Would The Goonies Have Actually Saved Their Town, According To A Legal Expert
Back in the days when small children were allowed to roam the streets/booby-trap-filled tunnels of doom totally free of adult supervision, we got a little movie called The Goonies, all about a band of loyal friends comprised of bullied outsiders who … also frequently bully each other, to be totally honest.
The Goonies finds our pint-sized hero Mikey and his pals embarking on a treasure hunt, not just because the internet had yet to be invented and there was nothing to do, but in order to save their families from being displaced by the aggressive expansion of a local country club – which was apparently a major threat to people’s lives in the 1980s. In the end, the lovably scrappy Goonies are mostly successful in their quest … but would their heroics have actually offered any kind of financial lifeline to the residents of Astoria, Oregon?
The story, of course, concludes with Mikey and the gang discovering the remains of a notorious pirate named One-Eyed Willy (presumably “Long Dong Silver” was a little too on the nose) and his abandoned underground ship full of gold coins, precious gems and several ancient corpses that, weirdly, nobody seems all that bothered by.
While The Goonies ultimately lose most of the treasure to a cave-in (or so it seems) in the end, Mikey still has a marble bag full of Willy’s gems. So Mikey’s dad turns his foreclosure papers into confetti, and everybody who’s not a sleazy ‘80s developer cheers in celebration of a well-earned victory – but that really wouldn't be the end of the story.
To get a better handle on The Goonies’ situation, we spoke with attorney and author of Legal Guide to Buying and Selling Art and Collectibles, Armen Vartian, who pointed out that there are a number of issues at play that drastically complicate the film's resolution. For one thing, pirate treasure, which is obviously stolen, isn’t simply up for grabs for any random children who happen to stumble upon it. If we’re talking about, say, coins that were stolen from Spanish colonies throughout the Americas, for example, “Spain would still want that.”
So anyone removing such a treasure would “still have to deal with the government of Spain saying, well, that's our property still.” Which is a thing that has really happened in real life (no mention of booby traps or murderous families of petty crooks, though). The same goes for the gemstones because they wouldn't be One-Eyed Willy's to legally abandon since he never owned them to begin with.
Now, as those of you who are intimately familiar with the official Goonies Souvenir Magazine are well aware, One-Eyed Willy is a former Spanish jester who was “banished” because of his “off-color stories and practical jokes” (which perhaps explains his punchline of a name). Once he became a pirate, Willy mainly stole from the British and “mauraded hundreds of the King’s ships.”
But even if the booty came from England, the “same principles apply,” and they would likely still claim ownership of any recovered treasures that had been stolen. And they wouldn’t necessarily be the only interested party; in some states, such as Florida, the state “claims a share,” and occasionally, even insurance companies will ask for a share, asserting that they had “insured the cargo” back in the day. Although the Goonies' ship magically drifting into international waters at the end of the movie would probably take away any state claims to the treasure, so it’s kind of surprising that none of the townspeople quickly hopped on a speedboat and filled it with doubloons.
But this doesn’t mean that The Goonies are totally out of luck; according to Mr. Vartian, they very likely would be offered a share of the recovered treasure “as a reward for having found it.” Given that the gems in Mikey’s possession are large and astonishingly untarnished, even a percentage of their worth could potentially be enough to pay off all of the outstanding mortgages, thus keeping The Goonies’ houses away from the clutches of any evil golf enthusiasts – although, by the end of the film, one would imagine that the bad guys would have shifted their plans from building country clubs to turning the vast underground pirate maze beneath Astoria into the country’s most kick-ass tourist attraction.
Unfortunately, there’s still one major stumbling block: time. With various parties laying claim to the treasure, there would be a protracted period of litigation. As Mr. Vartian told me, you might see “historians testifying for both sides” and experts attempting to “interpret documents that go back hundreds of years” such as ancient ship’s manifests, all in an attempt to piece together the “chain of title” – because while we know that the treasure doesn’t belong to One-Eyed Willy, the courts would need to figure out who does legally own everything. This process could take literal years, making it especially dumb that Mike’s father went full Rip Taylor on those legal papers as if all his problems had been magically solved.
That being said, it’s entirely possible that The Goonies could borrow against their future reward, and then use said loan to pay for the houses. While large sums of money aren’t typically advanced to dudes named “Chunk” and “Sloth,” presumably the notoriety of the discovery could help their case, and reassure lenders that they would get their money back when the case is resolved. So really, if they had made a Goonies II (other than that one creepy video game) it probably would have been a lengthy legal drama that lasted until Sean Astin was Rudy-years-old.
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Thumbnail: Warner Bros.