The 24 Best Pirate Movies You Can Watch Right Now
Pirate movies have been a staple of film since the silent era. Alongside Westerns, pirate movies were one of the most popular genres through the Golden Age of Hollywood, and then they fell by the wayside. Though the genre never truly died, it wasn’t until Pirates of the Caribbean that it was invigorated again, and there was proof the genre could still draw an audience.
If you’re looking to experience the full range of pirate lore, we’ve assembled a list of what we think are 24 of the best entries to appeal to anyone with even a bit of interest in the genre.
How We Rated the Movies
Rating art is not very scientific, but these are reviews, so go with us. We rate each movie on a ten-point scale based on three unique attributes.
Taste in movies is very subjective, and we’re just offering what we think are some of the best. Let us know if we missed anything!
IMDb Score: We’ll look at the score the movie holds on the Internet Movie Database, then go to spot online for anything you need to know about movies.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: We’ll also look at the score on Rotten Tomatoes, which is a review aggregator to get a rough idea of how critics responded to the film.
Our Opinion: Finally, we’ll just go with our own opinion/review of the movie to round things out.
Best All-Time Pirate Movie: “Pirates of the Caribbean” series
Let’s start things with a bang here. Rather than cut up the Pirates of the Caribbean series into its 5 parts, we’ll take them all as a whole and average their IMDb and RT scores plus our own rating.
We’ve ranked the series higher than the IMDb and much higher than the aggregate score across Rotten Tomatoes but for a good reason. The quality of these movies may have slipped a little after part one, and the final two entries lost the magic of the first three. But, taken as a whole, these five films together are probably the most fun you will ever have watching pirate movies of any kind.
Johnny Depp’s charm as Captain Jack Sparrow is undeniable, and the cast, including Orlando Bloom, Kiera Knightly, Geoffrey Rush, and the rest, is impeccable. From Davy Jones to skeletal monkeys, the series is just a good time at the movies. Grab some popcorn and a drink, and you will have fun, and that’s the spirit of the classic pirate movie at work.
Old-time pirate movies were full of adventure and heroic battle sequences, and the Pirates series has all that in spades. Are they all peak cinema? No. But pound for pound, you will be hard-pressed to find this many films together that provide so much entertainment.
Best Classic Pirate Movies
These films are from the Golden Age of cinema. There are so many great movies from back then we couldn’t limit choices to just one or two, so these are the three best classic pirate movies.
“Captain Blood” (1935)
There are a handful of movies named Captain Blood, so to clarify, we’re talking about the 1935 film starring Errol Flynn. The story is of a doctor called Blood, who treats the wrong patient and is sold into slavery for treason as a result. He escapes and becomes a pirate. If you’ve ever seen Errol Flynn on screen, you know there’s a lot of action and adventure to follow as Flynn was a master of this kind of swashbuckling hero character.
Captain Blood was the film that started Flynn’s career as a pirate on the screen because he nailed it perfectly. The movie has all the charm and lavish sets you’d expect from this era of filmmaking, and for younger audiences who are into film history as well as pirates, this is a must-see. Compare it to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise to see how these stories have evolved and what has stayed the same.
This is arguably the greatest pirate movie ever and is always included in anyone’s top lists. Beyond that, it’s also one of the greatest films of any genre. That Rotten Tomatoes score of 100% is no joke.
“The Crimson Pirate” (1952)
This 1952 gem stars Burt Lancaster as Captain Vallo, another adventurous swashbuckler in the vein of Errol Flynn and Johnny Depp. Captain Vallo, a general sort of charming ne’er-do-well, finds himself in the middle of a plan to make money from a rebellion by playing both sides. He changes his tune once he’s in the thick of it and meets a beautiful woman on the rebels’ side, and plenty of adventure ensues.
This movie probably hits every single pirate note you could hope for, so much so that today they might seem cliche. But Lancaster sells it incredibly well as he and his pirates leap, swing and fight their way through a move that 70 years later will still keep you glued to the screen.
The music pulls you into the movie, but this is just a personal point; the amount of fun you can tell Lancaster and the others are having is the real selling point. This movie is not just fun to watch; it looks like it was just a blast to make, which helps sell it incredibly nicely.
“The Black Swan” (1942)
Not to be confused with 2010’s Black Swan, The Black Swan from 1942 stars Maureen O’Hara and Tyrone Power as Captain Waring. Waring has been tasked with rounding up pirates by former pirate Captain Henry Morgan. Instead, he betrays Morgan because he’s in love with the woman who loves him. Now it’s a game of double-crossing, betrayal, and tested loyalty between multiple pirates and government officials.
