The 18 Best Pirate Movies, Ranked

With the success of the delightfully queer pirate comedy series "Our Flag Means Death," interest in pirate fiction is on the upswing yet again. Pirate movies used to be a Hollywood mainstay, though, and their recurring themes and tropes are a constant source of entertainment for audiences. Identity, betrayal, redemption, love, guilt, and loss — pirate stories contain the full gamut of human conflicts and emotions, revealing new truths about both these seafaring ruffians and ourselves.

Technology and time have changed the way movies are made, but pirate stories endure because they promise adventure and romance on the high seas. No, they're not usually historically accurate, but that's part of the fun. It doesn't matter if a pirate movie is silent film or a talkie, live-action or animator, and black-and-white or Technicolor. As these 18 films prove, swashbuckling never goes out of style.

18. The Black Swan

Featuring the familiar pirate movie tropes of court intrigue and double-crosses, "The Black Swan" follows Captain Jamie Waring (Tyrone Power) as he reluctantly gives up the pirate trade to assist famous buccaneer Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar) in his new role as governor of Jamaica. However, Waring falls in love with Lady Margaret Denby (Maureen O'Hara), and soon discovers that her fiancé is plotting to bring Morgan down. As a result, Waring swings into action, setting up an intricate plan to save his pirate friend and prevent Lady Margaret's wedding in one fell swoop.

One of a few Technicolor swashbucklers on this list, the gorgeous visuals of "The Black Swan" earned Leon Shamroy an Oscar for best color cinematography in 1942. His work highlights O'Hara's beauty and Power's seediness. The pair's chemistry is palpable on screen, though it doesn't quite smooth over the rough edges of their questionable courtship. Though pirate movies often feature reluctant romances between noble women and pillaging scoundrels, some of Waring's ploys to woo Lady Margaret will raise eyebrows among modern viewers.

17. Anne of the Indies

A lean, brisk pirate yarn that goes in some interesting thematic directions, "Anne of the Indies" features a female pirate captain and flirts with BDSM and bisexuality. Jean Peters stars as Anne Providence, who falls in love with mysterious French sailor LaRochelle (Louis Jourdan) and ultimately follows her heart to her doom. Horror and film noir legend Jacques Tourneur directs, and there's a fatalism to Anne's story that will be familiar to fans of Tourneur's work. As in his classics "Out of the Past" and "Cat People," Tourneur does his best work in the shadows, although the scenes that unfold in Technicolor-shot daylight are perfectly fine as well.

"Anne of the Indies" is loosely based on the true story of pirate captain Anne Bonny. Like most pirate movies, The Guardian notes that the film strays quite a bit from historical fact, but the paper still praises Peters' "fierce lead performance." Peters often affects a clipped monotone in the role, which calls to mind Ann Savage's performance as Vera in the noir classic "Detour." Though Savage has more power and ferocity, Peters still brings an intriguing femme fatale energy to her pirate captain, which makes "Anne of the Indies" a fascinating entry in pirate film canon.

16. The Pirates of Penzance

Kevin Kline, Angela Lansbury, and Linda Ronstadt in a Gilbert and Sullivan production — what more do you need? Evidently, a lot more, at least according to audiences at the time. "The Pirates of Penzance" was a box office flop, which may have partly been due to the studio's controversial decision to air the film on television just prior to its theatrical release. Though it debuted nearly 40 years ago, the home-versus-theatrical-release argument raised by "The Pirates of Penzance" is the very model of a modern major film discourse.

This farcical opera follows Frederic (Rex Smith), a young man mistakenly apprenticed by his nursemaid Ruth (Lansbury) to a band of tenderhearted pirates. Misunderstandings and hilarious leap year shenanigans arise when Frederic falls in love with Mabel (Ronstadt). Though the whole cast is excellent, the movie only really comes to life when Kline's Pirate King is on screen. He steals the show with his elastic face, complete and total commitment to the film's silliness, and knee strength to rival Megan Thee Stallion's. He leaps, spins, and swings across the screen, all while looking dangerously sexy in his low-cut pirate blouse and tight black pants. Kline chews the scenery with delightful verve at every possible moment, making "The Pirates of Penzance" a supremely silly and eminently rewatchable movie.

15. Treasure Planet

Robert Louis Stevenson's novel "Treasure Island" has been adapted for the screen many times, but Disney's ambitious experiment "Treasure Planet" is one of the few films that brings the classic story to outer space. A dying pirate named Billy Bones (Patrick McGoohan) gives young Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a sphere that contains a map to the treasure hoarded by the famous pirate Captain Nathaniel Flint. Jim embarks on a voyage to find the treasure, but he runs into trouble when the ship's cyborg cook, Long John Silver (Brian Murray), leads a mutiny to try to claim the treasure for himself.

