Walk the Plank With Sci-Fi and Fantasy’s 10 Best Pirates

Posted: May 21, 2011 in information, internet, news

Walk the Plank With Sci-Fi and Fantasy’s 10 Best Pirates

Pirates of the Caribbean

Johnny Depp’s hilarious Captain Jack Sparrow sits atop Wired.com’s treasure chest of weird and wonderful pirates ripped from the realms of sci-fi, fantasy and the internet.

Thanks to the irrepressible actor’s Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, the fourth edition of which washes up Friday On Stranger Tides, pirates — which mocking head Stephen Colbert recently labeled “sea terrorists” — are seriously back in pop-culture style.

It’s an ironic convergence. Our era’s increasing militarism and conformity seems decidedly at odds with the criminality and terrorism of stateless pirates thumbing their noses at dominant social and political orders. Whether it’s the U.S. Navy crowdsourcing gamers to stem the tide of real pirates or the paranoid trials of download titans like The Pirate Bay, the global village seems to have no room for rebellion.

But the inverse has been true when it comes to the world of culture and entertainment, which evidently hates normalcy and propriety with a delicious fervor. Sail through our rogue’s gallery of worthy sea and space pirates, and list your favorite buccaneers in the comments below. Are you a fan of The Pirates of Dark WaterFLCL‘s Atomsk, Makoto Kano’s Metroid or Aardman Animation’s forthcoming 3-D stop-motion feature The Pirates! Band of Misfits? Drop anchor below, you scurvy internet swine!


Pirates of the Caribbean

Based on Disneyland’s world-beating ride featuring animatronic pirates killing, fighting, raping and pillaging high society blind, this lucrative fantasy film franchise is galvanized by Johnny Depp’s infinitely wobbly yet magnetic presence. With the first three films’ snoozy love story out of the way, On Stranger Tides is free to roam phantasmagoric seas swollen with zombie quartermasters and vampire mermaids. Unless, of course, another lame love story gets in the way.

Doctor Who

Doctor Who

Earth’s longest-running science-fiction series is pockmarked with gleeful pirate excursions. From “The Space Pirates” to “The Pirate Planet” to the recently aired genius of “The Curse of the Black Spot,”Doctor Who has raised the Jolly Roger for interstellar pirates often.

One Piece

One Piece

The best-selling manga series in history, One Piece has spawned nearly 500 episodes of anime brilliance, 10 feature films, five television specials, several videogames and more merchandising than you can shake a foul-mouthed parrot at.

Chronicling the journeys of 17-year-old captain Monkey D. Luffy and his hardy Straw Hat Pirates, who scour the vast seas in search of an ultimate treasure that will make them pirate kings, One Piece is stuffed with supernatural fruits, transponder snails, madcap hilarity and bottomless imagination. From a global perspective, probably only Pirates of the Caribbean possesses more cultural capital.

treasure planet

Treasure Planet

One of Disney’s few animated features that doesn’t involve precocious princesses, Ron Clements and John Musker’s ambitious Treasure Planet merged Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure Treasure Island with black holes, abandoned robots and other sci-fi tropes, with mixed but rewarding results. The 2002 movie has aged well, especially now that its star Joseph Gordon-Levitt has become a geek standout. It also wins bonus points for being the last film of The Prisoner‘s sci-fi and spy-fi visionaryPatrick McGoohan.

time bandits

Time Bandits

Terry Gilliam’s legendarily strange 1981 fantasy followed an onerous gang of pint-size pirates plundering across space and time, in hopes of booty-jacking none other than Evil himself. On the run from a Supreme Being that once tasked them with repairing holes in the space-time fabric, the larcenous dwarves of Gilliam’s Time Bandits and their young stowaway Kevin encounter everyone from Agamemnon to Napoleon to Robin Hood. Believe it or not, a kid-friendly Time Bandits reboot might be on the way. In other news, hell could freeze over any minute.

harry mudd star trek

Star Trek

When it comes to sci-fi television, Doctor Who‘s toughest competition comes from Star Trek‘s space pirates. The smartest? None other than Mr. Spock in “Mirror, Mirror,” a parallel-universe dystopia from the original series. But the most endearing pirate is probably the hapless Harry Mudd, whose police record is viewable above. From smuggling and counterfeiting to drugs and alien trafficking, Mudd’s done whatever it takes to escape his nagging wife — and swindle anyone within reach.

pirate bay

The Pirate Bay

Let this sink in for a minute: The world’s most notorious living pirates are a bunch of scruffy, copyfighting coders holing up in Sweden and running what they call “the world’s most resilient bittorrent site,” gleefully known as The Pirate Bay. Despite buckets of ducats spent on lawsuits, and doom-mongering from an entertainment industry late (once again) to the wisdom of digital distribution, The Pirate Bay is still standing and has even spawned the Pirate Party, which has become Sweden’s third-largest by membership. Now, that’s some high arrr-ony!

dread pirate roberts from The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride‘s Dread Pirate Roberts

Romance and pirates go together like chocolate and peanut butter, but rarely as smoothly as in Rob Reiner’s comedic fantasy film The Princess Bride. Based on the metafictional novel of the same name by William Goldman, The Princess Bride‘s scene-stealer was Cary Elwes, whose swashbuckling, wisecracking Dread Pirate Roberts quickly melted the hearts of teen mallrats everywhere. Elwes channeled Errol Flynn as brilliantly as Johnny Depp channels Keith Richards in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, propelling The Princess Bride to the top of the fantasy rom-com heap.

tales of the black freighter

Tales of the Black Freighter

Watchmen‘s comic-within-a-comic “Tales of the Black Freighter” is a disturbing, hideously violent counterpoint to Alan Moore‘s superhero masterwork. With “Black Freighter,” the legendary writer merged one of the greatest pirate comics ever written into Watchmen, the epic tale that showed off Moore’s love of pulpy EC ComicsThe Threepenny Opera, metafiction and madness. Even the inevitable animated spinoff of “Black Freighter” is a horrific fever dream.

daring dragoon from Jack of All Trades

Jack of All Trades

This may feel like a cheat, but any chance to mention Bruce Campbell is a chance worth taking. Years after the cult legend’s brilliant turn as sci-fi cowboy Brisco County Jr. was prematurely cut short, Campbell starred in the slapstick Jack of All Trades as a 19th-century agent who moonlights as the swashbuckling Daring Dragoon. Given full license to spout horny innuendo and corny fight barbs, and generally lampoon everything on Earth, Campbell fenced, fought and clowned his way through a silly TV series that serves as an enduring guilty pleasure. Just like Pirates of the Caribbean.


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