This was often considered a second-tier pirate film of the era, never quite reaching the heights of what Errol Flynn could do. And maybe it’s not as good as those movies, but the story of crossing and double-crossing keeps this one fresh and fun throughout. It’s also nice to see a new cast take a crack at things when actors like Flynn were all the rage for buccaneer adventures in most pirate movies remembered from this era.
It has all the action and fun you’d expect from any good pirate movie, plus the romance angle and some solid humor mixed in as well.
Animated Pirate Movies
For almost all of film history, animation was considered a genre for kids. It’s really branching out lately with movies like Beyond the Spider-Verse more readily accepted by older audiences. Still, at its core, all the impossible imagery, bright colors, and fast pace can appeal to all ages. No surprise, then, that we’ve had animated pirate movies for years. Here are a couple we think stand out.
“The Pirates! Band of Misfits” (2012)
Also known as The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! this is a stop-motion film that was nominated for an Academy Award. The movie follows Pirate Captain (yep, that’s his name), voiced by Hugh Grant, in an attempt to out-pirate his rivals on the high seas and become Pirate of the Year. Of course, it’s goofy; it’s an animated film.
The movie features a great voice cast, including Salma Hayek, Martin Freeman, and David Tennant, among others. There are tons of jokes, including sight gags, that both kids and their parents can appreciate, and the detailed work that went into making it is remarkable. It’s even more impressive when you know it’s stop motion and watch some of the incredibly precise and exhilarating action scenes.
“Peter Pan” (1953)
This is the Disney classic that almost everyone thinks of when they think of Peter Pan. As one of their earliest animated movies, the characters have become archetypes, and we all know Captain Hook, Tinkerbell, and Peter Pan himself as they appeared in this film.
This is the classic story without many twists that show up in newer versions that try to offer different perspectives. In this, Peter shows up one night in the home of Wendy, John, and Michael after chasing his shadow. Along with Tinkerbell, they share the story of Neverland, which entices the children to follow them back. Captain Hook shows up eventually, and things get tense, and the kids realize they’d rather live their lives at home and grow up.
The fact that everyone knows these characters on sight speaks to the influence of this story over the years. Even though this is based on a novel and not an original story, Disney became the basis for the story in most people’s minds. That speaks to the power of the storytelling here.
It may seem a little dated today, and modern kids may not have the same fascination as kids from generations past did, but it’s a classic story, and the animation is terrific. Not to mention the character designs for Captain Hook and the other pirates who bring to life everything kids imagine when they think of danger on the high seas.
Family-Friendly Pirate Movies
“The Goonies” (1985)
Few movies have risen to the height of classic 80s cinema, like The Goonies. Alongside films like The Breakfast Club and Ghostbusters, the Goonies embodies the nostalgia from the 80s that everyone in that generation grew up with. And it includes a pirate tale as a MacGuffin to kick off the action.
While it’s truly a movie for children, it was written by Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus, two of the biggest names in Hollywood, and directed by Richard Donner, the man behind Superman and Lethal Weapon, so it has a hell of a pedigree.
Rewatch it as an adult, and it may not be as awesome as you remember as a kid but watch it with the family, and your kids will probably dig it even in the age of Tik Tok. There are some solid performances from young actors like Sean Astin, Ke Huy Quan, and Josh Brolin, who went on to become much bigger stars, and there’s even an alternate version that includes a giant octopus attack at the end.
The criminally underrated Stardust is based on a book by Neil Gaiman, the writer behind Netflix’s Sandman and Prime’s Good Omens, among many other modern fantasy classics. Stardust isn’t a proper pirate story, but it does feature piracy and one of the most memorable pirates in film history, Captain Shakespeare, played by Robert De Niro. If you haven’t seen the movie and you’re a De Niro fan, it might just blow your mind.
The film’s main story involves a young man traveling to a magical land beyond a wall to retrieve a piece of a fallen star to prove his love to a girl. He discovers that, beyond the wall, the star is actually a living, breathing woman herself, and there are evil forces after her for her power.
Along the way, the man and the star meet Captain Shakespeare, who pirates a ship that doesn’t sail in the water but flies through the clouds. He’s also an incredibly quirky fellow with some secrets I won’t spoil here. Just trust that you’ll enjoy the movie if you like fun action and adventure with a healthy dose of magical fantasy.
