Every Captain Hook, Ranked.

In my ongoing preoccupation with pirates and Peter Pan in particular, I have dedicated myself to the study and analysis of his character. I can therefore pass judgement on any interpretation.

In his 1923 address, “Captain Hook at Eton”, — presented to the students and faculty of Eton College — J.M. Barrie described his villain as “in a word, the handsomest man I have ever seen, though, at the same time, perhaps slightly disgusting.” Captain James Hook is the tragedy of the grown-up world: wise, wicked, mournful, erotic. In my ongoing preoccupation with pirates and Peter Pan in particular, I have dedicated myself to the study and analysis of his character. So, I can pass judgement on any interpretation. Let’s see if and how these adaptations of him manage to capture the complexity of Captain Hook.

6. Garrett Hedlund — Pan (2015)

Starting at the bottom, this is an absolute disaster. Hook’s character is recontextualized out of existence to become some sort of bizarre Indiana Jones. His replacement Blackbeard somehow inherits all of Hook’s original traits, while squandering all that makes the character a literary relic. Rage. Rage. Rage.

5. Hans Conried — Peter Pan (1953)

Ah, Walt Disney. This is the one that you all know, but I’m afraid it does very little for me. Disney’s Hook suffers the fate of all of the characters Walt adapted. They have the menace, the complexity, the artistry sucked from them. He is not even permitted to die honourably, his most symbolic act. The real stickler for me? In the original text, Hook’s eponymous hook is on the right hand. Often in film adaptations, it will be switched to the left so that the actor can still swordfight. It’s a goddamn animated film, and they still got it wrong. 

4. Cyril Richard — Peter Pan (1954 musical)

The 1954 Broadway musical is my favourite of the theatrical adaptations. Mary Martin continues the long tradition of Peter Pan being played by women, and she is beautiful, soaring around the stage on a wire. Richard lends his genius to Hook, and although the portrayal has elements of clowning, his performance captures Hook’s inherent camp. He’s feminine and gorgeous in a long red coat and hat, like a maraschino cherry. The hook is on the correct hand.

3. Ernest Torrance — J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (1924)

A silent film — the earliest adaptation of Peter Pan — stars the charming Betty Bronson as Peter. This one is niche even within fanatic circles. The final showdown of the film, occurring on the deck of the pirate ship“‘Revenge”, is breathtaking despite the film’s age. I watch this one at least once a month. This Captain Hook embodies the true tradition, he is a menacing and romantic figure with his long black curls and scowl. He does a great deal of sword fighting, and yet, the hook is on the correct hand. Bravo.

2. Jason Isaacs — Peter Pan (2003)

I didn’t watch this one as a child, but discovered it about a year into my fixation. Isaacs’ Hook holds a special place in my heart. It is a stunning performance, with an inspired read of the character. This movie focuses more on Wendy’s view of Hook than Peter’s, and as a whole is a really strong feminist piece. The hook is on the correct hand, and Issacs makes it a part of his body — an item of abject terror.

1. Dustin Hoffman — Hook (1991)

The very best. Unbeatable. Although not a commercial success, this film was built to be a cult classic, with Robin Williams as Peter Pan, Spielberg as director, and John Williams’ score. And yet, the crown jewel of this film is Hoffman. He captures the Hook of the original text — a combination of melancholy, femininity and heartlessness. His personality is overwhelming and the costuming is perfect. The hook has taken on many styles in various adaptations, but if you picture it, you will picture Hoffman’s — silver and curved like a fishhook. Alas! It is on the wrong hand. But I will forgive anything for this adaptation, and that’s the real measure of its perfection.

In recent years, appreciation for the pirate aesthetic has been on the rise. Similarly there is much to be desired in their rakish and adventurous personality. Hook (the word itself is electric) is the quintessential pirate, the model buccaneer. If you have a spare moment, give a thought to this iconic character, and immerse yourself in his greatest iterations. To sign off, his last words. Floreat Etona!