These lists are about us recommending movies to see because you saw the new releases they’re tied to. It’s not supposed to be an “if you like that, then you’ll like this” sort of thing. But this week a lot of the recommendations are indeed for people to see because they like the new release in question. None of them are essential masterpieces, and none of them are certainly considered classics. But if you enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, then you should enjoy these eight picks and appreciate them for what guilty pleasure or, in a few cases, genuine storytelling craft they have to offer.
King Neptune (1932)
While not Walt Disney’s first film to involve pirates — that’d be the lost 1927 “Alice Comedy” installment Alice Foils the Pirates — this 30th entry in the Silly Symphony series (the second produced in Technicolor) seems to be the oldest surviving piece in a long tradition continuing through the POTC franchise.
With a running time of only seven minutes, the animated short is about the titular god of the sea rescuing a kidnapped mermaid from pirates with help from various oceanic creatures.
There are no mermaids in Dead Men Tell No Tales, unlike the last POTC installment, but the treasure being sought this time around is the trident of Poseidon, aka Neptune. While you watch the film, you’ll mostly notice connections to Disney’s The Little Mermaid (though here the sea nymphs are controversially topless), but you could also view it with the idea that it’s a Dead Men Tell No Tales prequel. Where did Neptune go that he should leave his iconic three-pronged spear behind? Who knows, but maybe in a sequel he can show up and attack Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and the Black Pearl for destroying it.
The Pirate Movie (1982)
It was easy for a young child of the ’80s to mix up The Pirate Movie and the 1983 film adaptation of “The Pirates of Penzance” or at least to be introduced to the latter’s Gilbert and Sullivan source material through the former, Razzie-nominated comedy.
Like many a cheesy musical of the time (if you enjoy Xanadu and Grease 2, you should like this), its songs are quite catchy and there’s enough charm to carry you through the bad dialogue and acting. Mostly for The Pirate Movie, it has the benefit of starring the very likable Kristy McNichol in the lead as a modern girl who dreams she’s back in a goofily romanticized time of pirates and model major-generals.
McNichol’s Mabel admits to being a feminist, and if there’s one thing to truly praise about The Pirate Movie is its heightening of the agency of Gilbert and Sullivan’s already strong female lead. Kaya Scodelario’s Carina in Dead Men Tell No Tales is likewise the smartest and most confident person on screen — as Mabel says, “the body is an eight, the brain is a ten” — and is ultimately the best part of the movie.
Opposite her, though, Brenton Thwaites is an even duller pretty boy than Christopher Atkins. Meanwhile, the POTC movies are close to being so corny, minus such awful direct allusions as The Pirate Movie‘s nods to Star Wars and The Pink Panther, and they could really use some terrifically bad musical numbers like “We Are the Pirates.”
Cabin Boy (1994)
If The Pirate Movie isn’t silly enough, nothing tops the immature buffoonery of Chris Elliott. Tim Burton, who has been considered to direct a POTC installment, produced the comedy and was set to helm the thing before Ed Wood came along. Had he directed, it might have been more like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, though it’s hard to imagine it any less frivolous.
Elliott stars as an imbecilic “fancy lad” who mistakenly joins the grimy motley crew of a fishing boat called The Filthy Whore. They encounter crude and ridiculous homages to Melies and Harryhausen, and David Letterman shows up for an indulgent cameo. As nonsensical as Cabin Boy is, though, it’s got nothing on the contrived rubbish found in Dead Men Tell No Tales. At least Cabin Boy means to be stupid. Its main adversary is a gigantic man in a business suit (Mike Starr). And it’s crass for the sake of character more than cheap jokes.
Like the new POTC movie, it too has an intelligent female character who boards the ship and stands out among the idiot men. Plus there’s a ship’s figurehead that comes to life and a Bermuda’s Triangle-like place — in Cabin Boy it’s called Hell’s Bucket and in Dead Men Tell No Tales it’s Devil’s Triangle.
Time Piece (2007)
I couldn’t tell you why it was important for Scodelario’s character in Dead Men Tell No Tales to be a horologist other than to provide for a bad running joke about the word “horologist” being mistaken for “whore.” Does enough of the movie’s audience know much better what horology is than the idiot pirates to make the wordplay effective anyway? It’s not a common term nor a common area of study or expertise these days. So let’s turn stupid comedy into a reason to learn something.
My best recommendation for an interesting lesson in horology is actually the podcast S-Town, which involves an eccentric clock repairman who talks informatively of his interest in time and his skill in fixing timepieces. As for film documentaries, this 10-minute short by Kat Mansoor (not to be confused with Jim Henson’s Oscar-nominated film of the same name, though that’s recommended, too) showcases a dying profession by profiling two artisan watchmakers in Switzerland. Watch it below.
