The Pirate Movie

The Pirate Movie is a 1982 Australian musical romantic comedy film directed by Ken Annakin and starring Christopher Atkins and Kristy McNichol. Loosely based on Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Pirates of Penzance, the original music score is composed by Mike Brady and Peter Sullivan (no relation to Pirates of Penzance composer Arthur Sullivan).

The Pirate Movie
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKen Annakin
Produced byDavid Joseph
Written byTrevor Farrant
Based onThe Pirates of Penzance
by W. S. Gilbert
and Arthur Sullivan
Music by
CinematographyRobin Copping
Edited byKenneth W. Zemke
Joseph Hamilton International Productions
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • 6 August 1982 (1982-08-06)
Running time
104 minutes[1]
BudgetA$6 million[2]
(US $5.9 million)[3]
Box officeUS$9 million

The film performed far below expectations when first released and is generally reviewed very poorly,[4][5] while much of the public found it entertaining.[6]


Mabel Stanley (Kristy McNichol) is an introverted and bookish teenage girl from the United States in a seaside community in Australia as an exchange student. She attends a local pirate festival featuring a swordplay demonstration led by a young curly-haired instructor and fellow American (Christopher Atkins), who then invites her for a ride on his boat. She is duped by her exchange family sisters, Edith (Kate Ferguson), Kate (Rhonda Burchmore), and Isabel (Catherine Lynch), into missing the launch, so she rents a small sailboat to give chase. A sudden storm throws her overboard, and she washes up on a beach.

She subsequently dreams an adventure that takes place a century before. In this fantasy sequence, the swordplay instructor is now named Frederic, a young apprentice of the Pirates of Penzance, celebrating his 21st birthday on a pirate vessel. Frederic refuses an invitation from the Pirate King (Ted Hamilton), his adoptive father, to become a full pirate, as his birth parents were murdered by their contemporaries. Frederic swears to avenge their deaths and is forced off of the ship on a small boat.

Adrift, Frederic spies Mabel and her older sisters on a nearby island and swims to shore to greet them. In a reversal of roles, Mabel is a confident, assertive, and courageous young woman, while her sisters are prim, proper and conservative. Frederic quickly falls for Mabel and proposes marriage, but local custom requires the elder sisters to marry first.

Soon, Frederic's old mates come ashore, also looking for women and kidnap Mabel's sisters. Major-General Stanley (Bill Kerr), Mabel's father, arrives and convinces the Pirate King to free his daughters and leave in peace. The pirates anchor their ship just outside the harbour instead of actually leaving. Mabel wants Frederic to gain favour with her father so they can marry, so she plots to recover the family treasure stolen years earlier by the pirates. Unfortunately, the treasure was lost at sea, but the location where it lies was tattooed as a map on the Pirate King's back. Mabel successfully tricks the Pirate King into revealing his tattoo while Frederic sketches a copy.

The next day, Mabel and Frederic recover the stolen treasure and present it to her father. The Major-General is underwhelmed as he believes the treasure will simply be stolen again once the pirates realise it is missing. Mabel dispatches Frederic to raise an army for protection, but the Pirate King interferes. The ship nurse, Ruth, convinces them to stop fighting, reminding the Pirate King of Frederic's apprenticeship contract. Frederic's birthday is 29 February, and he is dismayed to see that the contract specifies his twenty-first birthday, rather than his twenty-first year. As his birthday occurs every four years, Frederic has celebrated only five birthdays and is still bound by contract to remain with the pirates.

That night, the pirates raid the Stanley estate, and the Pirate King orders their execution. Mabel demands a "happy ending" – admitting for the first time that she believes this all to be a dream. Everyone — even the pirates — cheers their approval, leaving the Pirate King disappointed and shocked. Mabel then confronts her father, but the Major-General is steadfast that the marriage custom remains in effect. Mabel quickly pairs each of her older sisters with a pirate, and she also pairs the Pirate King to Ruth. With Mabel and Frederic now free to marry, the fantasy sequence ends in song and dance.

Mabel awakens back on the beach to discover that she is wearing the wedding ring that Frederic had given her in her dream. At that moment, the handsome swordplay instructor arrives and lifts her to her feet. He passionately kisses Mabel, who is still shaken by her dream. She asks if his name is Frederic. He assures her that he isn't who she imagines him to be, but then carries her off to marry her, thus giving Mabel her happy ending in reality as well.




The film was the idea of actor Ted Hamilton, who became executive producer. Richard Franklin was first announced as director but then Ken Annakin got the job,[7] and was rushed into production when Joseph Papp announced that he was going to produce a film version of his Broadway production of The Pirates of Penzance.


Principal photography was shot at the Polly Woodside at South Melbourne wharf, the Farm and Mansion at Werribee Park and Loch Ard on the Great Ocean Road Port Campbell from November 1981 to January 1982.

Secondary locations included various parts of Sydney, namely McDonald's Cremorne (in the beginning sequences, after Fred invites Mabel and her friends on the boat), Rush Cutters Bay Marina (where Mabel obtains a small sailboat), and Palm Beach for some of the beach scenes.