Best Comedy Pirate Movies
“Our Flag Means Death” (TV series)
Not a movie HBO’s Our Flag Means Death is so good it had to be included here somewhere. It’s a fresh and irreverent take on the pirate genre loosely based on a true story brought to us by Taika Waititi, the man behind Thor: Ragnarok and What We Do In Shadows.
The story follows Captain Stede Bonnet, a well-to-do gentleman who decides to give up his simple life and take up a life of piracy even though he knows nothing about it. Bonnet was a real person known as the Gentleman Pirate in real life. He had no sailing experience but used his family’s wealth to buy a vessel and hire a crew anyway.
On the show, Bonney is played by Rhys Darby, and his character has no idea what he’s doing. With his crew, they have to deal with rival pirates, the military, and the general woes of trying to be a pirate when you’re clueless. And, just for kicks, there’s a romantic plot with Blackbeard.
If you like an off-the-wall, very left-of-center take on pirates and quirks you never guessed they had; this is one worth watching.
Oh man, did people not like this movie. Listen, we’re not saying Yellowbeard is a classic or art or anything, but we’re in the comedy category here, and this movie did have some laughs. Featuring some members of Monty Python as well as Cheech and Chong and some old favorites from Mel Brooks like Marty Feldman, the movie is worth seeing for the cast alone.
The comedy may not be for everyone, but I think it’s probably funnier now than when it debuted, if for no other reason, than some of the jokes are so off the mark, they’ve become funny over the passage of time.
The movie tells the tale of Yellowbeard the Pirate getting out of prison and set to start his pirating ways with a lot of obstacles in his way. If you liked the comedy of any of the people I listed above, you should give this one a look. It won’t be the best movie you’ve ever seen, but it might make for a fun evening.
Best Women-Led Pirate Movies
Women are often featured in pirate movies but rarely in prominent roles. In the Golden Age, they were damsels in distress, and even in the modern age, with characters like Elizabeth Swan in the Pirates franchise, they’re still second fiddle to the main stars. But there have been one or two occasions when a woman stepped into the lead.
“Cutthroat Island” (1995)
If you know of this movie, you may be wondering why it’s included on a “best” anything list. Cutthroat Island is one of the most notorious bombs in Hollywood history. For a time, this movie was the biggest money-losing film ever. It was plagued with problems from an ever-inflating budget and a director with a massive ego, among many more problems. But forget all that.
Geena Davis takes the lead in this movie, and if we’re honest, it’s not great. But watch it with fresh eyes, and it is oddly fun. You won’t get bored during the movie’s run time, even if parts of it are clearly bloated, overacted, or just ludicrous. Davis gives it her all, and there’s some fun to be had here.
“Anne of the Indies” (1951)
Here’s a rarely seen old gem that was clearly ahead of its time. Anne of the Indies featured Jean Peters as the swashbuckling Captain Anne Providence, who sets off to find treasure with another pirate captain after falling in love with him, even though he may be playing her for a fool.
A female lead in a pirate film was unheard of, but the role reversal was intriguing and fun. It didn’t break much new ground for the genre beyond that, but if you like the old-timey sword fights from Hollywood, you’ll probably enjoy sitting down to give this one a look.
Best True Story Pirate Movies
Many pirate films are based on real-life pirates in name only. Blackbeard from the Pirates franchise was a far cry from the real Blackbeard unless anyone can prove the man had magical powers, which history overlooked. But some movies that get closer to reality are worth checking out.
“Captain Phillips” (2013)
Starring Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips is based on the true story of a 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates. These are not the skull-and-crossbones, peg-leg pirates of fun family films; these are brutal, real-life pirates with guns and no mercy.
Captain Phillips is the story of Captain Richard Phillips, who was in charge of an unarmed cargo ship traveling from Oman to Kenya. Somali pirates capture the ship and make plans to ransom it, but Phillips and his crew are able to put up enough of a fight to get them off the vessel, though Phillips is taken hostage with them.
The movie is intense and, at times, terrifying, with outstanding performances from Hanks as well as Barkhad Abdi, the Somali pirate captain. Knowing that much of this happened in real life makes it all the more harrowing. It’s not a movie you sit down to watch to have a fun night with friends, but it’s definitely a must-see.