Though it wasn't a box office success and was rejected by Disney studio heads more than once, "Treasure Planet" is a beautiful work of animation that may have actually benefited from the time it took its creators to get their project off the ground. As co-writer, producer, and director Ron Clements told IGN, the wait was a blessing in disguise because "the technology had time to develop ... in terms of really moving the camera." The result — an intriguing mix of 2D and 3D animation — features breathtaking shots of dying stars and glittering galaxies that give "Treasure Planet" some of the most breathtaking space scenes in modern animation.

14. Against All Flags

The retina-searing colors in this winning Technicolor pirate picture are just one reason why it belongs on this list. Starring swashbuckler mainstays Errol Flynn, Maureen O'Hara, and Anthony Quinn, "Against All Flags" is a fun and steamy tale of love and spies. Flynn plays Lieutenant Brian Hawke, who volunteers to infiltrate a dangerous band of pirates. Quinn's Captain Roc Brasiliano is immediately suspicious of Hawke, but O'Hara's Spitfire Stevens — the only woman among the "Captains of the Coast" who decide Hawke's fate — takes a shine to him, stoking Brasiliano's jealousy and raising tensions among the group of buccaneers.

O'Hara steals the movie out from under legendary swashbuckler Flynn, purring romantic overtures and then flashing her eyes in pure rage when Hawke displeases her. She truly lives up to her character's name; just like "Anne of the Indies," "Against All Flags" proves that female pirate captains are often the most intriguing. One bit of fitting trivia: Flynn was hesitant about sword fighting with a woman until O'Hara proved how skilled a female combatant could truly be; Spitfire is just as capable with a sword as she is with a deadly glare or a cutting insult.

13. The Sea Hawk (1940)

You can't talk about pirate movies without mentioning Errol Flynn. The word "swashbuckling" seems to have been invented just for him. One of his last collaborations with director Michael Curtiz, 1940's "The Sea Hawk," stars Flynn as Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, an English privateer favored by Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson) who works to protect the Queen's interests against the Spanish armada. Though pirate movies often criticize colonialism, albeit obliquely at times, "The Sea Hawk" is overtly pro-British, which comes as little surprise due to its release date falling so close to the beginning of World War II.

While there are quite a few colorful entries on this list, "The Sea Hawk" proves that black-and-white pirate movies can be just as exciting to modern audiences. As TCM's Robert Osborne said on the film's DVD special features, "People who don't like black and white should always see 'The Sea Hawk.'" Curtiz's dynamic framing and Sol Polito's crisp cinematography combine to make a film that looks gorgeous even when the narrative loses steam. Visual highlights include a climactic sword battle through the Queen's palace that makes breathtaking use of space and shadow; this scene alone earns "The Sea Hawk" its place on this list.

12. Treasure Island

There have been plenty of film adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson's famous adventure novel (a few of them are even on this list!), but few have endured like Disney's 1950 film. It made history for being Disney's first entirely live-action film and for being the first color version of the story. Like the book, "Treasure Island" tells the familiar tale of Jim Hawkins (Bobby Driscoll) and Long John Silver (Robert Newton), who search for Flint's treasure during a rousing adventure on the sea.

"Treasure Island" is a classic for many reasons, but one of the most notable is Newton's performance as the definitive Long John Silver. Anyone who has participated in "Talk Like a Pirate Day" or has played a buccaneer with a heavy emphasis on his "Arrr"s owes a debt to Newton. More than 70 years after the film's release, Newton's distinctive vocal delivery and facial expressions are still the basis for what audiences imagine when they think of pirates.

11. The Crimson Pirate

A light-hearted look at life on the high seas, "The Crimson Pirate" stars Burt Lancaster and pokes affectionate fun at classic pirate films. Lancaster plays notorious pirate captain Vallo, who captures Baron Gruda (Leslie Bradley) and comes up with a plan to sell the baron's guns to a group of Caribbean freedom fighters, and then sell their leader El Libre (Frederick Leister) back to Baron Gruda in a profitable double-cross. Lancaster's strong masculine presence, sly humor, and circus skills are on full display in this colorful comedy: Multiple action scenes show off Lancaster's abilities as an acrobat, and he seems equally at home giving orders to a crew of swabs as he does performing impressive pratfalls.

Famed horror actor Christopher Lee plays a military attaché in the movie. In his autobiography "Tall, Dark, and Gruesome," Lee writes that director Robert Siodmak took the original script, which was "serious, nay solemn," and made it a comedy instead. The end result is a delight, finding grace notes in the physical performances of Lancaster and Nick Cravat, who plays first mate Ojo. Their amused grins light up the screen, making "The Crimson Pirate" a joyfully high-energy pirate tale.

