Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr Viber
Trending On Empire
The Big 2015 Movie Preview
The 50 Best Films Of 2014
Review Of The Year 2014
Roar Power
Jurassic World unleashed on iTunes
Halo 5 Guardians
The Master Chief returns
Empire's Review Of The year 2013 CLICK FOR MORE REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2013 FEATURES ›
The 50 Best Films Of 2013
Have you seen the best movies released this year?

submit to reddit

... 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Back 13 of 14 Next


Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Michael Chernus, Max Martini, Catherine Keener
Best for... humanising both sides in an impossible true story.

Paul Greengrass is back, and thank goodness for that. The true-life tale of Captain Phillips (Hanks), abducted and held hostage by Somali pirates after an attempt to rob his ship goes wrong, is a masterclass in cranking the tension and keeping it high – even if you know how it all ends. The unknowns cast as the pirates, in particular Barkhad Abdi as Musa, are flawless as the powers ranged against them line up, and Hanks is as good as ever, particularly in a ravaged final scene.

Bonus Feature



This feature first appeared in issue 291 of Empire magazine.

ON APRIL 9, 2009, the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, bound for Mombasa, Kenya, with 17,000 metric tons of freight on board, was attacked by a small group of Somali pirates using a Taiwanese fishing vessel, the Win Far 161, that they had hijacked just two days earlier.

Shipping is a blue-collar world, a very physical world at that, and when I worked that out in my head, that's when I knew I could make the film.


Crewed by merchant marines, who despite their name were unarmed, and captained by a lifelong sailor named Richard Phillips, the Maersk Alabama attempted evasive manoeuvres, but to no avail. It was soon boarded by four corsairs, who seized Captain Phillips and took him hostage. The rest of the crew shut down the ship's power, thwarting the invaders' plans to sail away with it, and managed to take one of the pirates hostage themselves. A tense stand-off followed; an exchange of prisoners went wrong, and the pirates escaped the ship onto a lifeboat. They took Phillips with them, and a game of cat and mouse ensued. Only, instead of a cat, the US Navy deployed two warships. Eventually, on April 12, after an ordeal lasting four days, Captain Phillips was rescued, and the Somalis shot dead or taken into custody.

It's hardly surprising that Hollywood would be interested, almost immediately, in adapting this story and, quickly, powerhouse producing trio Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Scott Rudin snapped up the rights, with Tom Hanks signing on to star in the title role. Now all they needed was a director. With its blend of real-world drama, intrigue and even, when you really looked at it, socio-economic relevance, it seemed like a perfect fit for a man who'd previously turned his journalistic eye to the true-life likes of Bloody Sunday and United 93, while injecting a feverish verisimilitude into the action arena with The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. Namely, Paul Greengrass.

"I WOULD SAY it's in my wheelhouse," says Greengrass, talking exclusively to Empire from his office in Oxford. "It's a moment in time, it's very contemporary, and it's got a lot of complexity and richness."

But that didn't stop him from turning the gig down. "I didn't want to do it to begin with," he says. "I couldn't quite see it."

A man who tends to originate his movies, particularly those about real-world incidents, the 57 year-old Londoner didn't see a connection, a way into the material. And then it came to him. "One of the things that really made me want to do it was that my dad was at sea," confesses Greengrass. "He was a merchant seaman, and he was at sea all his life. I'd always wanted to make a film about what it was like at sea. That was part of it."

Captain Phillips (2013)

Barkhad Abdi's Muse confronts Captain Phillips onboard the Maersk Alabama.