“Captain Kidd” (1945)
Another classic, Captain Kidd, stars Charles Laughton as Kidd and follows some adventures that are maybe not 100% historical but are entertaining nonetheless. The truth is the movie takes a lot of liberties with the historical Kidd’s life and times, and that’s probably for a couple of reasons. The film was made in 1945, and historical accuracy was not big on the mind of anyone in Hollywood back then, no matter how accurate the story was. But moreover, this was made in an age when people expected movies to play out a certain way. In real life, the man was executed for his crimes at age 47, and that’s hardly the happy ending audiences liked in a swashbuckler.
Kidd was often romanticized after his death and built up to be a sort of romantic, adventurous pirate ideal. The idea of buried treasure was inextricably linked to Kidd and spread from his story to pirate lore as a whole, even with little to no evidence of it. He unintentionally became a blueprint for fictional pirates, and this film had much to do with that in the modern age. For that reason alone, it’s worth seeing.
Beyond the historical value, it’s also just an entertaining film for those who love old Hollywood. This has all the great hallmarks of a classic pirate adventure, and if you’re a fan of the genre, you need to see it at least once.
Pirate Movies with the Best Sea Battles
One of the hallmarks of a great pirate movie is the action sequences and, in particular, the sea battles. Naval warfare is unlike anything else, and classic, pirate battles are something that living people know little about because the era has passed us by. Modern warfare eclipsed this, so to see it played out in a fast-paced and adventurous way can be very entertaining.
“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (2003)
Is this one a cheat? Yes, it is. Master and Commander is not strictly a pirate movie at all. In fact, there aren’t any pirates in it. It’s actually about a British vessel hunting down a French one during the Napoleonic Wars.
That said, the naval combat scenes in this are so incredible I had to include it on the list. No other pirate movie comes close to what they did here in terms of intensity and immersion. The battles in this movie feel real when you watch them; they will get your blood pumping, which is what any good action sequence should do.
Beyond the action, this is a solid and entertaining movie. You get great performances from Russel Crowe and Paul Bettany, and the story pulls you in. The film also won two Oscars among the many awards it was nominated for.
If you like a modern historical drama with solid performances and great action, this is in your wheelhouse.
“The Sea Hawk” (1940)
This is another Errol Flynn classic that had to be included on the list. Even though it’s old school, the battles in this movie are so much fun to watch that you shouldn’t overlook it because it’s nearly 100 years old.
The movie is the story of a privateer named Thorpe, played by Flynn. As the Spanish are planning a massive naval attack on Britain, Thorpe and his crew begin raiding Spanish vessels, but he also falls in love with the daughter of the head of the Spanish Armada.
The movie is a lot of fun, and it’s historically significant as well. It was produced in the midst of the Second World War, and the propaganda is not too hard to recognize, especially with modern eyes. The King of Spain is analogous to Hitler, and the movie was meant to make Americans take a real pro-Britain stance during the war.
The film is a fantastic production on a technical level, with at least 3,000 actors involved, from the main cast down to extras. The action, the sets, and the score are the most Hollywood things you can imagine, and it’s an absolute spectacle of the best kind. The naval battles are stunning for a film made in 1940, and the whole movie sums up what people mean when they say “epic.”
Cult Favorite Pirate Movies
A cult movie is one that was generally not well-received when it first came out. In fact, it may be critically hated. But a group of fans took a shine to it and made it a niche phenomenon. Things like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Evil Dead are well-known examples, but there are a couple of pirate favorites in there as well.
I can’t stress enough that these are cult movies, and there’s a good chance that if you’re not a fan of quirky, cheap, weird, and “so bad it’s good” movies, you may not like these at all.
“The Ice Pirates” (1984)
To look at the Rotten Tomatoes score for The Ice Pirates, you’d think this was one of the worst movies ever made. And maybe it is! You won’t mistake this for a movie snubbed at the Academy Awards by any means. But man, what a weird, fun movie it is.
The film has some surprising faces, given how few people have heard of it. The main stars, Robert Urich and Mary Crosby, are not exactly household names today. But there are also roles played by Ron “Hellboy” Perlman, Anjelica “Morticia Addams” Huston, and Hollywood legend John Carradine.
The film takes place in a distant future where water is a precious resource. As such, water piracy has become a vast business. Pirates steal ice from a regime ship that controls the galaxy’s water. In doing so, they discover a woman in stasis who turns out to be a princess, who they then kidnap. The plot gets all kinds of wacky from there.
Ice Pirates is wall-to-wall goofy or crude jokes, and the behind-the-scenes story of how the film was made explains a lot. The short version is that people at the studio were actively sabotaging the movie, stealing money, and casting people just because they were fans. The end result is one of the goofiest, most ramshackle films from the 80s that’s still fun in a cheap-looking, peculiar way.
