Grading Robin Hood Movies
A heroic figure who has been remembered and talked about for centuries, Robin Hood has provided countless storytellers with material to work with. Over the decades this has also applied to cinema and so many filmmakers have put their spin on the hero of Loxley who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor all in resistance to the usurper to the throne King John and his Sheriff of Nottingham. Since I approximate there being 3,987,512 movies that have been made of Robin Hood’s adventures (and some of them are now lost) we are restricting this list to only the major movie adaptations of the tale.
Robin Hood (1922): One of moviedom’s greatest swashbucklers Douglas Fairbanks picked up the famed bow and arrow in this silent flick. Fairbanks portrays the gallant Earl of Huntingdon, a rival to the treacherous Guy of Gisbourne. Upon returning from the crusade, he finds that John has usurped the throne making the people miserable. Wanting to fight back, the Earl adopts the alter ego of Robin Hood to unite a group of rebels to rob from John and return the money to the oppressed. The scale of this movie is nothing short of impressive as an entire English village and castle were constructed for a truly immersive set for the actors. Fairbanks bursts with energy as Robin Hood bringing a smooth agility to the action scenes. This movie is most known for casting Alan Hale as Little John a role he would make his own and even reprise it a few more times in his career, most notably in the movie next on our list.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938): Legendary director Michael Curtiz brought his skills for storytelling to this classic tale which featured Hollywood icon Errol Flynn in his most famous role. One of the most beloved movies in cinema history, the Adventures of Robin Hood brings an epic flourish to the story of Robin of Loxley. With the capture of King Richard, Prince John sees his opportunity to seize the throne and tax his subjects into oblivion to break their spirits. The only man brave enough to oppose him is Sir Robin of Locksley who becomes a folk hero when he stops Guy of Gisbourne from arresting a friend. As a fugitive Robin unites his compatriots under a chivalrous oath to take from the wealthy and give to the poor. Though when John discovers the vigilante’s feelings for Lady Marian he exploits it to draw Robin out for a final showdown at Nottingham Castle. Aside from Flynn the cast boasted such Hollywood heavyweights as: Olivia de Havilland, Claude Raines, Melville Cooper, Basil Rathbone, and Una O’Connor. Even eight decades later this stands as arguably the definitive film version of the Robin Hood mythos with something for all movie lovers. Errol Flynn’s performance as the legendary hero is still considered the best portrayal of the Prince of Thieves ever filmed.
Robin Hood (1973): A version of this story which no doubt still resonates with many of us who grew up on Disney’s animated classics. The familiar characters of Sherwood Forest are anthropomorphized into different animals courtesy of Ken Anderson who blended his idea for a Robin Hood adaptation with Walt Disney’s desire to create a film version of Reynard the Fox. And in all fairness the animal each character is portrayed as fits perfectly with their given personality. Presented as a buddy-comedy Robin Hood focuses on the titular folk hero and Little John as they pull off a series of cartoonishly fun schemes to swindle the ill-gotten fortune of; Prince John, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Sir Hiss. In the process of becoming the most wanted man in Nottingham, Robin rekindles his relationship with Maid Marian. This fun and fast-paced flick has become a proud part of Disney’s library of animated features and still charms viewers to this day.
Robin and Marian (1976): This film took an interesting direction in dealing with the Robin Hood-mythos, as it featured Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn as Robin Hood and Maid Marian twenty years following the epic story we all know. After years of loyalty, Robin and Little John are betrayed by King Richard and leave his service. This leads to the veteran hero returning to his old stomping grounds, as he tries to rekindle his relationship with Maid Marian who has joined a convent. His return to Sherwood Forest does rekindle his feud with the Sheriff of Nottingham who is also older but more cunning. The final battle between the two rivals only serves as a reminder that Robin Hood is no longer the spry fighter he once was ultimately leading to a tragic but poignant ending for both Robin Hood and Maid Marian. While the movie skews towards the melodramatic side, director Richard Lester and his team should be commended for bringing a new and original vision to the life of Robin Hood. Luckily the humor in the film brings enough levity to keep the audience’s attention. As two leads Connery and Hepburn both deliver layered and unique performances as the legendary lovers who are in a whole new stage of life.
Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991): Returning home from fighting alongside King Richard III in the crusades, Robin of Loxley finds that he has lost everything he once knew and the Sheriff of Nottingham now rules without question. Robin sees no other option than to go into exile with his companion Azeem. Together they find a band of outlaws also hiding in Sherwood Forrest and unite them into a resistance group to fight back against the sheriff. Kevin Costner was clearly cast for his star power, because his All-American sensibilities clash horribly with the English folk hero he is supposed to be portraying. While he tries to instill the legendary hero with a sense of nobility and honor, it robs Robin Hood of the roguish charm he is famous for. Luckily there are some standout performances from the supporting cast to balance it out. especially Alan Rickman who received a BAFTA nomination for his as the Sheriff of Nottingham. While Prince of Thieves aimed to be a grand medieval epic, the end result was a movie which flows at a sluggish pace with several moments of melodrama which came off as really cheesy.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993): With Costner’s film reigniting interest in the Robber of the Rich, comedy genius Mel Brooks decided to deliver his own satirical look at the famed hero. Despite the comedic tone of the film Carey Elwes is perfectly cast as the lead and has the right swashbuckling and charming qualities to play Robin Hood even if this were a serious film. This unexpectedly gave a sense of legitimacy to a tale of Robin Hood and his Merry Men; Ahchoo, Little John, Blinkin, Will Scarlett O’Hara and Rabbi Tuckman battle against the Sheriff of Rottingham. Though Robin’s ultimate goal is to unlock the chastity belt which has trapped his beloved Maid Marian. Naturally under the helm of Brooks this is top tier satire where the jokes land perfectly and there is even a catchy musical number in “Men in Tights”. Despite being a parody Men in Tights has become one of the most loved cinematic adaptations of the Robin Hood-mythos, and gives Prince John perhaps the most fitting come-uppance of any Robin Hood flick.
Robin Hood (2010): Right off the bat, I am deducting points from this one because of how it ruined a promising original premise. Originally pitched as a film focused on the Sheriff of Nottingham, this movie would have seen the famed villain portrayed as a hero using period-accurate detective methods to hunt down a less-than-heroic Robin Hood. Instead director Ridley Scott had it rewritten to be a Robin Hood origin story. In this version, Robin is a common archer from the Third Crusade who makes an oath to a knight from Nottingham, which leads to him taking up arms and defending the region from the harsh taxes of the newly crowned King John. Working at the behest of the king is the traitorous Godfrey and his French conspirators. Everything leads to an over-the-top bombastic climax where Robin united the troops of England to fight the invading French forces. Despite being an origin story, nothing new is really presented in this film.
Robin Hood (2018): Given the creatively bankrupt nature of Hollywood nowadays, it was inevitable that we would get an “edgy” “modern” take on the Prince of Thieves. A young Robin Hood finds himself pulled away from his relationship with Maid Marian to fight in the crusades. Returning home he learns the Sheriff of Nottingham had him declared dead and seized his property. Following this Robin Hood begins operating in secret to rob from the corrupt Cardinal who is stealing from the people. While trying to appeal to the X-Box generation the action scenes in this flick are laughably unrealistic with machine gun arrows and possibly the silliest horse chases in movie history. There is an attempt to add in a modern political message comes off as hamfisted at best. Despite a talented cast of: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, and F. Murray Abraham, Robin Hood fails on so many levels and is at best a third rate Batman Begins.