Captain Phillips is a 2013 biographical survival thriller film directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi. The film is heavily inspired by the true story of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking, an incident in which merchant mariner Captain Richard Phillips was taken hostage by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean led by Abduwali Muse.

The screenplay by Billy Ray is based on the 2010 book A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty. Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, and Michael De Luca all served as producers on the project. It premiered at the 2013 New York Film Festival, and was theatrically released on October 11, 2013. The film emerged as a box office success grossing over $218 million against a budget of $55 million. In 2014, Captain Phillips received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Barkhad Abdi's role as Muse.

For the accuracy on this film, see Captain Phillips accuracy.

Plot Edit

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"Hey! Look at me, look at me... I'm the captain now."

In April 2009, Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) takes command of the MV Maersk Alabama, a container ship from the Port of Salalah in Oman, with orders to sail through the Gulf of Aden to Mombasa, Kenya. Wary of pirate activity off the coast of the Horn of Africa, Phillips and First Officer Shane Murphy order strict security precautions on the vessel and carry out practice drills. During the drill, Phillips takes notice of two Somali pirate skiffs following the Alabama, and calls for help. Aware that the pirates, led by ringleader Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi), are listening to radio traffic, he pretends to call a warship, requesting immediate air support. One skiff turns around in response, and the other, manned by Muse and three other pirates armed with AK-47s, loses engine power trying to steer through the Alabama's wake.

The next day, Muse's skiff, now fitted with two outboard engines, returns with the same four pirates aboard. Despite the crew's best efforts to evade the pirates, that including using sprinklers and flares, the pirates were able to secure a ladder to the Maersk Alabama. As the pirates board, Phillips tells the crew to hide in the engine room and allows himself to be captured. He offers Muse $30,000 from the ship's safe, but Muse's orders are to ransom the ship and crew in exchange for millions of dollars of insurance money from the shipping company. While they search the ship, Murphy is able to make out that the youngest pirate Adan Bilal (Barkhad Abdirahman) does not have sandals and tells the crew to line the engine room hallway with broken glass. Chief Engineer Mike Perry cuts power to the ship, plunging the lower decks into darkness. Bilal eventually ends up cutting his feet on the glass when they search the engine room, and Muse continues to search alone. The crew ambush Muse and one of the men stab him in his left hand with a pocket knife, injuring him before taking him hostage at knifepoint. They arrange to release him and the other pirates into a lifeboat. However, Muse's right-hand man Nour Najee (Faysal Ahmed) refuses to board the ship with Muse unless Phillips goes with them. Once all are on the lifeboat, Najee hits Phillips in the back with his AK-47, before having Walid Elmi (Mahat M. Ali) launch the lifeboat into the water.

As the lifeboat heads for Somalia, tensions begin to flare between the pirates as they run low on the plant-based amphetamine Khat and the four subsequently lose contact with the mother ship. Najee becomes agitated and tries to convince the others to kill Phillips. They are later intercepted by the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Bainbridge. The Bainbridge's captain Frank Castellano is ordered to prevent the pirates from reaching the Somali coast by any means necessary. Even with the arrival of two extra destroyers, USS Halyburton and USS Boxer, Muse asserts that he has come to far and will not surrender. The negotiators are unable to change his mind and a DEVGRU SEAL team parachutes in to intervene, while Phillips make an unsuccessful attempt to escape the lifeboat before being quickly recaptured and repeatedly beaten by Najee.

Upon having SEAL marksmen get into firing positions, Castellano and the SEALs continue to try to find a peaceful solution, eventually taking the lifeboat under tow. Muse agrees to board Bainbridge, where he is told that his clan elders have arrived to negotiate Phillips's ransom. In the lifeboat, Phillips is able to find a pen and paper and write down his final goodbyes to his family, while Najee decides to take full control. Najee spots Phillips writing the letter and beats him further. Phillips retaliates by wrestling Najee until Bilal strikes him in the back with his AK-47, injuring him. Najee then convinces Elmi and Bilal to kill Phillips, sensing that negotiations are simply a ruse intended to get Phillips back to safety. The pirates then blindfold and tie Phillips up, leaving him to say his last goodbyes. Before Najee is able to fire a shot from his M1911 pistol, the Bainbridge crew stops the tow causing both Bilal and Najee to lose their balance, giving the marksmen three clear shots and they simultaneously kill all three pirates. Muse is arrested and taken into custody for piracy. Phillips is rescued from the lifeboat and treated. In severe shock and disoriented, he is still able to thank the rescue team for saving his life.

