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Film: Cutthroat Island

Cutthroat Island is a 1995 pirate movie starring Geena Davis and directed by her then-husband Renny Harlin. The film has gone down in history as one of the biggest Box Office Bombs of all time; in the same league as the likes of The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Cleopatra, Heaven's Gate, and Ishtar. It wasn't that the film failed to sell tickets. It earned $10 million in the United States market alone, the 108th most successful film of its year. But when your budget is closer to $115 million, do the math. The film's failure effectively led to the closure of Carolco Pictures (who went bankrupt six weeks before the film's release). The film is thus regarded as one of the last whose failure actually destroyed the studio that produced it. The film also killed the bankability of the pirate genre, which wasn't revived until Pirates of the Caribbean took off. Although it dented their careers at the time, Davis and Harlin both seem to have gotten on more or less okay in the long run.

Female pirate Morgan Adams (Geena Davis) and her educated slave, William Shaw (Matthew Modine), are on a quest to recover the three portions of a treasure map. The treasure is hidden on the mysterious Cutthroat Island. Unfortunately, the final portion is held by her villainous uncle, Douglas ('Dawg') Brown (Frank Langella). Her crew is skeptical of her leadership abilities, so she must complete her quest before they mutiny against her. This is made more difficult by the efforts of the Royal Navy from Jamaica under the command of the self-serving Governor Ainslee (Patrick Malahide) to end her piratical career. On her ship, Morning Star, Morgan starts the voyage to Cutthroat Island.


This film provides examples of:

  • Action Dress Rip: Morgan pulls the skirt off her dress whilst being pursued by guards in Port Royal.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. Morgan gets beat to crap in many of the fights. Her face isn't spared. She sports a split lip, slashed eyebrow, and multiple scratches and cuts to her face throughout the film.
  • Chain Pain: One of Dawg's men has chain in the place of his hand. It proves to be his undoing, as he misses one of the heroes with it, and is taken to the depths with the anchor that it got tangled with.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Morgan and Shaw don't trust each other at all, and they have good reason for it.
  • Dismantled MacGuffin: The Treasure Map.
  • Dope Slap: Repeatedly to resident Butt Monkey William Shaw.
  • Flynning: Shaw does this at first, since he'd never previously learned how to do any serious fighting.
  • Evil Uncle: Dawg, a particular mean one.
  • Handsome Lech: Shaw plays his charm to his advantage to steal from rich women at the ball. He tries his wiles on Morgan, but she's a little too smart to swoon.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Trotter, near the end. "There's no future in the army for me." It's a bit of a weird one, as he's leaving the British military to become a pirate, so technically it's a Face-Heel Turn (from a law-abiding point of view).
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: It's kind of satisfying to see that chain-wielding bastard dragged down by the anchor.
  • Human Notepad: One-third of a treasure map is tattooed on the scalp of the heroine's father. After he gets killed at the beginning of the movie, she cuts it off of him and takes it with her, as he'd instructed while dying.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place
  • Ironic Echo: "Hey, I said I would take care of you, didn't I?"
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Morgan does this to a bounty hunter who is after her at the start of the movie. After bedding him, she steals the balls from his pistols.
  • Land in the Saddle: Geena Davis (not her stunt double) races through a building on the 2nd story and somersaults out a window, landing in the passenger seat of a speeding horse drawn carriage.
  • Large Ham: Watch Frank Langella have a whale of a time as he chews the scenery with aplomb.
    • Patrick Malahide as the governor also counts, especially in scenes where he has to berate Trotter.
  • Lured Into a Trap: Reed leads Shaw to the British soldiers, telling him he's hid Morgan somewhere safe and will take him to her.
  • Made a Slave: "Doctor" Shaw is sold into slavery when he gets caught pickpocketing from ladies at the Governor's ball.
  • Made of Explodium: Dawg's ship explodes spectacularly in the finale. Justified by all the black powder stored in it.
  • Mook Lieutenant: Lieutenant Trotter leads forces of the law in Jamaica.
  • The Mutiny: When Morgan pushes through the storm despite her ship starting to break up, the majority of the crew revolts and sets her adrift.
  • Noisy Nature: A particularly jarring example. Among the ambient jungle noises on the small Caribbean island is a distinctly elephantine trumpeting. In the Caribbean.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You: Gravity seems to like Morgan enough to not kill her on multiple occasions.
  • Pirate Girl: Morgan
  • Powder Trail: In the bar, Shaw pulls the tip off a pirate's powder horn. He unbeknownst walks around the bar until he's close enough to the powder kegs, then Shaw lights it up.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "Bad Dawg."
  • Serrated Blade of Pain: The main villain wields a highly intimidating serrated cutlass.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Morgan and Shaw only get along when they are about to jump each other. Give it five minutes, and they'll betray each other again.
  • Smug Snake. Governor Ainslee
  • Soft Water: Apparently falling off a cliff into the ocean just leaves you wet and not dead.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Reed betrays Morgan and her crew when the Governor gives him the choice to give her up, or be hung as a pirate himself.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Explosions are abound. Every round seems to hit a barrel of black powder.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: The entire soundtrack by John Debney, but most especially the track Main Tile / Morgan's Ride.
  • Underwater Kiss: Morgan gives William a kiss whilst he's pinned behind some crates in the flooded hold to pass him air.
  • Villain Ball: Governor Ainslee could load his own personal ship (A Man-of-war, which out-guns both pirate ships and whose crews loyalty is not in question) with his share of the gold and get out of there. Or he could hang out with an insane pirate, half of whose crew is loyal to their former captain. Who is still missing..
  • Waif-Fu: Morgan. Who at one stage picks up a guy one handed and throws him.

ContraSuper Nintendo Entertainment SystemDaikaijuu Monogatari
Captain America and the AvengersBeat 'em UpDungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara
Crimson TideFilms of the 1990sDangerous Minds

alternative title(s): Cutthroat Island
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