In fact, Greengrass had, in the gap between Green Zone (his 2010 Iraq War film with Matt Damon which underperformed at the box office) and finally saying yes to Captain Phillips, flirted with a big-budget adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. That fell by the wayside; it's hard to imagine someone of Greengrass' pedigree faffing around with wooden legs and eyepatches and talking parrots and actors doing bad impressions of Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow. For Greengrass, authenticity is the juice. "I was very interested in real-world piracy," reveals Greengrass. "On the one hand, it's incredibly physical, so you get these intense confrontations on the high seas. And it felt like a very fresh world to me, very dynamic. And what I loved about it was that it goes to winners and losers, and how the world is. It's not about good guys and bad guys, it's basically the conflict between kids who've got nothing, watching the riches of the world roll past them 50 miles out to sea."

Hanks makes this character so human, so absolutely the Everyman.


Greengrass' attention to detail and commitment to veracity is well known. On United 93, he recreated the fuselage of that ill-fated plane and asked his actors to go through takes that lasted for the duration of the flight. And throughout his career he's cast real people where he can. That continued on Captain Phillips. Hanks was in the bag, providing starpower galore, so Greengrass wanted less recognisable faces for the rest of the US crew, from Max Martini to Chris Mulkey. But for the Somalis, Greengrass was looking for faces even less recognisable than that. "I absolutely wanted and needed to cast real Somali guys," he says. "They're young, unknown kids. That whole issue is very real to them, and it's wreathed with complexities from their side."

Open casting calls in the US and Britain ("There's a huge Somali community in Minneapolis — the first open casting we had there, 900 people turned up!") yielded "these kids who'd never acted professionally before. They'd done a bit of stuff in youth clubs, and they were fantastic. They brought an authenticity to it".

Captain Phillips is almost two films in one. The first is an epic, modern-day, high-seas action film which, Greengrass being Greengrass, was shot for real on the ocean, principally in Maltese waters. After all, sea legs run in his family. "It was such fantastic fun," he laughs. "I loved it. You're on these gigantic ships, rocking around in the ocean. And once I had really thought about it, you get this amazing seaborne adventure film with a little boat trying to run down a huge boat, and then you get the reverse happening with these gigantic naval ships tracking this tiny little lifeboat. I just felt that visually, it's a fantastic canvas."

And on that lifeboat comes the second part of that Captain Phillips in-movie double-bill: the intimate survival story as the good captain, subjected to some brutal treatment by his captors, tries to endure. "At the heart of it," says Greengrass, "it's about a fantastic character in Captain Phillips and his adversary, who's a young Somali captain (newcomer Barkhad Abdi). It really is a very powerful dynamic — it's real-world pirates, it's what they are like, and what their goals are. The film is really the story of the collision between two captains. Going head-to-head with Tom Hanks is not easy."

Captain Phillips (2013)

Greengrass explains that it's a pirate's life for him.

HERE'S SOMETHING THAT may shock you. Tom Hanks, who once held a monopoly on the Best Actor Oscar that looked likely to end with the ceremony being rebranded The Gumps, has not been nominated for the big one since 2001. Now, when it comes to predicting the future, we're not exactly Nostradamus — we're not even the terrifying floating head of Ray Winstone — but we suspect that Captain Phillips might break the streak. 'Ave a bang on that.

"He's absolutely brilliant in it," says Greengrass, who has already finished the film, spending the seven months between now and its awards season release trying to get his assassination of Martin Luther King movie, Memphis, off the ground. Hanks — bespectacled, goatee beard flecked with grey — doesn’t look as if he’s entirely replicating the real-life Captain Phillips (the floppy, greyish hair isn’t there for one). But Phillips, who’s now back as a working captain, was often on set if Hanks ever needed a top-up of his essence.

"It was interesting, me having grown up with those guys," says Greengrass of Phillips. "He was absolutely one of those guys. It's trucking, basically, trucking on the water. You're hauling freight all around the world, and it's the lifeblood of the global economy. It's that world I remembered so well, with very unpretentious, hardworking people. It's a blue-collar world, a very physical world at that, and when I worked that out in my head, that's when I knew I could make the film."