Before the credits roll it is revealed Richard Phillips soon returned to sea after his recovery while Somali pirate Abduwali Muse was sentenced to 33 years in jail for orchestrating the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, and the kidnap and attempted murder of Richard Phillips.

Cast Edit

  • Tom Hanks as Richard "Rich" Phillips/"Irish", captain of MV Maersk Alabama
  • Barkhad Abdi as Abduwali Muse, pirate leader
  • Barkhad Abdirahman as Adan Bilal (possibly based on Hamac, deceased Somali pirate)
  • Faysal Ahmed as Nour Najee (based on one of three deceased pirates, see Fourth Pirate for specifics)
  • Mahat M. Ali as Walid Elmi (possibly based on Ali Aden Elmi, deceased Somali pirate)
  • Catherine Keener as Andrea Phillips
  • Michael Chernus as Shane Murphy, first officer of MV Maersk Alabama
  • David Warshofsky as Mike Perry, chief engineer of MV Maersk Alabama
  • Corey Johnson as Ken Quinn, helmsman of MV Maersk Alabama
  • Chris Mulkey as John Cronan, senior crew member of MV Maersk Alabama
  • Mark Holden as William Rios, boatswain of MV Maersk Alabama
  • Yul Vazquez as Commander Frank Castellano, commanding officer of USS Bainbridge
  • Max Martini as U.S. Navy SEAL commander
  • Omar Berdouni as Nemo, Somali-language translator working for U.S. Navy as part of Mission Essential
  • Mohamed Ali as Assad
  • Issak Farah Samatar as Hufan


  • Hospital Corpsman Second Class Danielle Albert as Chief Hospital Corpsman O'Brien
  • Fire Control Technician First Class (SW) Nathan Cobler as Hospital Corpsman First Class Cobler

Production Edit

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Barkhad Abdi (Muse), Barkhad Abdirahman (Bilal), Mahat M. Ali (Elmi; unseen) and Faysal Ahmed (Najee) after boarding the Maersk Alabama in Captain Phillips (2013).

Finding the Pirates Edit

Casting director Francine Maisler conducted an intensive search for actors who could bring both authenticity and emotion to their roles. Maisler began by narrowing the choices to actors of Somali descent.

“And that was a massive casting dilemma,” says Maisler. “But director Paul Greengrass has a tremendous gift for teaching young, untried actors to perform, often alongside formidable experienced actors—it’s part of what makes his films so visceral. I knew the only way to build the organic connection to Somalia that was so important to the film was to find men who were Somali or Somali-American. And I knew that meant finding young men who may have had relatively little experience on set, but who were open to taking a leap on this film, and who were able to hold their own, opposite Tom Hanks,” says Maisler.

Having researched all the places in the world where Somalis have emigrated in large numbers, she finally centered her casting search on the U.S.'s largest Somali-American community, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Flyers were distributed all across the city announcing an open casting call at the Brian Coyle Community Center, drawing more than 1,000 candidates for the role of Muse and his three crewmates.

As she worked diligently with Minnesota Casting Director Debbie DeLisi to narrow the candidates from hundreds to just a handful, Maisler began to group them into foursomes to see how they would work with one another. One of these initial foursomes consisted of Barkhad Abdi as Muse, Barkhad Abdirahman as Bilal, Faysal Ahmed as Najee, and Mahat M. Ali as Elmi. Realizing that these four men had all knew one another, it was natural for Maisler to assign them as a group. “Once we grouped them, they began to rehearse on their own time, with Barkhad Abdi leading the group’s rehearsal sessions,” Maisler says. “Later, we swapped other actors in and out of the foursome as an experiment, but we kept reuniting that original foursome, and ultimately, Paul cast them in the movie. He was impressed, as we all were, by their talent and chemistry and commitment to the film.”

