also from Disney comes another iconic pirate: Captain Hook
. This animated tale featured Hans Conried as the evil Captain Hook and he made an impression on more than one generation of children. The film is based on James M. Barrie's famous children's book.Two bonus picks:'Against All Flags' 1952
And I need to extend the list by two to include a pair of female pirates. Here, Errol Flynn plays an English officer who goes undercover to infiltrate a pirate stronghold. There he meets the fiery Maureen O'Hara and even has the opportunity to cross swords with her. O'Hara makes a fine female pirate and handles the swordplay quite well. She also strikes some sparks onscreen with co-star Anthony Quinn.'Anne of the Indies' 1951
Jean Peters' is Captain Anne Providence, one of the most notorious pirate leaders of the Spanish Main. She must fend off rivals like Thomas Gomez's Blackbeard as well as the amorous advances of Louis Jordan's suave French captain Pierre la Rochelle. She delivers a feisty performance as one of the screen's most memorable lady pirates.