10. A High Wind in Jamaica

An intriguing twist on the typical pirate story, "A High Wind in Jamaica" focuses on the supposed innocence of children who have been inadvertently kidnapped by pirates. The Thornton children are headed to their home country to go to school, but when Captain Chavez (Anthony Quinn) and his first mate Zac (James Coburn) raid their ship, they sneak onto the pirates' vessel and become its newest residents. The children do not understand the havoc that they wreak on the crew, causing accidents and injuries while teasing and playing. They do react to shocking tragedies, though, and Chavez worries for their souls.

Due to studio meddling, director Alexander Mackendrick's vision for the film was tainted a bit, resulting in unimpressed contemporary reviews. However, the film has undergone a recent reappraisal and deserves to be better-known. Quinn and Coburn give exemplary performances, and Deborah Baxter shines as Emily Thornton, the child in whom Chavez takes the most interest. Her morally ambiguous depiction of the "kidnapped" youngster is impressive for an actor of any age, and will stick with viewers long after the credits roll.

9. The Black Pirate

This silent two-color Technicolor film stars legendary actor Douglas Fairbanks as a young man who avenges his father's death by posing as a great pirate. The most casually bloody film on this list, "The Black Pirate" is a thrilling depiction of the brutality of a pirate's life and serves as a fine showcase for Fairbanks' skills as both an athlete and a performer. It also features many now-famous pirate tropes, including revenge, elaborate disguises, and a focus on roaring adventure.

Film critic Iris Barry's 1926 book "Let's Go to the Pictures" (later retitled "Let's Go to the Movies") calls "The Black Pirate" "far and away the best color-film made." "The Black Pirate" features stunning visuals, including one incredible sequence in which the Black Pirate single-handedly takes over a merchant ship and performs the iconic (and often-referenced) stunt where he slides down a sail with his knife, cutting it in two.

8. The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Also released as "The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!," this pirate comedy is a painstaking combination of stop-motion animation and CGI from Aardman Animations, best known for the beloved "Wallace and Gromit" series. The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) wants to win the annual Pirate of the Year competition. At the same time, when the Captain and his crew run across Charles Darwin (David Tennant) during an attempt at plundering, Darwin realizes that the Pirate Captain's "parrot" Polly is the last living dodo and wants to use her to enter the Scientist of the Year award. Darwin has ulterior motives, though, and the pirates must scramble to defeat his evil plan.

In addition to having beautiful animation, particularly in its lighting and depiction of the sea, "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" features brilliant sight gags, hilarious jokes for kids and adults alike, and a terrific punk and ska soundtrack. The Pirate Captain often remarks on his luxuriant beard (to be fair, it is highly impressive), and he moonwalks as he serves the main dish on "Ham Night." Animated pirates are rarely as funny or as touching as they are in "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," which is just as thrilling and heartwarming as it is comedic.

7. Captain Phillips

Pirate movies are often suspenseful, but few are as nail-bitingly tense as 2013's "Captain Phillips." Based on a real hijacking, the film tells the story of merchant mariner Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) and his experiences after being taken hostage by Somali pirates. Though the film focuses primarily on the intense action of the pirate attack and Phillips' emotional state as he fights to fulfill his duty as captain of the ship, it does make time to comment on the political and economic realities that drove the pirates to their dangerous trade, creating a fascinating dynamic between Phillips and the pirate leader, Muse (Barkhad Abdi).

Both men give stunning performances. "Captain Phillips" was Abdi's acting debut, and for his remarkable work he was nominated for an Oscar and won a BAFTA for best actor in a supporting role. Hanks should have been nominated for an Oscar as well, particularly for the gut-wrenching scenes in which Captain Phillips' ordeal comes to an end. "Captain Phillips" is an intense movie that can be hard to watch, but this list would not be complete without it.

6. The Sea Hawk (1924)

The sea battles in this 1924 silent film are so impressive that Warner Bros. often reused them in later nautical films (including the 1940 version of "The Sea Hawk"), realizing that it would be difficult to outdo what director Frank Lloyd achieved. The sprawling story follows Sir Oliver Tressilian (Milton Sills), who is sold into slavery and trapped on a Spanish galley after being framed for murder by his brother. He escapes to a Moorish ship and becomes Sakr-el-Bahr, the titular Sea Hawk, and terrorizes the Christian seafaring world.

"The Sea Hawk" is a fascinating look at betrayal, family, and faith. Sir Oliver renounces his Christianity after seeing the cruelty that the slaves endure on the supposedly Christian ship, then converts to Islam and joins the Moorish fleet. The performances in the film are striking, with stirring action scenes and delightful moments of comic relief, especially in the case of a pirate captain played by Wallace Beery and an amorous neighbor "whose conscience was elastic and whose husband was — old."