The final hurdle was a meeting with Greengrass and Maisler in Los Angeles. Afterwards, they went for a walk on the beach: the four actors, Greengrass, and Maisler. Maisler recalls, “It wasn’t quite clear if they realized that they had been cast, so Paul told them, ‘You guys know—you have the parts.’ ‘No, nobody told us.’ ‘Well, you have it.’ They were so ecstatic that they ran, fully clothed, into the ocean, celebrating. It was one of the most pure moments of joy I’ve ever seen.” Says Ahmed: “We just had to jump into the sea to make sure it was true.”

“When I saw them, they were friends and had worked together as a group,” Greengrass says. “There was something about them that already looked and felt like a crew.” None of the four had any formal film experience, but they were determined to give their characters a tangible humanity. “The degree of intensity they projected and the nuances of character they found were incredible — and the ability to do all of that opposite the extraordinary power of Tom Hanks was something special,” says Greengrass.

The director's orchestration of the fraught initial encounter between the pirates and the Maersk crew provides an example of the methods Greengrass used to help the actors reach an added level of realism: Greengrass made the decision to keep the actors playing the seamen from having any contact with the Somali-American actors who would play the men taking over the ship. They never met until the moment they shot the scene of the pirates entering the bridge.

“It was a smart thing Paul did, that we never met each other,” explains Hanks. “We didn’t have readings or dinners, so they were these shadowy guys to us, and when they storm the bridge, the verisimilitude was just incalculable. The hair stood up on the backs of our necks.” Says Greengrass of the scene: “Since they had never met, shooting it that way was a ‘once-only’ moment — we had to get it in that first take. And we did. It was incredible. Tom and Barkhad did that long scene with such depth and humanity that when it was over, everyone on the set applauded.”

Development Edit

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Barkhad Abdi portrayed Somali-ringleader and hijacker, Abduwali Muse.

Sony Pictures had optioned the film rights shortly after the publication of Richard Phillips' memoir A Captain's Duty in 2010. In March 2011, actor Tom Hanks attached himself to the project after reading a draft of the screenplay by Billy Ray. Director Paul Greengrass was offered the helm of the untitled film adaptation during the following June.

Producers later visited the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum to observe the bullet-scarred, five-ton fiberglass lifeboat aboard which the actual four Somali pirates held Capt. Phillips hostage in, so they could accurately re-create the boat and interiors for the set. They were able to see examples of military equipment used in the Naval negotiations with the pirates, such as the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle UAV and Mark 11 Mod 0 (SR-25) sniper rifle that was used by the SEALs to kill three of the pirates. Both the drone and the rifle are on display at the museum.

Filming Edit

Principal photography for Captain Phillips began on March 26, 2012. Filming took place off the coast of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. Half of filming took place on the Alexander Maersk (a ship identical to the MV Maersk Alabama), charted for commercial terms; while the other half took place in the Alexander lifeboat, surrounded by destroyers such as the USS Truxton, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and sister ship of the USS Bainbridge. In total, filming lasted nine weeks.

Music Edit

Captain Phillips' film score was composed by Henry Jackman. A soundtrack album for the film was released in physical forms on October 15, 2013 by Varèse Sarabande. Additional songs featured in the film include:

  • "Up in Here" by KOVAS
  • "Hilm B Hilm" by Musa Hanhan
  • "Wonderful Tonight" by Eric Clapton
  • "The End" by John Powell, a track first featured in Greengrass' 2006 film United 93

Release Edit

Box Office Edit

Captain Phillips grossed $107.1 million in North America and $111.7 million in other countries for a worldwide total $218.8 million, against its budget of $55 million. If factoring all expenses and revenues, it made a profit of $39 million.

The film had grossed $25.7 million in its opening weekend, finishing second place at the box office behind Gravity ($43.2 million).

Home Media Edit

Captain Phillips was released on Blu-ray Disc and DVD on January 21, 2014.