And, despite only having met Hanks a few times before taking the job, he had no doubts that the veteran A-lister was the right fit for this calloused ‘sea-trucker'. "He just makes this character so big and so human and so absolutely the Everyman. It speaks to us. When you're on that small lifeboat, it was absolutely, completely physically arduous. But he was completely up for it."

For more in-depth articles on your favourite films, subscribe to Empire today.

... 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
13 of 14

Have Your Say
Register or login now to let us know what you think.

Your Comments

1 RE: Some Missing Pictures
I know it's a UK magazine, I'm from the UK. However they placed films like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and The Hobbit before UK release, therefore I was just making some suggestions that could have equally have been 'Late Entries' More

Posted by CalRhys on Sunday January 5, 2014, 16:40

2 RE: Some Missing Pictures
Your timing is out for 2 - neither Fruitvale nor 12 Years a Slave have been out - this is a UK site/magazine was disappointed at the absence of Act of Killing in a list that can find room for the likes of Warm Bodies, and other entries in my personal bottom 50 of the year. More

Posted by elab49 on Monday December 23, 2013, 11:40

3 RE:
I'll echo the surprise lack of love for The Way Way Back but also add that Flight is more of a surprise omission from the list. On a positive note it's nice to see Mud so high on the list. More

Posted by Dee Jay on Friday December 6, 2013, 21:51

4 RE: World War Z??
I would have liked to have seen the way way back on there as well as side effects but it is a good list. I find it weird that Django and Zero Dark Thirty are on there as they seem like last years christmas movies. Don't know if they where released in 2013 but it feels like ages ago. More

Posted by beardyphysics on Tuesday December 3, 2013, 17:42

5 RE: Stoker?
L: chris wootton Bollocks on't hold back tell us what you really think More

Posted by rich on Monday December 2, 2013, 22:49

6 RE: The 50 Best Films Of 2013
Some great films in that list - Mud, Zero Dark Thirty, Man of Steel, Gravity, Frances Ha, Only God Forgives, A Field in England and Upstream Color are superb choices. Although it is surprising to see The Act of Killing omitted. Was it released in the UK this year or last year? Oh and I wish Leviathan had gotten a place on the list. It's still my favourite of the year so far. More

Posted by garvielloken on Monday December 2, 2013, 19:06

7 RE: The 50 Best Films Of 2013
There's plenty on your list that I'd take exception to, but it's good to see you got the number 1 right. ike others on the thread though, I'm sad to see no place for the Way Way Back. That film took me completely by surprise at how emotionally engaging and well observed it was. I also thought it would be something right up your alley, at least to break the top 50 anyway. More

Posted by Qwerty Norris on Monday December 2, 2013, 18:48

8 RE: The 50 Best Films Of 2013
For those who don't want to click and click and click: here's the full list. 50. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty 50. Anchorman 2 50. The Hobbit 2 47. Now You See Me 46. Prisoners 45. The Conjuring 44. Kill Your Darlings 43. Much Ado About Nothing 42. Robot & Frank 41. World War Z 40. Nebraska 39. The Bling Ring 38. Warm Bodies 37. Wreck-it-Ralph 36. The Place Beyond The Pines 35. Saving Mr Banks 34. Star Trek Into Darkness 33. Les Misérables 32. The Impossible 31. About Time 30. Frances Ha 29. Philomena 28. Man of Steel 27. Trance 26. Hunger Games 2 25. A Field In England 24. Filth 23. Blue Is The Warmest Colour 22. All Is Lost 21. Upstream Colour 20. Cloud Atlas 19. Blackfish 18. Only God Forgives 17. Thor 2 16. Short Term 12 15. Blue Jasmine 14. Behind The Candelabra 13. Django Unchained 12. The World's End 11. Zero Dark Thirty 10. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa 9. The Great Beauty 8. Before MidnighMore

Posted by dseys on Monday December 2, 2013, 18:38

9 RE: The Way Way Back
L: LetsKissToMakeItReal L: DeadlyDave Though I fully accept that there isn't room for everything and you certainly can not please everyone, personally I feel the omission of The Way Way Back is criminal. econded! It's just unforgivable. Thirded! I think there's enough of us,shall we start a cause ? Mr Rockwell is with us.. More