5. Porco Rosso

While most people think of nautical battles when they think of pirates, Hayao Miyazaki's films about air pirates still qualify for this list. They're filled with a thrilling sense of adventure, and they're quite simply brilliant, even if — as some critics argue — "Porco Rosso" is underrated among them. "Porco Rosso" tells the story of an ace fighter pilot (Shūichirō Moriyama) who does battle with air pirates while cursed to live as an anthropomorphic pig. It's a gentle meditation on identity, loss, grief, and love, all conveyed through an intriguing mixture of politics, pirate adventure, and fairy tale.

Miyazaki's animation is gorgeous, and his air battles are just as exciting as the sea skirmishes found in the other films on this list. The titular character is a classic antihero, turning this adventurous anti-fascist tale ("Better a pig than a fascist") into a fascinating character study of love and forgiveness. "Porco Rosso" never goes where you think it will, which is the most satisfying adventure of all.

4. The Princess Bride

What more can be said about "The Princess Bride"? As Roger Ebert noted in his 1987 review of the film, it's "a sly parody of sword and sorcery movies," but the movie manages to have its cake and eat it too, sending up multiple genres — including the pirate movie — while lovingly recreating them. That mixture of tongue-in-cheek humor and a genuine affection for the act of telling stories is part of the film's winning formula, and ensures it shows up on every possible best-of list.

Farmboy Westley (Cary Elwes) falls in love with Buttercup (Robin Wright) and goes off to seek his fortune so that he can marry her. When his ship is attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts and Westley is presumed dead, Buttercup is promised against her will to the evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). Westley returns, dressed in black and carrying the moniker of the Dread Pirate Roberts, to free his love and defeat the evil prince. Featuring disguises, double-crosses, adventure, sword fights, comedy, and — most importantly — true love, "The Princess Bride" has everything you need in a pirate movie.

3. Castle in the Sky

"Castle in the Sky" is the second Studio Ghibli film on this list, but it was the first movie produced by the famed animation studio. Sheeta (Keiko Yokozawa) and Pazu (Mayumi Tanaka) are on the run from secret agents, the army, and a family of airship pirates who all want the powerful crystal that Sheeta inherited from her family. In order to find the legendary floating castle of Laputa, Sheeta and Pazu join forces with the surprisingly friendly pirates to try to outrun the sinister forces that want to control the crystal.

"Castle in the Sky" is a breathtakingly magical film with beautiful visuals and, just like "Porco Rosso," a fairy tale ending that swerves away from the expected. In addition to being a beautiful work of animated art and one of the best pirate movies of all time, "Castle in the Sky" was also highly influential on the world of steampunk. In "The Steampunk Bible," authors Jeff VanderMeer and S. J. Chambers call the film "one of the first modern Steampunk classics."

2. Muppet Treasure Island

Everything's better with Muppets. Add Tim Curry, and you have a bona fide classic. This is the third adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel on this list, and it is by far the most entertaining. Kevin Bishop plays this iteration of Jim Hawkins, while Curry does his best to unseat Robert Newton as cinema's best Long John Silver (and, arguably, succeeds). The vast majority of the rest of the cast is, of course, played by the Muppets, and the classic Muppet ethos is on full display in this joyfully chaotic rendition of the timeless adventure story.

As Kirk R. Thatcher, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jerry Juhl and James V. Hart, told Tough Pigs, "Muppet Treasure Island" was part of an attempt to move the Muppets away from the sweetness of "The Muppet Christmas Carol" and back to a zanier vision of the characters. Sight gags based on Henry Kissinger and Carmen Miranda, along with lavish dance sequences and a pig character named "Spa'am," make sure the film lives up to those wacky ideals. With humor and visual wit to spare, "Muppet Treasure Island" is an imaginative and enduring adaptation of the quintessential pirate story.

1. Captain Blood

It's hard to beat Studio Ghibli or the Muppets, but this crackling pirate adventure deserves the top spot. This early pairing of Errol Flynn and director Michael Curtiz made stars out of Flynn and his onscreen love interest, Olivia de Havilland. Here, Flynn plays Dr. Peter Blood, who is wrongly convicted of treason and sold into slavery in the West Indies. Arabella Bishop (de Havilland) is entranced by Blood's pride and spirit and purchases him at auction, setting off a chain of events that leads to Blood becoming the scourge of England.

Flynn and de Havilland's chemistry is electric, and it's a thrill to watch a star be born as the charismatic Flynn strikes the perfect balance between charm and arrogance. He is absolutely captivating on screen. Curtiz's visuals are as impressive as always, too, with unique framing and compositions that make the action feel that much more alive. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's stirring score also deserves special notice. This film has everything you want in a pirate movie: adventure, romance, thrilling action, narrative twists, plenty of sea and sword battles, betrayal, and redemption. Nearly 90 years after its release, the film that made the swashbuckling Errol Flynn a household name is still the best pirate movie ever made.