Pirates (1986 film)

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Pirates 1986.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roman Polanski
Produced by Tarak Ben Ammar
Written by Gérard Brach
John Brownjohn
Roman Polanski
Starring Walter Matthau
Cris Campion
Charlotte Lewis
Roger Ashton-Griffiths
Damien Thomas
Music by Philippe Sarde
Cinematography Witold Sobocinski
Editing by Hervé de Luze
Studio Cathargo Films
Distributed by Cannon Film Distributing (US)
Release dates
  • 8 May 1986 (1986-05-08) (Cannes)
  • 18 July 1986 (1986-07-18) (United States)
Running time 112 minutes[1]
Country France
Language English
Budget $40 million[2]
Box office $1,641,825 (US)[2]
$6,341,825 (Worldwide)[3]

Pirates is a 1986 Franco-Tunisian adventure comedy film written by Gérard Brach, John Brownjohn, and Roman Polanski and directed by Polanski. It was screened out of competition at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival.[4]


The film begins with Captain Thomas Bartholomew Red stranded aboard a raft at sea with his first mate, Frog, both of whom are presumably close to death from dehydration. After Red, cracking under the starvation, tries to kill and eat Frog, the duo is picked up by a Spanish Galleon and are forced into slavery before instigating a ship-wide mutiny with the other prisoners and taking control of the vessel. Frog falls in love with María-Dolores de la Jenya de la Calde, the niece of the governor of a Spanish colony. Red covets the golden throne that the Spanish have taken from an Aztec king. Large amounts of explosions and gunfights occur as they recruit a crew of cutthroats to win over the gold (with Frog trying to romance the girl as well) throughout the remainder of the film. Ironically, the film ends in a Pyrrhic victory for the heroes, with Captain Red and Frog again stranded on a raft, Red sitting on the golden throne urging Frog to eat and "fatten up" (hinting at a possible relapse in his cannibalistic urges).



Riding on the success of the highly-acclaimed Chinatown, Roman Polanski began to write a screenplay for a swashbuckling adventure film called Pirates. Originally, Polanski intended for Jack Nicholson to play the central role of Captain Thomas Bartholomew Red, a grizzled old pirate, but complications arose partially due to the enormous fees Nicholson was demanding (according to Polanski, when Nicholson was asked what exactly he wanted, he replied, "I want more.") Following this, the production was delayed for a number of years when Polanski was arrested in California on a charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, after which he fled the United States to avoid sentencing. Production restarted later in Paris, this time with a different production company, Cathargo Films, and a new producer, Tarak Ben Ammar. The role of Captain Red went to Walter Matthau and the film finally came out in 1986, 12 years after it was first conceived.

A full scale galleon was built for the film in a shipyard in the port of Port El Kantaoui situated at the city of Sousse, Tunisia, adjacent to the Tarak Ben Ammar Studios, which had been constructed exclusively for this production. An accurate replica above the waterline, but sporting a steel hull and a 400 HP auxiliary engine, the "Neptune" was and still is entered into the Tunisian naval register and is currently a tourist attraction in the port of Genoa, where its interior can be visited for a 5 euro entry fee.[5]

Release and reception[edit]

The film's original estimated budget, while Polanski was aligned with Paramount on the picture, was $15 million, but the final budget is estimated to have cost US$40 million. The reported gross box office revenues in the United States was $1.64 million[2] and $6.3 million worldwide.[3] Despite the film's financial disasters, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.

Accusations against Roman Polanski[edit]

On May 14, 2010, actress Charlotte Lewis and her attorney Gloria Allred accused director Roman Polanski of predatory sexual conduct against her when she was 16 years old, claiming that Polanski insisted that she sleep with him in return for casting her in Pirates. However, this accusation contradicts earlier accounts she had given of her relationship with Polanski.[6][7]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]