Trivia Edit


  • The line "Look at me! I'm the captain now!", was an ad-lib by Barkhad Abdi.
  • In real life, one of the men from Richard Phillips' crew sued him after the incident. He claimed that Phillips was well aware of the danger in the Somali waters but went in anyway endangering all of them because he wanted to get the shipment to the harbor faster, even though the shipping company itself sent him a note advising him to avoid the Somali seas.
  • During an interview on NPR's "Fresh Air", Tom Hanks said the first time he met the actors playing the Somali pirates was when they started filming the pirates taking over the bridge. Paul Greengrass mentioned he did this intentionally to build up tension between the actors on board the ship and the actors playing the Somali pirates.
  • Prior to the bridge takeover scene, Paul Greengrass told Barkhad Abdi to "own it." Abdi lost sleep the previous night in anticipation of his first acting experience. The next day, his improvisation of the line "look at me, look at me, I'm the captain now" was the clip used in his awards considerations. After Abdi and his fellow actors dropped character, Tom Hanks' first words to Barkhad were "so, you're from Minnesota."
  • Acting debut for all four of the main Somali Pirates.
  • Barkhad Abdi only earned 65,000 dollars for his role and after it was complete he went to work at his brother's mobile phone store in Minneapolis.
  • None of the U.S. Navy crew members of DDG 103, U.S.S. Truxtun, including Corpsman Danielle Albert, earned additional/industry-standard pay for their roles. They were considered "on-duty" and received only their regular U.S. Navy pay.
  • Tom Hanks claimed that all the interior lifeboat scenes were filmed inside a scale model that was actually on water at all times, resulting in him being vomited on by crew members in the cramped space.
  • None of the Somali actors in the film had ever acted before. An open casting call was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota which has the largest population of Somalis in the U.S. Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali were chosen from over 700 people who auditioned.
  • When Chris Mulkey's character starts talking about him being in the Union and not being paid to deal with pirates, only Tom Hanks knew that Mulkey was going to start saying those things. The reactions of the rest of the cast was completely real and natural.
  • The irony of the entire incident was that the U.S. Navy ship, the U.S.S. Bainbridge, had a historic connection with pirates, in that the ship is named for the Commander of the only ship lost to pirates in the Barbary Wars. William Bainbridge and his crews were captured by the Barbary pirates and spent nineteen months in the hands of the Pasha of Tripoli. For the U.S.S. Bainbridge, this was pay back for that incident.
  • The scene filmed in Combat Information Center, where a Sailor writes "Seat 15" backwards on the status board was improvised. Cinematographer, Barry Ackroyd noticed the Chief Petty Officer practicing writing backwards when not filming and asked him to repeat it for film. The act of writing backwards in the Navy has gone away in recent years since the onset of technology has put all available information on electronic status boards.
  • The original cut featured additional scenes with Catherine Keener, with her character discovering her husband's ordeal as it happened, and subsequently dealing with the press intrusion, and the efforts to rescue him. It was decided in editing, that the subplot pulled focus from the central scenario on the ship and was excised. Paul Greengrass debated cutting the film's introductory land-based scenes all-together, but decided to keep them intact, once it meant Keener would otherwise have been removed from the film entirely.
  • The negotiator, when asked what his name is, says he is "Nemo." Nemo, in Latin, means "no one" or "nobody." Captain Nemo is also a famous fictional character in two seafaring books by the French science fiction author Jules Verne: "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870)" and "The Mysterious Island (1874)".
  • The U.S.S. Truxtun, playing the part of the U.S.S. Bainbridge, was actually out at sea during the filming of the scenes on the ship's bridge. It proved tactically challenging for the bridge watch standers, who actually had to navigate, due mainly to the production crew, who blacked out the windows to limit the light coming in from the outside. The watch standers were forced to navigate from the bridge wings.
  • The e-mail inbox Captain Richard Phillips reads includes messages from Paul Kirby(Production Design), Dominic Capon (Set Decoration), and Michael Bronner (co-producer). One of the subjects is "Decorating Quote".
  • Paul Greengrass said an interview that he saw the Somali pirates as criminals, not terrorists, and that he wanted the story to feature their desperation and willingness to do illegal and violent things as part of the hopelessness of life in Somalia.
  • Originally, Ron Howard was on board as the director in development stage for Captain Phillips (2013). Howard, though, would eventually swap feature film projects with Paul Greengrass, who was set to direct Rush (2013) during its developmental stage at the time. Howard came on to helm Rush (2013) instead, as Greengrass went on-board to helm Captain Phillips (2013).
