The ultimate guide to Robin Hood films

James Oliver

With so many Robin Hood films available, we give you a breakdown of the best ones...

Like King Arthur, his main rival as “best mythological British hero”, Robin Hood is a character that Hollywood just can't resist; as popular with modern moviemakers as he was with Medieval minstrels.

They're taking us to Sherwood forest yet again this year, in a doubtlessly thrilling new adventure called—with some imagination—Robin Hood. Let's hope it's better than last year's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, eh, kids?

But it hardly matters if it isn't, for there is no shortage of previous cinematic Robin Hoods to amuse us. And some of them, as we shall see, hit the target dead centre...

 

Robin Hood (1922)

There had been earlier Hoods, but nothing like this. Nothing on this scale; this was the first film to cost a million dollars. Of course, it starred Douglas Fairbanks, the greatest action hero of the silent era (and the template for All-American movie heroism thereafter).

It might be a wee bit slow for modern tastes—it takes an hour and a half or thereabouts for the Earl of Huntingdon to style himself as “Robin Hood”—but there's still plenty to enjoy. And those who saw it in childhood—Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier amongst them—were adamant that no-one ever came close to filling Doug's breeches.

"What Douglas Fairbanks was to small boys of the 1920s, so Errol Flynn was to nippers a decade later"

 

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

What Douglas Fairbanks was to small boys of the 1920s, so Errol Flynn was to nippers a decade later. His star has waned since—we know a bit too much about his private life, little of it salutary—but to see him in full flow is to be reminded what movie star charisma is.

This is him at his absolute best: buckles are swashed, thighs a-slapped and there is laughter that can only be described as “hearty.” It is simply perfect, and there are precious few films you can say that about.

Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)

Although best known for their horror pictures, Hammer films had a profitable sideline in swashbucklers. This is one of three films they made about Robin Hood and it's the best. They sensibly cast Richard Greene, fresh from ITV's Adventures of Robin Hood TV series, in the lead and very good he is too—but not as good as Niall MacGinnis as Friar Tuck, Nigel Green as Little John or, best of all, Peter Cushing, who plays the Sheriff of Nottingham with as much ice as you might hope. 

Sadly none of them stuck around for more. Hammer's next trip to the East Midlands (A Challenge for Robin Hood) is certainly grand half-term fun but this saw them at the top of their (considerable) game.

 

Robin Hood (1973)

Like many animations produced at Disney after the death of Uncle Walt, this animated tale of everyone's favourite outlaw doesn't have much of a reputation. But even if it's not one of the Mouse House's prime offerings, it's still a good deal of fun; you can't, after all, go too far wrong with Peter Ustonov as Prince John nor the sainted Terry-Thomas as his slithery sidekick, Sir Hiss.

Plus, you get the rare pleasure of engaging with a Di$ney film advocating wealth redistribution. #Irony, as I believe the young people say.

 

Robin and Marion (1976)

Most Robin Hood films end happily, with the restoration of Good King Richard, as though the only thing wrong with the feudal system was the person on the throne. The actual legend of Robin Hood is less optimistic since he dies an outlaw—remember the business about “bury me where this arrow lands”?

This underrated film is the only movie that includes that bit. It's directed by Richard Lester, he of A Hard Day's Night fame, and although he—typically—can't quite take it as seriously as he ought to, it's a fine, autumnal, revisionist take. Audrey Hepburn—finally!—plays Marian who is a nun here, having been abandoned by Sean Connery's Robin in favour of the crusades. When he comes back, he discovers his celebrity outweighs his actual ability.

Probably the very opposite of a swashbuckler but none the worse for that.

"Is “Robin Hood” the most used (over-used) title of all time?"

 

Time Bandits (1981)

Not a proper Robin Hood film this, even though Terry Gilliam's film about time-travelling ne'er-do-wells it's as stuffed with excitement and thrills as anything else on this list. 

At one point, our heroes arrive in Sherwood to meet Robin Hood, played with wonderfully patronising politeness by John Cleese (who apparently modelled his performance on the Duke of Kent). His merry men haven't quite got the hang of the “...and giving to the poor” bit, but they're a dab hand at the “stealing from the rich” part. And not just the rich, either.

 

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

Blimey, you wait ages for a cinematic Robin Hood and then two arrive at once. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was a big-budget Hollywood romp whose bland leading man (Kevin Costner) is overshadowed by its scenery-chewing villain (Alan Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham). 

It's all very accomplished and has its admirers—and it certainly eclipsed the other Robin Hood film from 1991, and that's a shame. That one has Irishman Patrick Bergin in the lead (and Uma Thurman as Maid Marian) and it's a resolutely—maybe even defiantly—traditional take on the legend, with none of the black magic or family squabbles of Prince of Thieves. But what it lacks in Rickman, it makes up for in atmosphere, and a leading man who can do a British accent.

 

Robin Hood (2010)

The question must be asked: is “Robin Hood” the most used (over-used) title of all time? Also: don't people ever get muddled up? Because surely, it would be easy enough for the poor, harassed and badly-treated wage-slave in the Mega-Corp distribution centre to get befuddled and send you this instead of the 1991 Robin Hood that you ordered.

That wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, of course. You'd have a decent-sized Ridley Scott film and, say what you will about him, he does know how to put on a show. Better yet, you have Russell Crowe attempting a regional accent! Quite what region is moot (Cumbrian? The Transvaal? Who knows?) but hey, give a bloke points for trying.

Poor Russ is a wee bit sensitive about The Accent (he's been known to flounce out of interviews if it's mentioned) but, sorry mate: that's what sets this Robin Hood apart from everything else with the same title.