Fast Five (2011)
The sequel that got everyone back (or finally) on board with the Fast and the Furious franchise in a big way, this extreme heist film introduces Dwayne Johnson to the series as DSS Agent Hobbs.
He was henceforth known as “franchise Viagra,” but he wasn’t the only reason, maybe not even the primary reason, the fifth installment was such a big hit, or the first one to be positively received by critics. There’s also the emphasis on and embrace of implausibly cartoonish action, which climaxes with Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew towing a large vault through the streets of Rio.
Dead Men Tell No Tales, which is also part five of a film series where adversaries regularly become allies in subsequent installments, begins with an action sequence seemingly inspired by the vault bit in Fast Five. Of course, it does go much bigger, as Captain Sparrow’s pirate crew pulls not just a large safe through the streets of St. Martin but also the bank building that housed it. And with Sparrow comedically riding atop the whole thing for part of the way. It’s the best sequence of the movie, which is too bad since that means it peaks early. The one thing Dead Men Tell No Tales didn’t learn from Fast Five is how to finish bigger than you start.
Typically I pass over this movie and recommend the original, Oscar-winning 1950 documentary instead. But the remake, which was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, was made by Dead Men Tell No Tales co-directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg. Their past work, including Kon-Tiki and Bandidas (which co-stars Penelope Cruz, a former POTC love interest, and wife of current POTC villain actor Javier Bardem), is great, under-seen and/or underrated stuff. It’s their previous movie, though, that clearly got them their latest job.
For those who don’t know the story of Kon-Tiki, it’s pretty wild. Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl sought to demonstrate how ancient people traveled by raft from South America to settle in Polynesia. He did so by building a raft like they’d have built and sailing the distance from Peru to the Tuomotu Islands in the South Pacific. He also filmed the whole trek himself, meaning he pretty much won an Oscar for adventuring (however, technically only producer Olle Nordemar is credited with the win).
The doc is a pretty thrilling film on its own with its sea excursion and showcase of oceanic life, including sharks. Rønning and Sandberg replicate it all more as entertainment with those sharks now CG special effects — which it should be noted are much more impressive and intense than the ghost sharks of Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Dark Shadows (2012)
If you enjoy Johnny Depp in Dead Men Tell No Tales, you’ll enjoy him in anything, including recent vehicles like Mortdecai (another movie where the female lead is smarter than the male), The Lone Ranger, and his most recent work under the direction of Tim Burton, Dark Shadows.
Depp plays 18th century vampire Barnabas Collins now residing in the 1970s and attempting to return his old estate and his current ancestors to their proper social prestige. Based on the old TV soap opera, it’s the kind of movie that’s not bad but also never proves itself necessary. Except maybe for the campy vamp performance by Eva Green as the villain.
The interesting thing about Green’s adversary in Dark Shadows, other than the fact that it’s delightful, is it caused a major change in the plotting of Dead Men Tell No Tales. According to regular POTC franchise co-writer Terry Rossio in a personal blog post, “My version of Dead Men Tell No Tales was set aside because it featured a female villain, and Johnny Depp was worried that would be redundant to Dark Shadows, which also featured a female villain…Sometimes it just takes a single decision by a single person, often just a whim, to destroy years of story creation and world-building.”
Apparently having constant male villains in the POTC series and movies in general isn’t redundant, though.
No need for Disney to do a live-action remake of its most recent animated feature, because Dead Men Tell No Tales is close enough. Well, not really, but both Moana and the latest POTC sequel involve young women in possession of a precious gem that needs to be returned to its special spot, and she travels the seas to do so while also seeking a mythical character’s magic staff. Both movies also have a pompous companion aboard the ship she’s on, as well as pirates, ghosts, parting seas, and a fight against an adversary at the bottom of the ocean. The biggest difference might be that the girl in Dead Men Tell No Tales has a love interest.
There’s also the unfortunate matter of the new POTC movie likely being a bigger hit. And a more recognized one. Moana actually wound up grossing almost $250M in the US and $642M worldwide, which isn’t Frozen or Zootopia money but is slightly better than how the last POTC installment did domestically. Its success has mostly gone ignored because it had a slower, steadier, stealthier gross.
Disney should be more focused on wholesome, empowering, enchanting, and riveting stuff like Moana, though, than the sexist, convoluted, and crowded mess that Dead Men Tell No Tales is, whether live-action or animation.
Because I’m coming full circle on this list with the sea-set Disney animated films, I also suggest checking out the list of movies to watch after you see Moana, which includes the King Neptune-influenced The Little Mermaid and the original Kon-Tiki.