Adventure Movies

15 Best Swashbuckling Pirate Movies

August 2, 202315 Mins Read


  • Pirate movies offer a thrilling mix of adventure, danger, and romance, making them perfect entertainment for audiences of all ages.
  • From classic silent films to modern blockbusters, pirate movies have a wide range of stories and styles to offer, with some even focusing on children’s adventures.
  • The best pirate movies combine unique stories, impressive fight scenes, and stirring performances to create an immersive and enjoyable experience for viewers and critics alike.

There is a big difference between classic and modern pirate movies, but the best pirate movies are all grand adventures. The life of a pirate is a life of freedom, danger, and debauchery that make for perfect entertainment. Pirate films are fun and exciting adventure movies that provide a little bit of everything. There are usually great fight scenes, ship battles, and even some romance. Audiences can have a great time with these movies, and most critics can’t deny their joy at getting the chance to become invested in the world of pirates.

From the classic pirate movies of silent film days to modern blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean, the range of pirate movies is a large one. Even some “pirate movies” are really tales of children’s adventures. Swashbuckling can be found with the Goonies reading a treasure map or in many of Errol Flynn’s fights on the big screen. Many pirate movies have earned their place in pop culture with unique stories, impressive fights-at-sea sequences, and stirring performances. The best pirate movies have combinations of all three.

RELATED: The 10 Greatest Pirates In Movie/Television History

20 Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968)

The ghost of Blackbeard next to a man in a suit in 1968 movie Blackbeards Ghost

  • Available to stream on Disney Plus

Blackbeard’s Ghost is a pirate adventure from Disney in 1968. This movie is about a track coach who has a supernatural encounter with the ghost of the infamous pirate, Blackbeard. This sounds like a bizarre concept, but critics really enjoyed the movie and found it to be solid family entertainment that delivers some laughs and is immensely creative. It’s an intriguing concept, as it mixes the modern day with the world of pirates. It turns out that these two worlds meld much better than expected. That said, even among the family-friendly pirate movies, it’s the weakest of the best pirate movies.

19 The Sea Hawk (1924)

Men held by pirates on the deck of a ship in The Sea Hawk silent movie of 1924

This silent movie is based on the 1915 novel by Rafael Sabatini. Compared to modern pirate movies, The Sea Hawk might not seem as grand or as fun to watch, but it’s impressive for its era. The story follows an English nobleman (Milton Sills) who is captured and sold into slavery but manages to escape and become a pirate king to gain justice.

Instead of using miniatures to create battles at sea, entire ships were built and filmed on the California coast with more than 1,000 extras. It was an expensive undertaking, costing $200,000 at the time. The sequences were so well done that they would be used in movies for the next two decades, spliced into other movies to show battles between pirates at sea, including the 1940 Errol Flynn movie, The Sea Hawk, which had a very different plot.

18 Muppet Treasure Island (1996)

A human Jim Hawkins with Muppets in Muppet Treasure Island

  • Available to stream on Disney Plus

Muppet Treasure Island is a retelling of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel but with The Muppets. The Muppets fit very well in this movie, with Kermit the Frog as the captain and Gonzo as a member of the crew. However, the star of this movie is Tim Curry as Long John Silver, who is clearly having the time of his life portraying a pirate alongside Muppet characters.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this film is the creative and memorable musical numbers that are guaranteed to get stuck in fans’ heads. It’s got a lot of humor, heart, and family-friendly pirate entertainment. While many pirate films are certainly not appropriate for younger viewers, this is a sanitized version of piracy that anyone can enjoy.

17 Treasure Planet (2002)

Jim and Silver in a lifeboat in Treasure Planet

  • Available to stream on Disney Plus

Treasure Planet is often forgotten among Disney animated movies. The sci-fi adaptation of Treasure Island, however, was nominated for an Oscar and received several nods at the Annies, an award ceremony specifically for animated projects. It was a beautiful movie to watch unfold as pirates took to space. Starring the voice of Michael J. Fox, the movie took the idea of Treasure Island and made the treasure map lead to another planet. It impressively stuck to most of the Robert Louis Stevenson tale, giving a fresh look at a pirate story that was also very familiar. It’s definitely one of the best animated pirate movies out there.