“The Pirate Movie” (1982)
Amazingly, this movie is even less well-liked than The Ice Pirates. This Aussie flick is a musical romantic comedy, so be forewarned before you watch it if you’re not interested in some very low-quality pirate songs. It’s supposed to be based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, but that’s done very loosely.
The movie is from the perspective of a girl named Mabel, played by Kristy McNichol, who gets knocked out and dreams of the entire pirate adventure of her meeting and falling in love with a pirate. But there’s also music. Not that musicals can’t be good, but the leads in this movie actually can’t sing very well, which makes it awkward. Not to mention that the songs are generally terrible. One is called “Pumpin’ and Blowin’.” The movie is PG, incidentally.
Needless to say, the ball is dropped many times in the film. The action could be better, the acting is goofy, the story is weird, and the main character randomly breaks the 4th wall and talks to the audience, but more is needed for it to make sense.
That said, all of this weirdness appealed to a particular subsection of the audience who made it a cult classic based on the sheer strangeness on screen.
Innovative or Genre-Bending Pirate Movies
Any good genre of film needs room to breathe. If all pirate movies took place on a ship with a guy looking to find buried treasure and have sword fights with British soldiers, it would get stale fast. That’s part of the reason Pirates of the Caribbean was so well received; the movies were so far beyond just a pirate story. But they weren’t the only ones. These movies take the pirate genre as a basis and make something else out of it that is still a lot of fun and worthy of a watch.
“Treasure Planet” (2002)
Walt Disney’s Treasure Planet from 2002 is a bit of a forgotten animated update on the classic pirate tale that inspired it. This sci-fi spin on the story didn’t make a huge splash when it first appeared, but it is so worth another look. The animation style was revolutionary at the time, with traditional 2D hand-drawn animation overlayed with computer-generated 3D animation for something totally unique and eye-catching.
It’s the same basic story as Treasure Island but updated to a futuristic setting. The vessels now use solar sails to travel from world to world, and the film features a treasure hunt not from island to island but world to world.
Aside from the remarkable animation, this movie is known for having the largest budget of any traditionally animated film ever at a whopping $140 million. Voice talent includes Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, David Hyde Pierce, Emma Thompson, and Martin Short.
“The Princess Bride” (1987)
Most audiences are familiar with The Princess Bride, but it’s generally not considered a pirate film. However, the main character is literally a pirate, and the movie is full of rescues, sword fights, sea monsters, a ship chase, and more. It’s absolutely a pirate film in every way. It’s also a beloved fantasy-action-comedy-romance.
The movie is a story a grandfather tells his grandson about a Princess named Buttercup who lost her one true love, a simple, stable boy named Wesley. When she’s set to marry an evil prince, she’s kidnapped by three outlaws, and then the Dread Pirate Roberts kidnaps her from them.
Roberts turns out to be Wesley, the outlaws include the amazing Mandy Patinkin and Andre the Giant, and Billy Crystal has a quick but hilarious cameo as Miracle Max, who can bring back the dead.
It’s a classic movie for a reason. The sword fights are a ton of fun, and Andre the Giant is larger than life in more ways than one.
Best Pirate TV Series or Mini-Series
In recent years TV has evolved into a medium that can contend with the big screen by providing rich, lavish productions that can span many hours to give fuller, more detailed stories. Prestige TV can have huge budgets, with episodes of shows like Game of Thrones costing over $10 million alone. So it’s not a surprise that TV has also provided us with a solid pirate show. It’s not a movie, but we’re making a special case for this one, anyway.
“Black Sails” (2014-2017)
They wrote this a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and it offers up all the pirate action you might expect. It follows Captain Flint and features a cast of real-life pirates, including Blackbeard, Anne Bonny, Calico Jack, and more. The series covered four seasons and primarily dealt with Flint in the debauched pirate den known as New Providence as threats from the English, the Spanish, and other pirates threaten their way of life.
This was at the height of prestige TV, and though it wasn’t on HBO, the Starz series put a lot of effort into the production, which shines through on the screen. Some parts get a little slower than others, but the same can be said for any series. At just four seasons, it didn’t overstay its welcome, and the action carries you through from start to finish. If you can find it to stream or even on disc, it’s easy to binge and enjoy.
The Bottom Line
Pirate movies may not be as prominent today as they were in the golden age of cinema, but there are plenty to see and enjoy. Whether you like a big spectacle, something funny, incredible battles or engaging characters, our list should have something to appeal to your tastes.