Posted by Magenta on Monday December 2, 2013, 17:46

10 RE: The Way Way Back
L: DeadlyDave Though I fully accept that there isn't room for everything and you certainly can not please everyone, personally I feel the omission of The Way Way Back is criminal. econded! It's just unforgivable. More

Posted by LetsKissToMakeItReal on Monday December 2, 2013, 17:36

11 RE: RE:
Also some love for Blackfish, saw it recently and glad I did. A gripping documentary, perhaps not as obviously upsetting as Grizzly Man (although that guy was plain weird) but more subtle and thought-provoking. Free Willy indeed! I forgot to mention Trance, unexpected gem of a film and easily for me Boyle's best since Sunshine. Strong cast, interesting premise and definitely one of those films where each will come to their own conclusions. Not quite the British 'Inception' but worth watching for sure. More

Posted by MDG_78 on Monday December 2, 2013, 17:26

12 RE: RE:
L: Magenta I agree this year has been stronger than 2012 and the list as it goes is on the whole is a good one. though very surprised not to see The Way Way Back? explanations Empire? So very peased to see ]so high and perplexed to see Now You See Me,which I also think was awful,I think the trick was I sat through it! t because of the unexplainable release date is Bernie and consequently it's slipped throught two years netting,which is a shame and like a lot of really good films I scream two words " Limited Release!!" o pleased that at least my local has some sense,next stop Nebraska. ll in my top 10 More

Posted by Whistler on Monday December 2, 2013, 17:13

13 RE: RE:
I agree this year has been stronger than 2012 and the list as it goes is on the whole is a good one. I am although very surprised not to see The Way Way Back? Any explanations Empire? So very peased to see Mud so high and perplexed to see Now You See Me,which I also think was awful,I think the trick was I sat through it! One that because of the unexplainable release date is Bernie and consequently it's slipped throught two years netting,which is a shame and like a lot of really good films I scream two words " Limited Release!!" So pleased that at least my local has some sense,next stop Nebraska. More

Posted by Magenta on Monday December 2, 2013, 17:03

14 RE:
I too think it's been a really good year for films, surprised Django didn't rank higher and was disappointed with Lincoln but agree with many choices. Gravity, Rush and Captain Phillips all really good mainstream drama's that don't treat their audience like dolts and although Iron Man 3 was entertaining both Star Trek and Man Of Steel were better (the latter featuring very highly on my own Top 10 list, can't understand the hate for it). Now You See Me though...easily the worst film I have seen this year. At first I thought it was average fare and inoffensive pop BUT as it dragged on and on and I started to dislike nearly everyone single person in it (exception of Melanie Laurent) and got a headache from the camera spinning around all the time and the annoying music and rubbish CGI-enhanced 'magic' tricks (see The Prestige and The Illusionist for examples of how it can be done) , I came to the conclusion that it was indeed a piece of garbage. Shame to the friend who recommended thMore

Posted by MDG_78 on Monday December 2, 2013, 16:20

L: chrispdaniel How dare you Empire, I am a generic movie goer who didn't see all of the films released this year, but does see more than your average Joe/Jane, and you failed to mention some of my favourite films and/or rated some films more highly than I would have done. You nincompoops! Do you professionals know nothing. Clearly I am right because I say I am, and therefore I shall use this comment section to voice my anger at your betrayal of all that is good and holy about subjective opinions. I am so disappointed, but not nearly as disappointed as I would have been had you not compiled such a list for me to agree or disagree with in the first place. Then I would have been mad! Yours sincerely I M Right p.s. I thought this was a good read, and actually think it has been a good year for films in general. Keep up the good work everyone. :D] More