16 The Goonies (1985)

The Goonies reading the treasure map

  • Available to stream on Hulu

The Goonies is the definition of a good time. It follows a group of curious kids who search for lost pirate treasure after stumbling upon a treasure map. Along the way, they face dangerous foes and obstacles that they will have to get through in order to find the treasure in a classic treasure hunt. The Goonies has lots of pirate moments, including a treasure room on a ship that was owned by a character named One-Eyed Willy. Critics really enjoyed this family adventure, and it is considered a classic movie from the ’80s. It’s hard to watch this movie and not be sucked into the adventure.

15 Porco Rosso (1992)

Fio Piccolo and Porco Rosso standing next to each other in front of flying flags.

  • Available to stream on Max

Porco Rosso is unique among the best pirate movies because it doesn’t take place on the seas. Instead, the pirates here are those of the air, fighting for space in the sky with their airships. The Hiyao Miyazaki movie was released in 1992.

Combining elements of fantasy with a post-war story, Porco Rosso sees a former World War I pilot become a bounty hunter, someone who hunts down air pirates. The fantasy elements come in because he’s cursed to look like a pig. The movie regularly features in best of animation lists, including Time Out’s 50 best animated movies of all time, and it won a slew of animation awards at film festivals when first released.

14 The Pirates Of Penzance (1983)

Kevin Cline with his pirate crew in The Pirates of Penzance

  • Available to rent through AppleTV, Google Play, and Vudu

The Pirates of Penzance is a romantic musical comedy from 1983. Based on the Broadway play, the film appears as though it is straight from Broadway. The sets are very obvious, and the musical atmosphere is in every frame of this movie. It does have a lot of entertaining pirate moments, but the musical numbers are also clever, catchy, and fit in with the world of pirates.

It still manages to be a pirate adventure while also being a great musical. The action may not be as exciting as other pirate movies, but there is still a lot to love about this goofy, pirate musical. It’s become a cult classic for musical fans.

13 The Sea Hawk (1940)

British and Spanish naval officers fighting in The Sea Hawk in 1940

  • Available to rent through AppleTV, Google Play, and Vudu

The true pirate movie classic from 1940 stars Errol Flynn as Geoffrey Thorpe, Queen Elizabeth’s man on the high seas. Focusing on the conflict between Queen Elizabeth and the Spanish (and her famous ‘sea dogs’ of the time period), there are plenty of sword fights to be found here – enough that the film was nominated for four Oscars. It was also one of the highest-grossing movies of 1940.

Spies, pirates, adventure, battles, and more are set against a stunning soundtrack, and although the film is in black and white (and many aspects of it may be considered outdated today) it remains a classic… and a film to prove just how long pirates have been popular on the big screen.

12 Peter Pan (2003)

Peter against a wall looking startled in Peter Pan 2003

  • Available to stream on Netflix

When it comes to movies that tell the tale of Peter Pan, most people think of the Disney animated classic and Hook. However, many overlooked this 2003 version of the classic story, yet it is considered to be one of the better versions by critics who found it to be a faithful adaptation of the novel that still manages to be a great fantasy story.

Captain Hook is a legendary pirate character who is on a mission to get his revenge on Peter. Here, he is played by Jason Isaacs, who always loves to play villainous characters. This version of Peter Pan may have been forgotten about, but it deserves more attention. It’s got a gorgeous color palette and the young cast had amazing chemistry.

11 Peter Pan (1953)

Peter Pan jumping with Tinker Bell

  • Available to stream on Disney Plus

Disney’s Peter Pan is an animated classic that makes viewers wish they could stay kids forever. While there are moments in Peter Pan that have aged incredibly poorly, there is still a lot to love here. The animation is colorful, bright, and beautiful throughout. Peter Pan also has wonderful songs that will make any fan want to fly to the second star to the right.

