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6 ear-worming pirate movie soundtracks that define the word swashbuckling


Why is it that pirates get the best tunes? From the earliest days of Hollywood these salty seadogs have been lavished with some of the most grandiose, unforgettable soundtracks in the history of cinema.

With Johnny Depp back as Jack Sparrow in this week's Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge, we've rounded up five essential pirate scores that put the swash in buckle. Avast there!

The Sea Hawk (1940)

Composed by: Erich Wolfgang Korngold

This was the man who defined the tone of all movie pirate music. Korngold was an Austrian classic composer who arrived in Hollywood in the 1930s, immediately revolutionising the industry with his richly brassy, sweeping melodies and thunderous orchestral onslaught.

His arrival perfectly coincided with the rise of the pirate movie, the composer accentuating our heartbeats and emotions with his romantic, symphonic blend of memorable themes and interwoven ideas. And they didn't come better than his genre-defining masterwork on this Errol Flynn classic.

Yellowbeard (1983)

Composed by: John Morris

In between his Monty Python projects, the late Graham Chapman turned out this nautical oddity, a box office disaster that failed to recoop any kind of financial booty whatsoever. 

Chapman (also responsible for the screenplay) plays the eponymous pirate who embarks on a madcap quest for treasure in a movie whose humour sinks down to Davey Jones' locker. Nevertheless it did offer a prime opportunity for composer John Morris, a regular collaborator with Mel Brooks, to turn out a rollicking symphonic score in the finest Hollywood tradition.

Hook (1991)

Composed by: John Williams

It wouldn't be a soundtrack list without the maestro, would it? Steven Spielberg's lavishly appointed take on the Peter Pan legend continues to divide opinion but, apart from Dustin Hoffman's delicious performance as Captain Hook, it's Williams' score that generates the warmest responses.

Interweaving an extraordinary plethora of ideas (stemming from the days when the movie was first planned as a musical), Williams runs the gamut in his usual style, fully capturing the whimsical adventure of Robin Williams' Peter and the Lost Boys.

From the immortal brass rhythms of the main adventure to the soaring strings of Peter's theme, it's a masterpiece that's outlived the movie it was composed for.

Cutthroat Island (1995)

Composed by: John Debney

Greatest pirate score of them all? It's hard to argue with this rousing masterwork from Elf and Jungle Book composer Debney, one that encapsulates all that is wondrous and exciting about life on the high seas.

Debney unleashes the full force of the London Symphony Orchestra (plus choir) to catapult us through the misguided movie (a notorious box office disaster), with the tone of the brass section in particular linking back to celebrated predecessor, Korngold.

What a shame that the score was attached to such a disastrous movie: truly this is music that not only redeems the picture but also comes close to saving it altogether.

Muppet Treasure Island (1996)

Composed by: Hans Zimmer

Years before he embarked on the Pirates voyage, Zimmer put together an altogether more whimsical and hilarious seafaring score.

A mixture of old-fashioned orchestral power, rock and roll and the muscular tone of Crimson Tide, Zimmer's expert use of melody and propulsive action helps accentuate the humour of the Muppets' movie, whilst also adding a real dash of excitement.

Even so, it's the collaboration with the Muppets themselves that really grab the attention, works of lyrical genius that honour the legacy of pirate movies in cinema. Yo ho ho, indeed.

Pirates of the Caribbean (2003 – present)

Composed by: Hans Zimmer (and many others)

Forrest Gump and Avengers composer Alan Silvestri was originally set to score the first Pirates movie, until producer Jerry Bruckheimer made him walk the plank.

It then fell to Bruckheimer's old mucker Zimmer to redefine the tone of pirate movies for a new century. Working with an assortment of co-composers at his Remote Control studio (essentially a starting point for many aspiring film musicians), Zimmer's heavily processed, synthetically enhanced approach certainly had more in common with scores like The Rock than anything by Korngold.

It was a divisive move but there's no denying that the main Jack Sparrow theme is now one of the most recognisable movie pieces ever. Geoff Zanelli takes over from Zimmer for Salazar's Revenge, so to mark the occasion here's a piece from the new score.

Click here to book your tickets for Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge and let us know what your favourite pirate soundtrack is @Cineworld.