  • The hijacking of the Maersk Alabama and hostage-taking of Captain Richard Phillips were also central to the Elmore Leonard novel "Djibouti" (2010).
  • Tom Hanks, and the other actors playing crew members, did not meet the actors playing the Somali pirates until their first scene together on the ship, when the pirates invaded the ship.
  • The pirates have two handguns with them, a Makarov (Soviet design, commonly produced all over the world) and a Colt 1911.
  • This is Corey Johnson's third film collaboration with Paul Greengrass. They previously worked together on United 93 (2006) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007).
  • This is the first time Tom Hanks has portrayed a real life person where the events took place in 2009. The second time was in 2016 when he portrayed the story of Chesley Sullenberger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of the airplane flights 155 crew and passengers. The events in this film took place in April 2009.
  • Tom Hanks claimed that the scene of Captain Richard Phillips' medical examination was improvised on the spot with real-life Navy Corpsman Danielle Albert, who was told to simply follow her usual procedure. However, Albert was so star-struck by Hanks that she froze during the first take. Hanks joked to her that he was supposed to be the one in shock for the scene. For the second take that was used in the film, Paul Greengrassclaimed that he stood next to the Captain of the ship, watching with tears in his eyes, who told him "I've seen trauma, and that's what it looks like."
  • In real life, Richard Phillips never offered the pirates to take or shoot him instead of his crew. He was held in the lifeboat for five days and was psychologically tortured by the pirates who even conducted mock executions with him as the victim. He never got any pen or paper during his captivity in the lifeboat and never tried to write a farewell note to his family. He didn't ask to go outside to urinate before attempting his escape. He saw from his seat one of the pirates urinating outside and used that opportunity to jump the lifeboat. His reaction of absolute shock after being rescued by the SEAL team never happened in real life. He was hit by what happened only after he tried to go to sleep for the first time after being rescued.
  • In real life, the interior of the lifeboat reached temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (about 38 degrees Celsius) for a majority of the ordeal. The film implies this, but not to the extent as the real event. Richard Phillips has described how uncomfortable he naturally is in extreme heat and how the heat added to the tension of the situation. In fact, during his attempted escape he noted that even though he knew he was swimming in shark infested waters, it was a great relief to temporarily escape the heat of the lifeboat.
  • In real life, the pirates planned to meet up with other pirate groups in the coastal area who held other kidnapped victims and could provide them a clean getaway.
  • When the actual SEALs flew in to rescue Captain Phillips, neither the commander of the operation, nor any other Navy officer ordered them to shoot the pirates. Instead, the sniper team leader acted under his own "emergency assault" authority to kill them as soon as all three could be taken out at the same time.
  • The Navy Seal that shot the pirates was also at Benghazi. His character was influential in the movie 13 Hours (2016).
  • During the climax when tensions escalate inside the lifeboat and Captain Phillips' life hangs in the balance, the music score ("The End" composed by John Powell) that plays during this sequence was also used in the climax of United 93 (2006), another historical drama/thriller film directed by Paul Greengrass.
    • This is the final Columbia Pictures film to use the Sony Pictures Entertainment byline both in the opening and ending credits of the movie. The byline is replaced by the Sony byline in the next film. Thus ending the SPE byline's existence for Columbia Pictures after 17 years of usage.
      • This is also the last time the Sony Pictures Entertainment byline is used in the 2006 Columbia Pictures logo and in a live-action film from Columbia Pictures.
        • This is also the last Columbia Pictures film where any Columbia Pictures logo plays first in the opening credits. The Sony logo appears first instead of the 2006 Columbia Pictures logo and the 2006 Columbia Pictures logo plays second in the next film.
          • The word "Irish" is used 36 times in the movie.
            • During an interview on NPR's "Fresh Air", Tom Hanks said the first time he met the actors playing the Somali pirates was when they started filming the pirates taking over the bridge. Paul Greengrass mentioned he did this intentionally to build up tension between the actors on board the ship and the actors playing the Somali pirates.
  • Max Martini who plays the SEAL Commander previously starred alongside Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan. He played Corporal Fred Henderson, the Commander of Private Ryan's unit.