Captain Hook is one of Disney’s best villains, and it’s just as easy to love his goofy sidekick, Mr. Smee. Hook and his pirate crew turn this animated fantasy into an imaginative pirate tale. Even Tinkerbell, the fairy that helps Peter Pan, got her own set of spinoff movies that created a whole franchise 60 years later. Those movies even feature pirate fairies.

10 Swallows And Amazons (2016)

A group of children on a boat using a spyglass in Swallows and Amazons

  • Available to stream on Kanopy and Prime Video

This recent ‘pirate’ film is an incredibly wholesome look at children playing at pirates and sailors in the Lake District, in the 1930s. Based on the novel of the same name, it is a sweet adventure about a simpler time… while also being a surprising adventure, when the children band together to take down a real-life criminal. There may be no swordfights, but there are some incredible action scenes involving a float plane which more than make up for it.

Treasure maps, imagination, and the power of friendship take center stage in this sweet pirate movie appropriate for all ages. Based on a children’s book, the movie earned rave reviews from critics for its imaginative storytelling and the fantastic performances of its young cast.

RELATED: 10 Fantasy Movies That Nailed Their Final Scene

9 Treasure Island (1950)

Pirates stand around Jim Hawkins in the 1950 version of Treasure Island

  • Available to stream on Disney Plus

Disney is the king of pirate-themed entertainment, and it all started here, with Disney’s first full-length live-action feature film. Treasure Island is a classic pirate tale about Jim Hawkins who encounters Long John Silver on a journey to recover lost pirate treasure. This adaptation of the classic novel is much more faithful to the novel than Muppet Treasure Island and critics praised it for bringing the novel to life.

It has a lot of great pirate action but still manages to capture the family fun that Disney is so well-known for. Disney did give Treasure Island a sci-fi spin with the animated Treasure Planet, but this version from 1950 is the most beloved by critics.

8 Castle In The Sky (1986)

Pazu and Sheeta in a field in Castle in the Sky

  • Available to stream on Max

Another animated Hayao Miyazaki movie, Castle In The Sky hit theaters in 1986. Long before he animated Porco Rosso, Miyazaki also used air pirates in Castle In The Sky. Like the future movie, it was also nominated for several animation and film festival awards after its debut. It combines a lot of elements that would be used in later Miyazaki films. A young boy and girl search for a floating castle in this fantasy, but they do it while guarding a crystal from secret agents, soldiers, and air pirates. The steampunk style of the animation went on to influence other Japanese animated projects in the future, including Miyazaki’s own.

7 The Pirates: Band Of Misfits (2012)

A pirate captain next to his wanted poster in The Pirates: Band of Misfits

  • Available to rent through AppleTV, Google Play, and Vudu

The Pirates: Band of Misfits is a 2012 stop-motion animated film about a band of pirate scoundrels. This movie has a tremendous voice cast, including Hugh Jackman, Salma Hayek, Brendan Gleeson, and Martin Freeman. It also earned an Oscar nomination and several Annie Award nominations. The animation is also impressive, especially since stop-motion is a difficult form of animation that takes a lot of time to complete. However, the effort was worth it here, as critics appear to love this movie. While it is a goofy film, the movie has a lot of smart and clever humor mixed with a wonderful cast and beautiful animation.

6 Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003)

Jack Sparrow smirking with his gun over his shoulder while Will Turner looks past him in Pirates of the Caribbean

  • Available to stream on Disney Plus

While it is not the highest-rated film on this list, Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the most famous pirate movies, and definitely one of the best pirate movies made in the modern day. Based on the popular attraction at Disney Parks around the world, Pirates of the Caribbean is incredibly enjoyable. It has an amazing sword fight, a cool story with a unique mythology, and a world enraptured by its swashbuckling atmosphere. It also kicked off a franchise for Disney and earned five Oscar nominations.

