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Summer of 1982: “The Pirate Movie” — Ultimate Movie Year

Kristy McNichol holds a shirtless Christopher Atkins from behind in a still from The Pirate Movie
Kristy McNichol and Christopher Atkins make love, merry, and adventure in the 1982 comedy “The Pirate Movie.” (MovieStillsDB.com)

Would I have to pirate “The Pirate Movie?”

“The Pirate Movie”
Directed by Ken Annakin
Released August 6, 1982
Where to Watch

The movie summer of 1982 is well known for many massive hits and classic favorites like “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Rocky III,” “Blade Runner,” and so on, all of which have been subjected to endless releases with physical media and digital streaming to make them widely available. But what happens to the movies that are none of those things?

That’s what happened with “The Pirate Movie,” a genre mashup of adventure, romance, music, and comedy that is, quite frankly, not good. Even still, the quality of a movie isn’t an arbitrator for accessibility: There are plenty of bad movies available to buy and watch either through physical media or a digital platform. There are also notable good movies that haven’t received an upgraded physical release in years or are available to stream. What happens to films when they don’t break through the modern digital barricade?

I’ve faced this problem a few times, tracking down some of the lesser known titles of the Summer of 1982, but “The Pirate Movie” posed a new problem: This was a movie that doesn’t even have an entry on my go-to streamer encyclopedia, Watch. You can’t buy or rent it via the usual digital movie stores, and nobody’s streaming it. The last physical media release of the movie was a 2005 DVD, with no blu-ray or 4K plans for the future. “The Pirate Movie” is pretty much inaccessible by our modern standards of legal availability. Am I going to have to pirate “The Pirate Movie?”

Fortunately, a random YouTube user has saved me again by uploading the entire feature to their channel. It’s hard to see this as any definitive solution to saving cultural pieces from oblivion. Any copyright holder, including 20th Century Fox and YouTube itself, could have this upload taken down any time they want. I’m not sure how invested the Powers-That-Be would be in a 40-year-old movie that is not great, profitable, or popular to keep on the radar, but that is the world in which we live.

Let’s talk about the movie, though. A young nerdy girl named Mabel (Kristy McNichol) quickly grows a crush on a pirate community actor (Christopher Atkins), who invites her on a boating excursion. However, Mabel’s mean sisters make her miss the boat. Mabel rides out on the water on her own to catch up, but she goes overboard after a storm. While lying unconscious on the shore, Mabel dreams up her reality, where she is a confident woman of the 19th century, and her crush is a young pirate in need of her help.

The entire movie is a confirmed dream is not a good sign.

The near-feature-length dream sequence is loosely based on the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, “The Pirates of Penzance.” That tale has Mabel waiting for her true love Frederick who, having been born on Leap Day, must serve out the rest of his pirate apprenticeship until he reaches the physical age of 84 instead of the customary freedom he would have received when he turned 21. Sadly, the movie falls into that post “Airplane!” pattern of filling the story with absurdist humor with topical bits (“Star Wars” is just one of the modern references). But unlike the recent “Young Doctors in Love,” there aren’t that many jokes, and the vast majority fall flat.

Combine that with blandly-executed action-adventure sequences, unmemorable music, and Frederick’s irritating naive personality where one wonders if he occasionally forgets to breathe, and you can see how “The Pirate Movie” can be a slog. While watching the film, I wondered if this was a film designed for children, if not for the random sexual references that lean toward curious adolescents. Still, I can’t imagine teens wanting any part of this.

For what it’s worth, “The Pirate Movie” isn’t offensively horrible (like early summer movies “Partners” and “Paradise”) and occasionally hits full tilt on the goofball meter that it wraps around to becoming slightly charming, but this is not a film anybody should go out of their way to see. It’s the cinematic equivalent of an annoying neighbor constantly nudging you in the ribs, followed with, “Eh? Eh? Eh?!”

“They weren’t fooling when they named this “The Pirate Movie,” since it’s the show-business equivalent of buccaneer tactics that landed this version of “The Pirates of Penzance” into neighborhood theaters several months ahead of the other version, the one based on the Broadway production,” wrote Janet Maslin for The New York Times, referencing the 1983 adaptation. “The current film is bound to be the lesser of the two even if the second one isn’t so hot.”

“The Pirate Movie” launched and quickly sank at the box office, earning $2.5 million during its debut weekend and quickly being cast away from theaters with a $7.9 million domestic total. It did find a cult audience through video rentals and cable airings, but even this group of fans never grew big enough to give “The Pirate Movie” a notable second life. It falls precisely in the “bad movie” type where it’s not entertaining enough to warrant midnight crowd screenings or offensive to the point where it draws more notoriety. It’s just forgettably bad.

I’m not sure what the market is to keep “The Pirate Movie” in general circulation, whether it’s for a streaming platform or a physical release. Perhaps it’s not worth it, but it indicates how quickly our entertainment experience has changed. We may have gained the ease of access to many of our favorite films, but many more have vanished in the digital ether, unlikely to be seen unless you find a digital rip, out-of-print DVD or VHS tape, or an original print. And in an increasingly competitive, profit-driven entertainment industry, I’ll bet that flicks much more popular than “The Pirate Movie” will fall into the same ether.

At the Box Office: It’s another dominant week for “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” the Steven Spielberg family fantasy film that earned another $9.5 million to win the weekend at the box office. “E.T.” had grossed a total of $186.7 million in its nine weeks in theaters.

“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” remains a solid performer in its third Week, earning nearly $6.3 million to take second place for the weekend. In third place was the other new film of the Week, “Things are Tough All Over,” a movie I knew little about and discovered way too late that it’s a Cheech-and-Chong comedy, which on paper sounds way more interesting to watch and write about than “The Pirate Movie.” As it is, “Things are Tough Are Over” debuted with $5.9 million.

“An Officer and a Gentleman” secured fourth place in its second weekend, earning $3.3 million in a limited release of only 346 theaters. The drama scored the best per-screen average of the weekend by a wide margin and seems well positioned to go on a strong run when it eventually expands nationwide.

Sneaking in at fifth place was “The Pirate Movie,” earning $2.5 million on the weekend with 757 screens.

Next Week: “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Friday the 13th Part III”

Originally published at https://www.ultimatemovieyear.com on August 5, 2022.

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FilmCut is where film critics come together to share their thoughts on the film from the 50s to the modern day. You’ll find post ranging from Netflix to AMC block busters, stay tune and make sure to follow!

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