There’s few things more dashing than a pirate, or some version thereof that combines a roguish charm with dazzling wit and some combat skills into a package that’s been labelled by some as “swoon-worthy” (alright fine, we just made that up right now. Nice though, right?). And make no mistake, pirates and the like are what we’re talking about here today, as we’ve rounded up 10 suave swashbucklers from cinema history who are sure to have both men and women swooning in no time. For those of you who don’t know, a swashbuckler is someone defined as both heroic and of questionable morals, an antihero whose quick with a sword (or blaster, in some cases…) and even quicker with his words. While not always a pirate, those who engage in piracy often fit into this archetype, both in literature and in cinema. So while not all of the people on this list are pirates, it’s undoubtedly where we began our search. Rest assured, there’s plenty of heroes on here for those women (and men) who’d like to be rescued by someone who gives a little more attention to personal hygiene.
10. John Silver (Treasure Planet)
We’re big fans of Treasure Planet, Disney’s 2002 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel Treasure Island. Taking the swashbuckling adventure from the seas of planet Earth to outer space (a theme that we found incredibly common in researching this article), Treasure Planet sees young Jim Hawkins (voiced by Joseph Gordon Levitt) set out on a quest for treasure with Captain Amelia and her trustworthy first mate, Mr. Arrow, only to befriend a cyborg by the name of John Silver, a charming cook who has planned a mutiny aboard the vessel. While Treasure Planet was not universally adored in the way many of Disney’s animated adventures are, it is one of the more mature examples of a Disney film and it gave us a stirring swashbuckler in John Silver, the mutinous pirate who has more good left in him than he wants to admit.
9. Zorro (The Mask of Zorro)
See, we told you that not all swashbucklers were pirates. For the record, we’ve gone and cited 1998’s The Mask of Zorro, starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones, as the film to check out for the purposes of this list, but the character has been featured in numerous forms and mediums since his introduction via a pulp magazine in 1919 (he was created by Johnston McCulley). Most often recognized as a dashing outlaw with fancy rapier skills who remains hellbent on protecting the less fortunate from the terrors of society, Zorro most definitely fits within the swashbuckler archetype. To his credit, Antonio Banderas plays the role with zest in both The Mask of Zorro and its sequel, 2005’s The Legend of Zorro, and communicates well the character’s ethnic roots and penchant for the flamboyant (another trait often ascribed to the swashbuckler’s of old).
8. Spike Spiegel (Cowboy Bebop)
We knew it wouldn’t be long before we ventured into the wild, wacky and fun territory of the space swashbuckler, and we’re excited that Spike Spiegel, the criminal turned bounty hunter and one of the protagonists of 1998’s anime series Cowboy Bebop, gets to be the first interstellar pirate we talk about on this list. Cowboy Bebop, for those who haven’t already seen it (do so immediately, it’s one of the best animated creative endeavors ever), follows Spiegel and his partner Jet Black as they captain the Bebop, a spaceship, and engage with various interstellar criminals and the like. An engaging anime experience that’s unlike anything else, Cowboy Bebop is a must-see for fans of the swashbuckling archetype, as Spike fits it perfectly. He’s charming, witty and a master student of Bruce Lee’s specific form of martial arts. We can’t overstate how awesome both Cowboy Bebop and Spike Spiegel are; it’s a highly recommended watch as one of the more underrated properties on this list.
7. Edmund Dantes (The Count of Monte Cristo)
We go from one of the lesser-known swashbucklers on this list to one of the most famous. While Spike Spiegel remains culturally unknown for the most part, there’s few protagonists more famous in Western literature than Edmund Dantes, the revenge-seeking duelist from Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. Since we’re speaking in film terms for this article, we’ll invoke Rowland V. Lee’s 1934 adaptation, which starred Robert Donat as Edmund Dantes and was a critical and commercial darling, unlike the 2002 adaptation featuring Jim Cavaziel (a film which was still successful, but was a less faithful adaptation). The 1934 adaptation, which features some stellar fencing choreography and enough charm, wit and pencil moustaches to cement its status as a swashbuckler film, is a worthwhile watch for any fan of the genre, as it holds up surprisingly well on contemporary viewings.
