Pirates (1986) - Rotten Tomatoes


Pirates (1986)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Pirates Photos

Movie Info

Although the title evokes a swashbuckling adventure, Roman Polanski's Pirates tuns out to be a seagoing tale with a bit of a difference. Captain Red (Walter Matthau) runs a hardy pirate ship with the able assistance of Frog, a dashing young French sailor (Cris Campion). One day Capt. Red is captured and taken aboard a Spanish galleon, but thanks to his inventiveness, he raises the crew to mutiny, takes over the ship, and kidnaps the daughter of the governor of Maracaibo (Charlotte Lewis, soon to co-star in The Golden Child opposite Eddie Murphy). The question is, can he keep this pace up?


Walter Matthau
as Capt. Thomas Bartholomew Red
Cris Campion
as The Frog, Jean-Baptiste
Charlotte Lewis
as Maria-Dolores de la Jenya de la Calde
Damien Thomas
as Don Alfonso
Olu Jacobs
as Boumako
David Kelly
as Surgeon
Bill Fraser
as Governor
José Santamaría
as Master at Arms
Anthony Peck
as Spanish Officer
Anthony Dawson
as Spanish Officer
Richard Dieux
as Spanish Officer
Jacques Maury
as Spanish Officer
Robert Dorning
as Commander of Marines
Luc Jamati
as Pepito Gonzalez
Georges Trillat
as Pockmarked Sailor
John Gill
as Carpenter
Brian Maxine
as Boatswain
Raouf Ben Amor
as Armoury Guard
Ian Dury
as Meat Hook
Allen Horst
as Fiddler
Antonio Spoletini
as Palace Guard
Bernard Musson
as Passenger
Josine Comellas
as Passenger's Wife
View All

Critic Reviews for Pirates

All Critics (11) | Top Critics (1)

Pirates proves, if nothing else, that Matthau is not an action star and that Polanski is not an action director. We kind of knew that already.

January 1, 2000 | Rating: 1/4 | Full Review…

Pirates is long and dull. Even the background music is tepid. And there's nothing Matthau can do to save the movie.

August 16, 2021 | Rating: 1/4 | Full Review…

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of Maa lox for Pirates, the sorriest movie ever to fly the Jolly Roger.

November 5, 2019 | Full Review…

An entertaining hokum adventure film.

May 26, 2015 | Rating: B | Full Review…

The joke lies in the contrast between the beauty of Polanski's framing and the scurvy visuals being framed

March 15, 2010 | Full Review…

If Roman Polanski has done a worse film than Pirates I certainly haven't seen it.

October 5, 2005 | Rating: 0/5

Audience Reviews for Pirates

Back before Johnny Depp revolutionised the pirate movie with his camp ways there were the odd rum fuelled flicks such as this. Roman Polanski doing what he does best which is creating lavish productions that tend to not be overly successful at first but gain cult status. The story is naturally a typically salty one involving Walter Matthau's 'Captain Red' and his young French sidekick trying to pinch a golden throne from some fancy pant Spaniards. At the same time there is of course a love interest for the young dashing French sailor, mutinies, plenty of galleon boarding from both sides and lots of skullduggery on land and at sea. I think this film is very similar to 'The Fearless Vampire Killers' in the fact that its actually kinda dull but looks beautiful. All the pirates, especially Matthau, look as they should do, covered in dirty rag-like attire, greasy facial hair, deep tans, golden teeth...every bit the stereotypical swashbuckling sea dog. I was quite intrigued with the wooden leg Matthau's Captain has, it really looks like he has a real wooden peg leg! and this is before CGI folks, impressed. On the flip side the Spanish look perfectly rich, aristocratic, pompous, snooty and dignified in their very impressive duds. The wigs sell the whole look if you ask me, really authentic looking. I was also very impressed with Matthau's cockney English accent. He genuinely does a sterling job with it and comes across not American that's for sure. At the same time Damien Thomas as the preening perfume smelling 'Don Alfonso' is by far the stand out performance. You can truly see the disgust and contempt in his face for the wretched pirate scum, I really enjoyed his peacock-like display of regal superiority. All the characters and extras look great and are accompanied by some luscious tropical locations and some nice olde worlde period ports (real locations). Did I mention the ship yet? no? well lemme tell you, it looks awesome. Fully realised to scale with a working motor so it can sail, completely detailed from top to bottom with everything you'd expect to see on a 17th Century Spanish vessel. Yep its all visually stunning with good performances but unfortunately that's about it. There is very little of interest going on plot wise, the film is way too long and there isn't that much swashbuckling going on surprisingly. This isn't a silly fantasy flick nor is it a historically accurate flick, but it does bring a more down to earth approach to the genre. There isn't much flamboyant heroics here ladies and gentlemen, more like backstabbing with every man for himself, more genuine. No way is it as bad as suggested and I'm not sure why it didn't do better at the cinema, its a solid romp. Think along the lines of Richard Lester's Three Musketeer movies but with less comedy.

Phil Hubbs
Phil Hubbs

Super Reviewer


Quirky, uneven comedy that coming from Polanski I expected a little bit more out of. Now I understand why it doesn't have a legitimite release on DVD.

A.D. Villarreal
A.D. Villarreal

Super Reviewer


An atypical and charming adventure. It's great to see an auteur like Polanski shaping his vision no matter what genre or tone he's in, but in this case he forgot to apply a little more carefree attitude. some parts are great but still most of the film lacks sparkle and rhythm. Walter Matthau is amazingly cool in his role of a greedy, filthy and wisecracking old pirate.

Pierluigi Puccini
Pierluigi Puccini

Super Reviewer

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