One of the more understandable joys of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is that it does in fact feel like a bigger, better version of the ride. The audience is plunged into a world where death doesn’t really exist in any tangible way, treasure and rum are available along with (and often in lieu of) glory, squid monsters and ghosts call for your blood, and you get to stick it to those shithead trading companies. Sure, Gore Verbinski and his creative team can throw in a romance plot for the unknown masses that demand it, but the hook of the movies is in the crafting and deploying of elaborate yet basic thrills via a litany of technological wizardry. There are people out there who will and often do defend the movie in other, more serious terms of dramatic substance and rebellious spirits. A select few of them have driving permits.
Pirates of the Caribbean occasionally makes allusions to the darker side of the life of pirating but every time it looks like Jack Sparrow has truly dicked somebody (or some thing) over, it’s revealed that he was playing the long con or that some celestial being has conspired for him to pay his moral debt in some all-important way. This tactic makes for plenty of good vibes and the veneer of a “darker tone” but the movies themselves suffer from tonal imbalance, a tonnage of backstory, and explanatory dialogue. They also require patience for Johnny Depp’s faux-drunk chicanery that evaporated from my being around the time the first Arcade Fire record came out.
There are, however, a number of great movies that look squarely at the moral tug of being a career criminal on the high seas without tipping over to unmerciful cutesy horseshit. Much like cowboys, the legacy of pirates is still primarily romanticized myths, ones that often evade confronting the amount of rape, murder, and cruelty that went into the trade. This isn’t to say that Michael Haneke or Gaspar Noe need to make pirate movies – if they do, I’m there regardless – but there are plenty of ways to bring the brutal business of being a pirate and the not-so-ignorable elements of society that can produce such thrill-seekers that don’t also involve a Kraken. Here are six pirate movies that should satisfy the skeptics as much as the would-be swashbucklers.