Cutthroat Island (1995) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Morgan Adams and her slave, William Shaw, are on a quest to recover the three portions of a treasure map. Unfortunately, the final portion is held by her murderous uncle, Dawg. Her crew is skeptical of her leadership abilities, so she must complete her quest before they mutiny against her. This is made yet more difficult by the efforts of the British crown to end her piratical raids.

  • Morgan Adams' father's dying gifts to her are his pirate ship and a one-third part of a map of a treasure island - unusually inscribed on his scalp. Thinking herself in need of a Latin scholar to unravel the map, she buys learned slave William Shaw and sets off in search of the rest of the map. However, it is Shaw, obviously with plans of his own, who gets the second part. He's somewhat easier to deal with, though, than the holder of the last part - Morgan's less-than-loving piratical uncle Dawg.

  • A female pirate and her companion race against their rivals to find a hidden island that contains a fabulous treasure.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In 1668 Jamaica, Morgan Adams (Geena Davis) a born and raised pirate lady is found by her father's henchmen and called back to her father's ship in emergency. Her uncle and fellow pirate Dawg Brown (Frank Langella), has captured her father, Black Harry (Harris Yulin). Black Harry has one of three pieces of a map to a huge stash of gold on the remote Cutthroat Island. Dawg has another piece, having stolen it from the corpse of a third brother, Richard, while a fourth brother, Mordechai (George Murcell), has the last piece. Harry refuses to give Dawg his piece and attempts a daring escape that fails when he's mortally wounded. A dying Harry reveals to his daughter the location of his piece of map; he had it tattooed on his scalp. He also gives his daughter ownership and captaincy of his ship, the Morning Star.

    After scalping her dead father for the piece, Morgan rejoins the ship as captain and sets out for the treasure. Some of the ship's crew are reluctant to follow but are convinced when she reveals the map. Unfortunately, the instructions on the map appear to be in Latin, which no one on board reads. So, they go to nearby Port Royal to find a translator.

    Meanwhile, in Port Royal, William Shaw (Matthew Modine), a doctor turned thief, is working a fancy dancing ball, stealing from its numerous lady guests. Unfortunately, things turn sour when Captain Trotter (Angus Wright) catches him red handed and makes him prisoner. His boss, Governor Ainslee (Patrick Malahide), orders Shaw to be sold as a slave.

    Morgan and her crew learn that one of the slaves up for auction, a doctor, is fluent in Latin. After threatening a man determined to outbid her, Morgan wins the auction. Unfortunately, she is recognized from her wanted poster and is chased out of town, along with her crew and Shaw. Humiliated, Governor Ainslee vows to find her, either to arrest her or form a partnership for half her profits. He enlists the help of John Reed (Maury Chaykin), a chronicler who often follows pirates to write his books. Meanwhile, Morgan, while looking at the map with Shaw, realizes that the instructions were not Latin, they were simply written backwards. She also figures that the Bible verses written on the map are actually longitude coordinates of the island.

    The crew finds Mordechai in Spittlefield Harbor. Morgan makes a deal with Mordechai to join their ships and crews together against Dawg. Before she can learn where the second piece of map is, Dawg appears. A fight ensues, during which Mordechai is killed and Morgan is shot, while Shaw secretly finds the piece of map engraved on a piece of wood and keeps it to himself. After they escape on the Morning Star, Morgan collapses from her wound but is saved by Shaw who is, after all, a doctor. The two kisses for the first time. Shaw pretends he doesn't have the second piece of map.

    Dawg's ship, the Reaper, bears down on them. Morgan directs hers toward a coral reef... and a gale. While she is distracted by a storm, Shaw sneaks into her cabin with the second piece of the map. Realizing that the upper case letters on the map are actually roman numbers, therefore the missing coordinates, he pieces together the longitude and latitude to find the location of Cutthroat Island which, turns out, was uncharted so far. Morgan catches him and forces him to reveal his true identity. It turns out, Shaw is just a poor common thief and con man who was never a doctor. He ends up thrown in the brig for his lies.

    During the storm, Reed sends a carrier pigeon revealing their location to Ainslee. Meanwhile, the majority of the crew led by the treacherous Scully (Jimmie F. Skaggs) mutinies against Morgan and maroon her and those loyal to her in a boat. Shaw escapes and jump off the ship but is unseen and unheard by Morgan and her remaining crew. He is unable to reach their boat. The boat is wrecked in the storm but luckily, the tide takes them straight to Cutthroat Island.

    As Morgan goes after the treasure with the parts she already know, she sees Dawg and his ship arriving on the island. She plans to steal Dawg's piece of map at night but Shaw, who survived the storm, is quicker. Unfortunately for him, Shaw falls into quicksand and has to surrender the map to Morgan to be saved. Together, they find the gold, but are ambushed by Dawg, forcing them to jump off a cliff into the tide. Dawg and his crew claims the gold and load it on their ship.

    After regaining consciousness, Shaw finds Reed, who leads him into a trap set by Dawg, Ainslee, and the mutineers, who have all joined forces and intend to split the gold between them. As Shaw is captured and they make their way out to sea with the gold, Morgan sneaks aboard the Morning Star and retakes it from Scully and the mutineers.

    The crew then tries to sneak attack the Reaper, but Dawg counterattacks. A sea fight ensues, during which Shaw escapes and Ainslee, his men and Reed are killed by cannon fire. Morgan boards the Reaper and blows out the ship's bottom to get to the gold. She then duels Dawg while Shaw gets trapped below in rapidly rising water with the treasure. Morgan finally kills Dawg with a cannon and saves Shaw, forced to abandon the treasure to escape the sinking ship. Luckily, Morgan attached a marker barrel to the treasure beforehand, allowing them to retrieve it and the newly rich crew sets sail for their next adventure in Madagascar.

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