Soundtrack album

The Pirate Movie: The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedAugust 1982
GenrePop rock
LabelPolydor Records
ProducerPeter Sullivan, Roger Savage, Terry Britten a.o.
Singles from The Pirate Movie
  1. "How Can I Live Without Her"
    Released: 1982
  2. "Happy Ending"
    Released: 1982
  3. "First Love"
    Released: 1982

The Pirate Movie soundtrack album was released by Polydor Records in August 1982 on vinyl and cassette. The album reached number 166 on the American Billboard 200,[8] while the single "How Can I Live Without Her" peaked at number 71 on the Billboard Hot 100.[9]

Track listing
A1 – "Victory" – The Pirates (2:37)
A2 – "First Love" – Kristy McNichol and Christopher Atkins (4:13)
A3 – "How Can I Live Without Her" – Christopher Atkins (3:08)
A4 – "Hold On" – Kristy McNichol (3:14)
A5 – "We Are the Pirates" – Ian Mason (3:36)
B1 – "Pumpin' and Blowin'" – Kristy McNichol (3:05)
B2 – "Stand Up and Sing" – Kool & the Gang (4:32) (from Something Special)
B3 – "Happy Ending" – The Peter Cupples Band (4:58)
B4 – "The Chase" – Peter Sullivan and The Orchestra (1:33)
B5 – "I Am a Pirate King" – Ted Hamilton and The Pirates (2:03)
C1 – "Happy Ending" – The Cast of The Pirate Movie (4:18)
C2 – "The Chinese Battle" – Peter Sullivan and The Orchestra (2:36)
C3 – "The Modern Major General's Song" – Bill Kerr and The Cast of The Pirate Movie (2:00)
C4 – "We Are the Pirates" – The Pirates (2:18)
C5 – "Medley" – Peter Sullivan and The Orchestra (4:03)
D1 – "Tarantara" – Gary McDonald and The Policemen (1:53)
D2 – "The Duel" – Peter Sullivan and The Orchestra (4:04)
D3 – "The Sisters' Song" – The Sisters (2:42)
D4 – "Pirates, Police and Pizza" – Peter Sullivan and The Orchestra (3:32)
D5 – "Come Friends Who Plough the Sea" – Ted Hamilton and The Pirates (2:00)


The Pirate Movie was made soon after the 1980 New York City Central Park and 1981 Broadway theatre production of The Pirates of Penzance produced by Joseph Papp, which re-popularized swashbuckling pirates as a theatrical genre.

Box office

The film earned A$1,013,000 at the Australian box office.[10] In the United States, the film grossed $7,983,086.[11]

Critical reception

The film holds a 9% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 11 reviews. The Irish Times review called The Pirate Movie a "travesty" of the Gilbert and Sullivan original and said "with a philosophy of shove everything in regardless, it's nothing more than a waste of Miss McNichol's abilities, the audience's time and the incentives offered to make films in Australia."[12] Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide rated the film as a BOMB and stated: "Not only trashes the original, but also fails on its own paltry terms. It should have been called The Rip-off Movie".[13]TV Guide stated "Pop tunes are mixed in with some of the original G&S songs in a pirate period setting that grates on the nerves, as does the inane toilet humor that substitutes for wit. All the performers, especially McNichol, look as if they can't wait until the film is over, and one can hardly blame them."[14] In contrast, the audience was much more forgiving, giving it a 76% audience rating.[15] Michael and Harry Medved's book Son of Golden Turkey Awards includes The Pirate Movie's "First Love" on its list of "Worst Rock 'N Roll Lyrics in a Movie".[16]

Australian film critic Michael Adams later included The Pirate Movie on his list of the worst ever Australian films, along with Phantom Gold, The Glenrowan Affair, Houseboat Horror, Welcome to Woop Woop, Les Patterson Saves the World and Pandemonium.[17]


Award Category Subject Result
AACTA Awards
(24th Australian Film Institute Awards)
Best Supporting Actor Garry McDonald Nominated
Best Costume Design Aphrodite Kondos Nominated
Razzie Award Worst Actor Christopher Atkins Nominated
Worst Actress Kristy McNichol Nominated
Worst Supporting Actor Ted Hamilton Nominated
Worst Original Song ("Pumpin' and Blowin'") Terry Britten, B.A. Robertson, and Sue Shifrin Won
Worst Original Song ("Happy Endings") Nominated
Worst Musical Score Kit Hain Won
Worst Screenplay Trevor Farrant Nominated
Worst Director Ken Annakin Won
Worst Picture David Joseph Nominated
Stinkers Bad Movie Award Worst Picture[18] Nominated

The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.[13]


  1. "THE PIRATE MOVIE (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 8 June 1982. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  2. Scott Murray, "The Pirate Movie", Australian Film 1978–1992, Oxford Uni Press, 1993 p107
  3. "Currency converter in the past with official exchange rates from 1953". FXTOP. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  4. "The Pirate Movie (1982)". IGN Entertainment, a unit of Fox Interactive Media, Inc. Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  5. "Weekend Box Office Results for August 6–8, 1982 – Box Office Mojo"., Inc. Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  6. "The Pirate Movie (1982)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  7. David Stratton, The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry, Pan MacMillan, 1990 p194-195
  8. "The Top 200 Albums". Billboard. Retrieved 22 September 2019.
  9. "Christopher Atkins". Billboard. Retrieved 22 September 2019.
  10. "Australian Films at the Australian Box Office", Film Victoria accessed 24 October 2012
  11. The Pirate Movie at Box Office Mojo Retrieved 9 April 2014
  12. Ray Comiskey, "Some Christmas Drear", The Irish Times, 20 December 1982, (p. 10)
  13. Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69334-0.
  14. The Pirate Movie TV Guide. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  15. The Pirate Movie at Rotten Tomatoes Retrieved 9 April 2014
  16. Medved, Harry and Michael. Son of Golden Turkey Awards, 1986, Villard Books. ISBN 0-207-15380-9. (pp. 185-6)
  17. Michael Adams, Showgirls, Teen Wolves, and Astro Zombies : a film critic's year-long quest to find the worst movie ever made.New York : Itbooks, 2010. ISBN 978-0-06-180629-2 (p.144)
  18. "1982 5th Hastings Bad Cinema Society Stinkers Awards". Stinkers Bad Movie Awards. Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 17 October 2006. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
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