Hasitha Fernando with ten essential modern day swashbucklers…
Pirate-themed movies or swashbucklers have been around since the very inception of Hollywood. However, they gained widespread popularity and peaked during the Golden era of cinema, with critically acclaimed movies such as Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk and The Crimson Pirate headlined by classic actors like Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn.
The subgenre experienced a dip in popularity by the late 80s and after the disastrous debut of Carolco Pictures’ much maligned Cutthroat Island in 1995, further projects involving the high-seas were indefinitely put on hold by all studios. It took a little Disney film released in 2003 called Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl to right the ship and rejuvenate all thing pirate related in the media.
So, without further discourse here’s a list of the essential modern-day swashbucklers for your viewing pleasure. Have a gander me hearties…
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Of course, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl takes the top spot. I mean, what other film truly deserves that particular merit? Released at a time when pirate movies were all but forgotten, this flick was single handedly responsible for revitalizing interest in the subgenre and catapulting 80s teen heartthrob and indie darling Johnny Depp to super stardom.
Coupled with some gonzo filmmaking, an iconic soundtrack, mind-blowing visual effects and inventive storytelling Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl is without a doubt essential viewing for fans of modern swashbucklers. So, why not give this one a rewatch, and binge the sequels too while you are at it?
Captain Phillips (2013)
Captain Phillips strips the romanticized trappings of age old high-sea adventures by focusing on something scarier and more contemporary – Somali pirates. Bourne franchise helmer Paul Greengrass is the creative forced behind this venture, lending a sense of perpetual unease and pulse pounding tension to the proceedings. His trademark quick cut editing and kinetic action direction ups the ante when the proverbial shit hits the ceiling.
Although Tom Hanks is simply sensational here it is the ferociously visceral performance by newcomer Barkhad Abdi that will blow you away. A white knuckling viewing experience from start to finish.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
It is the Napoleonic wars, and Captain Jack Aubrey and his able-bodied crew aboard the HMS Surprise are ordered to chase down and intercept a French privateer, that poses a major threat to the British naval fleet. Epic in scope and ambition, this period war-drama drew unanimous praise from critics and audiences alike upon its release, going on to nab ten Academy Award nominations along with a decent box-office run.
The action-packed film features a duet of unforgettable performances courtesy of Aussie heavy weights Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, and is complimented by some truly breathtaking cinematography and awe-inspiring set pieces that are simply the very definition of epic.
A staple of our childhoods from the 90s, Hook gives a unique spin on the beloved J.M Barrie novel exploring the scenario of Peter Pan returning to Neverland, only this time as an adult. So, in a lot of ways it can be interpreted as a sequel to the original source material. Robin Williams is excellent as the grown-up Peter, while Dustin Hoffman is simply a rip-roaring delight as the villainous Captain Hook.
Though, over the years, director Steven Spielberg has expressed his dissatisfaction regarding the film and how it turned out, Hook developed its own dedicated fan base who absolutely adored what they saw on screen. If truth be told, escapist cinema doesn’t get any better than this, especially for a child.
Treasure Island (1990)
To say this made-for-TV-movie has a stacked cast, is something of an understatement. We’ve got Charlton Heston, Christoper Lee, Oliver Reed and a young Christian Bale fresh off of his success on 1987’s Empire of the Sun, rounding up the talented ensemble. Heston is fantastic as the roguish Long John Silver and Bale is simply exemplary as the wide-eyed and naïve Jim Hawkins.
The film’s story hews closely to the narrative of R.L Stevenson’s 1883 novel of the same name, and offers up a sensational adaption of the literary work which still remains a thoroughly engrossing affair, even three decades later.
Peter Pan (2003)
Feature film adaptations of J.M Barrie’s seminal work are practically a dime-a-dozen, with every few years offering up a new rendition that is neither fresh nor original. To give you an idea there’s been three feature films based on Barrie’s property the past decade alone, none of which are any good. Which is why this criminally underrated and woefully overlooked adaptation from 2003 must be given a look-see.
Harry Potter alum Jason Isaacs is the scene stealer here, chewing the scenery and oozing charm as the story’s antagonist. Jeremy Sumpter is pitch-perfect as the live-action Peter Pan and Rachel Hurd-Wood is the living embodiment of Wendy Darling. Visually impressive and thematically complex, it is the modern era’s definitive take on the beloved source material.
Swallows & Amazons (2016)
Based on Arthur Ransome’s 1930 novel of the same name, the movie chronicles the story of the Walker children on their summer holiday in Lake District circa 1935. It is a wholesome tale of good old-fashioned adventure and one that’d undoubtedly encourage youngsters to embrace their rebellious spirit and venture out into the great outdoors.
In an age where we primarily witness adolescent protagonists in films blessed with skill sets bordering on the superhuman, it is indeed refreshing to witness a bunch of kids mucking around while having boat loads of fun playing pirates.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)
This gleefully hilarious stop-motion animation swashbuckler comes courtesy of the British studio Aardman Animations. Yes, it is the very same studio responsible for churning out iconic plasticine characters featured in Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep and Morph.
The film adapts Gideon DeFoe’s novel The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, and features an all-star voice which include the likes of Hugh Grant, David Tennant, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton and Jeremy Piven. The stark-raving-mad premise sees a ragtag crew of amateur pirates in their attempt to win the Pirate of the Year competition. If you are looking for a real rib-tickler of a swashbuckler, this one’s for you.
Treasure Planet (2002)
Treasure Planet is an exciting animated sci-fi adventure which takes R.L Stevenson’s classic tale into an outer space setting. Now, the House of Mouse has had previous jabs at the source material with 1950’s Treasure Island and 1996’s Muppet Treasure Island, but nothing of this sort has been attempted previously.
The setting in Stevenson’s original source material has been stunningly reimagined as a sort of steampunk utopia where 18th century schooners navigate the heavens using solar powered sails. Artfully combining the futuristic and the retro, the movie puts a refreshing spin on a time worn story. Although heaped with glowing reviews during its debut, Treasure Planet failed at the box office due to its insane production cost. But don’t let that deter you from checking out this gem. It’s certainly worth your time.
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)
DreamWorks animation achieved great success combining traditional animation with that of CGI, in many of their previous feature animated films like Prince of Egypt and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron. Alas, this mantra didn’t quite gel with Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, and movies produced by the animation studio, since then, went full CGI. But that doesn’t make this flick a disappointment, no sir.
With an A-list voice cast of Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta Jones, Michelle Pfieffer and Joseph Fiennes who achieve wonders, an engaging story penned by Gladiator writer John Logan, imaginative action sequences and an epic score by Harry Gregson Williams, this here is the full package and then some.
What are your favourite modern day swashbucklers? What have we missed from this list? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.