10 Best Popeye Moments

“It’s Popeye the sailor man…” making his big screen debut in Disney’s first-ever live-action film, Popeye.

The musical comedy based upon the “Popeye” comic strips (which had already been developed into a cartoon), opens with the animated Popeye exclaiming “Hey, what’s this? One of Bluto’s tricks? I’m in the wrong movie!” It sets the tone for a funny and exciting 97 minutes directed by acclaimed filmmaker Robert Altman.

Revered for his directing abilities, and best known for making well-respected high art films, Robert Altman had already been nominated two times for Best Director at the Oscars by the time this film came around. Popeye was therefore seen as a curveball for him, being a musical comedy aimed at families. It wasn’t a smash hit upon release either, falling short at the box office in comparison to rival Annie (1982), which was also adapted from a comic strip. However, Altman’s underdog piece was given two thumbs up by acclaimed film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and has been loved and celebrated in the many years since its release, becoming something of a cult hit among fans.

Popeye is a barrel of laughs, boasting exceptional portrayals of Popeye and Olive Oyl from Robin Williams in his debut film role and Shelley Duvall (hot off the heels of her performance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining). Popeye follows the story of a sailor called Popeye who arrives at the town of Sweethaven in search of his father, who left him when he was two. Along the way, he finds a baby and starts to take care of it with the help of Olive Oyl, a local girl who is to be engaged to the town brute, Bluto (Paul L. Smith).

It may not have been typical of Altman’s style, but Popeye knows what it is. The dialogue is sometimes difficult to pick up on, with many of the lines having to be re-dubbed after filming due to the microphone not picking them up, but the physical comedy always lands. Many of the cast members were circus performers, their dedication to the craft allowing for incredible stunts throughout an utterly enjoyable and always imaginative feature presentation.

In a film so full of gags and so packed with action, it’s hard to choose just ten moments to look out for. Nevertheless, we at The Film Magazine have chosen the funniest, most emotional, and most memorable. These are the 10 Best Popeye Moments.

Follow @thefilmagazine on X (Twitter).

10. The Boxing Match

“I’m sorry, where do I send the flowers?”

The town of Sweethaven is ruled by the mysterious Commodore and his right-hand man Bluto, who enforces strict and unfair taxes for all of the townspeople. After the Oyl family falls into a great amount of debt from the taxman (but really from Bluto’s rage), the young Castor Oyl (Donovan Scott) enters himself into a boxing match with the fearsome and unbeaten Oxblood Oxheart (Peter Bray). The prize money will clear their debt and save the family. Unfortunately, Castor gets knocked out pretty quickly, and that’s when Popeye leaps into the ring, all of a sudden donning a boxing outfit and ready to fight.

This scene features all of the classic humour you would expect from a live-action cartoon fight – comical punch noises, shaking of fists, and physics-defying moves. Oxheart is set up to be a terrifying force to be reckoned with, Castor’s punch barely causing a ripple in his huge belly. But when Popeye jumps into the ring and starts jumping and rolling out of the way of Oxheart’s punches, we realised we have a winner on our hands.

As Popeye delivers the final blow and Oxheart falls to the ground, the huge statue of Oxheart fixed to the front of his boat falls too, and suddenly he is undefeated no more.

9. Popeye Takes Down the Taxman

“That’s 89 cents, unlicensed baby tax.”

Many times throughout Popeye, the taxman (Donald Moffat) will turn up to enforce ridiculous taxation. Who knows if there are any real tax laws written in his little notebook or if he makes them up on the spot to wring as much money as possible from the poor townsfolk?

As soon as Popeye sets foot in Sweethaven, he is taxed simply for being new in town. The people of Sweethaven do their very best to never catch the taxman’s eye. So, when the taxman comes along to pick on Popeye after he has taken Swee’pea (Wesley Ivan Hurt) and left the Oyl residence to live on the street, Popeye has had enough. He shoves the taxman away, and he loses his balance and slides down a perfectly placed wooden ramp into the water surrounding the town. Immediately, the town erupts into a chorus of cheers, the townspeople swarming around Popeye to lift him up in celebration.

Until this point, it has been very clear that (as an outsider) Popeye is unwelcome and people do not want to associate with him. So it comes as a welcome surprise when everyone bursts into the streets to shower him with praise.

In all of the excitement, Swee’pea gets carried away and kidnapped by Bluto. Popeye is only allowed his glory for just a moment before he realises his sweet Swee’pea is lost, and his panicked cries are useless against the cheers of the townspeople. It is such a bittersweet moment, the joy and celebration quickly fading into dread and panic. The swarms of people paint the streets with so much excitement, filling the screen with busy arms and heads. This scene is wonderfully executed, effectively portraying all the physical and emotional excitement, uniting the town in glee, and tailing off with the dread and fear of a lost child.

Recommended for you: 10 Best Films of All Time (According to a 9-Year-Old Girl)

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Leave a Comment