Jack Sparrow is the most iconic pirate character ever put to film, helmed by a great performance from Johnny Depp. However, Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa also competes for the best cinema pirate. It’s one of the biggest franchises ever and people love revisiting these characters. Also, Hans Zimmer’s incredible score is the theme music for anything pirate-related, forever.

RELATED: 10 Times The Pirates of the Caribbean Movies Referenced The Ride

5 Captain Phillips (2013)

Richard Phillips confronting pirates in Captain Phillips.

  • Available to stream on Netflix

Unlike most pirate movies, Captain Phillips isn’t a romanticized look at piracy or set in the Golden Age of Piracy, either. Instead, this modern-day movie looks at piracy as it still exists, a violent and frightening part of shipping and sailing. Based on a real-life story, the film centers on a merchant vessel taken hostage by pirates in 2009. This is not the film for anyone seeking family-friendly swashbuckling adventures but for those looking for an action film with real depth and intensity. The film was nominated for six Oscars.

4 The Black Swan (1942)

A young woman next to a pirate in The Black Swan in 1942

  • Available to rent on Google Play and Vudu

This pirate movie is an absolute classic, from 1942 – and a three-time Academy Award nominee (and winner for Best Cinematography). The plot revolves around Henry Morgan, rogue pirates, the Jamaican governor, and a beautiful daughter… all the classic ingredients for a swashbuckler.

While elements of the film may appear outdated today, it’s a pirate movie that still deserves the rating it has, not least because it is simply an excellent straightforward adventure movie. This isn’t a film that will appeal to those wanting twists and turns, or historical accuracy, but anyone who wants swordfights and romance will be thrilled to watch the story play out.

3 The Princess Bride (1987)

Westley protects Buttercup in the forest n The Princess Bride

  • Available to stream on Disney Plus

The Princess Bride is an iconic film, filled with memorable moments and quotes that stand the test of time. The characters are equally memorable, from Buttercup and Westley to Fezzik and Inigo Montoya. Directed by Rob Reiner, The Princess Bride is a hilarious film that blends together action, comedy, and romance.

It’s a great fantasy adventure that critics and audiences loved when it first came out and still love today. It is more of a fantasy film than a pirate movie, but there are some great sword fights that make for some swashbuckling entertainment. Watching The Princess Bride without a smile is inconceivable. The movie might not have earned award show love when it was released, but it regularly features on “best of” lists in the film community around the world.

2 The Crimson Pirate (1952)

Shirtless pirates preparing for a fight in The Crimson Pirate

  • Available to rent on Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu

The Crimson Pirate is a near-perfect pirate movie (for its time, of course). It even features a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes to this day. Made in 1952, the film stars Burt Lancaster as the pirate Captain Vallo, a classic swashbuckler who falls in love with a beautiful woman, and must save her from an odious marriage.

This may be something of a predictable film, as it fulfills so many of the tropes of classic Hollywood movies, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. The movie allegedly inspired the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride at Disney theme parks, which in turn, inspired the most famous of modern pirate movies as well. So, The Crimson Pirate is responsible for a whole legacy of pirates in pop culture.

1 Captain Blood (1935)

A black and white still of Captain Blood with the group on a beach

  • Available to rent through AppleTV, Google Play, and Vudu

Captain Blood is, arguably, the foundation of modern pirate movies. Most of the pirate movies that followed in the decade after it was released in theaters were to see if studios could replicate its success. The black and white movie starred Errol Flynn, Olivia de Haviland, and Basil Rathbone. The trio even voiced their parts for a radio play that remade the movie.

Captain Blood received four Oscar nominations after its release. Though director Michael Curtiz didn’t receive a nomination, during Academy voting, he had the second-largest number of votes as a write-in candidate, an impressive feat. Captain Blood made a star of Errol Flynn who became known for playing a swashbuckling hero in a number of movies that followed.

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