Posted by waltham1979 on Monday December 2, 2013, 13:40

16 RE: Great list!
L: dseys Empire's Top 50 won't alter my own Top 50, s as valid as theirste] How do you figure that? More

Posted by Macavity on Monday December 2, 2013, 13:05

17 RE: Great list!
L: MikeTheActorMan Gravity definitely deserved Number 1, absolutely stunning and incredible film! Unlike anything else released this year! And Captain Phillips at number 2 is very well deserved too. I'm so glad About Time was on this as well... I went into that thinking it'd be a romantic comedy with a time-travel twist, but about half way through he gets the girl and it turns into an exploration about the bond between father and son and nearly made me cry! Disappointed Pacific Rim isn't on here?? I thought that, Man of Steel and Star Trek: Into Darkness were the three best blockbusters this year! Also, Oblivion! Where's the love for that? The story, the acting, the cinematography, the special effects in that were stunning, and I really think it's a great semi-original and gripping sci-fi film that really surprised me this year! gree with everything you said. I think Empire's Top 3 (Gravity-Captain Phillips-Rush) is near perfect but the rest is really weird. Man of SteeMore

Posted by dseys on Monday December 2, 2013, 12:11

18 Iron Man 3 & Stoker
Really glad to see theentan 3 achieving a high slot in the list. A genuinely funny, thrilling, surprising flick and one of best superhero films ever made. Equally happy to see Stoker hit high too. It feels like an instant cult-classic. I'm not so sure about Gravity. It's a good film (one that can only really be appreciated in the cinema) but is it really the best of the year? In comparison to last year's equally stunning Life of Pi it feels pretty bereft of weight. More

Posted by Macavity on Monday December 2, 2013, 11:59

19 RE: Gravity is the shit at the top (or bottom) of the pile
L: Jonny24 at a shit year for movies was worse than the last, which was worse than the year before that, etc. Only World War Z and Oblivion were any good, and that was surprising in itself. Of course neither got much credit around here. ou're not looking hard enough. 2013 has been one of the best years for film in recent memory. More

Posted by garvielloken on Monday December 2, 2013, 11:32

20 RE: WTF
L: That other movie guy For those who hate clicking, these are top 10 from Empire 1:Gravity 2: Captain Phillips 3: Rush 4: Mud 5: Lincoln 6: Stoker 7: Iron Man 3 8: Before Midnight 9: The Great Beauty 10: ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA Omg worst top 10 movies I've ever seen my a movie website, How is Iron man 3 in there? even though Cloud Atlas came out end of last year that movie would wipe Iron Man 3 with toilet paper.. Where the heck is Oblivion in all of the top 10? ut of the 10, I've seen 7, out of the 7 I've seen I adored 5, the other 2... I was fine with Iron Man and cared very little for Lincoln. Pretty good list if you ask me. More

Posted by odddaze on Monday December 2, 2013, 00:46

Next Page

Empire's Best Horror Films For Halloween
An unlucky thirteen triple-bills

Emily Blunt Talks Sicario
On the five-star thriller, puke acting and taking Tom Cruise to The Box

Denis Villeneuve Talks Sicario
On his cartel thriller and the upcoming Blade Runner sequel

Tomorrowland: The Viewing Guide
Brad Bird talks through his sci-fi adventure, scene by scene

Empire Meets Ridley Scott
The great director on The Martian, Blade Runner 2 and the Prometheus sequels

Life On Mars: Trips To The Red Planet
A dozen of cinema's Martian misadventures

10 Star Wars: The Force Awakens Toys You’ll Want To Own
Falcon quad copter? BB-8 Sphero? We’re already asking for pay raises…

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Empire print magazine

Delivered to your door – with exclusive subscriber only covers each month! Save money today and

Subscribe now!

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Empire digital magazine

Exclusive and enhanced content – get instant access via your iPad or Android device! Save money today and

Subscribe now!

Subscribe now and save up to 63%
Print, Digital & Package options available Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire Digital Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  Digital Edition  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)