6. Indiana Jones (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark)
You might be surprised to find the always dashing Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr. all the way down at number six on this list, but rest assured that’s a good sign of all the stunning swashbucklers yet to come. Indiana Jones, who holds the distinction of being the only archaeologist on this list, most definitely checks off all the boxes on the “Am I a Swashbuckler?” checklist. He’s arguably the most successful cinematic swashbuckler we’ve ever seen, as both Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were critical and commercial darlings, frequently cited among the best action and adventure films of all time. For his part, Indy mixes a roguish personality and staunch morals with an uncanny inability to thwart Nazi schemes, all mixing together into one dashing sort of protagonist whose cool remains unmatched in Hollywood cinema.
5. Westley/The Dread Pirate Roberts (The Princess Bride)
If we could, we’d enter the entirety of The Princess Bride into contention for the swashbuckler tag. There’s a carefree and dashing sentiment to the whole film, and that’s communicated best in the film’s central character, Westley (who also spends time as The Dread Pirate Roberts). While Inigo Montoya may remain the best-known swashbuckler from this film, we had no choice but to put down the protagonist when forced to choose between the two; it’s Westley who wins the heart of the dear Princess Buttercup, and it’s Westley who makes the most of his quick wit and approaches danger with fearless ease (not to say Inigo doesn’t have his moments…try telling that to the six-fingered man). The home of one of cinematic history’s finest sword fights, The Princess Bride channels a swashbuckler spirit to the great enjoyment of audiences everywhere, as this cult classic has done nothing but accumulate fans since its release in 1987.
4. Malcolm Reynolds (Serenity)
The presence of Malcolm Reynolds on this list extends to the small screen, where he also captains the Serenity in Firefly, the ill-fated Joss Whedon show which mixed science fiction and spaghetti Western together for great effect. Equal parts swashbuckler, cowboy and space pirate, Mal Reynolds (played to excellence by Nathan Fillion) is a hard man who runs a tough ship, but never strays when it comes to his principles or his ability to deliver quips and bullets in hefty doses. Tough to read, dashing in his attempts to defend the honor of the fairer sex (he does this multiple times throughout the course of the television series/movie), and spry in a gunfight (less so in a swordfight, but we can’t all be perfect), Malcolm Reynolds deserves a spot on this list for all of the right reasons, including his refusal to admit he was on the wrong side of a losing battle (“May’ve been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one”.) Oh, Mal…you get us.
3. Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean)
You had to know that the dastardly Captain Jack Sparrow would make his way onto this list, a roguish figure portrayed by Johnny Depp who was so instantly iconic that the performance garnered Depp a long-sought Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The former Captain of the Black Pearl and one of cinema’s most notorious pirates (despite the fact that he rarely resorts to violence and is, in general, a good-hearted if misguided individual who thinks most often of himself), Captain Jack Sparrow represents everything a swashbuckler ought to be; he’s charming and cunning, dashing and dirty, a hero and a scoundrel all at the same time. A scene stealer in the first film and arguably the hero in the series’ latter three films (and we’re betting the fifth adventure, coming soon), Jack Sparrow is the definitive Hollywood pirate.
2. Robin Hood (The Adventures of Robin Hood)
If there’s one man who has contributed more than any other to the swashbuckler archetype in Hollywood, it’s Errol Flynn. Flynn, who many younger readers may not be familiar with, was an actor in Hollywood’s earliest stages, and his portrayal of Robin Hood in The Adventures of Robin Hood, released in 1938, remains the definitive version of the character, a version so iconic that many are incapable of separating Flynn from the literary character that preceded him. Known for his suave appearance and finely groomed pencil moustache, Flynn set the stage for all swashbucklers who would follow him, and he is in many ways responsible for the formation of the swashbuckler archetype in cinema; it was Flynn who first made a career of playing dashing if questionable characters, and it was Flynn who lived up to those characters both on and off the screen. A film legend, Errol Flynn (and his portrayal of Robin Hood) remains the original swashbuckler.
1. Han Solo (Star Wars)
“Scoundrel? I like the sound of that.” So says Han Solo, the notorious space pirate and smuggler from the Star Wars trilogy. Accused by Princess Leia of being just that, Solo embraces his inner rogue and refuses to abide by the rules set out by the universe, instead choosing to make his own as he and his trusty sidekick Chewbacca work their way through the galaxy, making ends meet however they can. Solo, the second character on this list played by the indomitable Harrison Ford, is the quintessential swashbuckler, from the bottom of his space boots to the top of his scruffy, Nerf-herding hair (SCRUFFY?!). Oh, and spoiler alert, he only works as a swashbuckler if he shot first.