The Lost ’80s Guardians Of The Galaxy That Was Supposed To Be A Sci-Fi Epic

By Robert Scucci | Updated

Sometimes, studio interference severely messes with a film’s final outcome, and The Ice Pirates is a shining example of what could go wrong when this happens. Originally intended to be an epic space opera with a $20 million budget, The Ice Pirates was subjected to severe budget cuts because MGM had financial issues ahead of the film’s production. As a result, writer/director Stewart Raffill only had $8 million at his disposal to realize his vision fully, and he was encouraged to rewrite the film as a raunchy comedy.

The Ice Pirates Was Not Supposed To Be A Comedy

On paper, The Ice Pirates was meant to be a tale of survival in a dystopian future. Jason (Robert Urich) and his gang of space pirates board a cruiser occupied by the Templars of Mithra in an attempt to steal their ice. In this version of the future, water is a precious yet scarce commodity, and ice is almost nowhere to be found.

An Epic Tale Undercut By Sophomoric Humor

Jason and his partner, Roscoe (Michael D. Roberts), are captured after botching the mission and are about to be castrated and lobotomized by the Templars. Instead, Princess Karina (Mary Crosby), whom Jason had originally intended to kidnap, has other things in mind. Karina’s father went missing while searching for the mysterious “Seventh World,” so she recruits the Ice Pirates to help her track him down.

The Seventh World is said to possess massive reserves of water, which leads to the primary source of conflict in The Ice Pirates. The Templars of Mithra have a monopoly over the universe’s water supply, making them extremely powerful. Should Karina locate the mysterious planet and her father, the Templars’ power will be jeopardized.

Ridiculous Premise Played Straight

As I said, the above premise makes for a compelling sci-fi drama that could have benefited from carefully placed comic relief at just the right moments. Having to rely on toilet humor instead of special effects, The Ice Pirates introduces the idea of “space herpes” contaminating spaceships and other various forms of low-brow sexual innuendo in order to drive the story forward. Even though this movie’s script was completely overhauled to make it a more budget-friendly comedy, the characters play it straight as if they were still acting in a serious film.

Undercut By The Tone

While I found some of the frat humor in The Ice Pirates to be effective, I wish I could have seen what the original screenplay had to offer had it been fully realized with proper studio backing. The time rift tomfoolery found in the third act would have had a much stronger payoff if the film had a more serious tone leading up to its climax.

Porky’s In Space

In my opinion, The Ice Pirates could have competed with the Star Wars franchise or, at the very least, had the potential to play out like a grittier version of Guardians of the Galaxy. I can’t say that I absolutely hated what this movie ended up becoming, but I also find myself wondering how differently things would have shaken out if this film had been given a chance to be what it was supposed to be. Thanks to massive budget cuts, we basically got Porky’s In Space.

Rental Streams Only


As a comedy, The Ice Pirates falls flat. But as a sci-fi drama that picked its moments to be funny, it could have been so much more than what we got. In an ideal world, we could have gotten a version of The Ice Pirates that would have stood the test of time as a fun, family-friendly adventure film. If you want to see for yourself how last-minute changes can ruin a film that has so much potential, you can rent the ill-fated space-opera-turned-frat-comedy on Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, and YouTube.