'Robin Hood' - Thirteen Film Adaptations

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Robin Hood is England's most famous folklore hero. His exploits stealing from the rich to give to the poor with his Merrie Men – Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlett and the spelling-flexible Alan-a-Dale – aided by love of his life Maid Marian1 while battling the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John during the reign of King Richard the Lionheart have attracted worldwide fame. This has since led to numerous film adaptations since the invention of the cinema. This is a brief look at some of them.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

DirectorsMichael Curtiz and William Keighley
StudioWarner Bros
PlotWith King Richard the Lionheart held hostage in Austria, Prince John plans to rule England in his stead. He heavily taxes the Saxons but one man, Robin of Locksley, stands up to Prince John and, after being knocked down by Little John, forms a band of merry men dedicated to the cause of freedom in Sherwood Forest. Can Robin persuade Lady Marian that his intentions are honourable and be able to prevent the assassination of King Richard?
Length102 minutes
Setting1191, Nottinghamshire, particularly Sherwood Forest
  • Robin Hood, aka Sir Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn)
  • Lady Marian Fitzwalter (Dame Olivia de Havilland DBE)
  • Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone)
  • Prince John (Claude Rains)
  • Will 'Scarlett' Gamwell (Patric Knowles)
  • Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette)
  • John Little aka Little John (Alan Hale Snr)
  • Much the Miller's Son (Herbert Mundin)
  • Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper)
  • Bess (Una O'Connor)
  • King Richard the Lionheart (Ian Hunter)
Bechdel TestFail

This is widely regarded as the best Robin Hood adaptation, winning three Oscars (Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing and Best Original Score (by Erich Wolfgang Korngold) and was nominated for Best Picture. In 2001 in the UK it was voted 84th of the Best Films of All Time, and 100th in America. In 2005 it was listed on the British Film Institute's list of 50 films children should see before 14.

This was the most expensive film Warner Bros had made to date and their first major colour film, costing $2 million, with Errol Flynn by far their largest star. The film itself was filmed in California, including at California's Lake Sherwood and Sherwood Forest, so-named after appearing in Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood [sic] (1922), a film in which Alan Hale Snr had first played Little John.

Following its success, Warner Bros hoped to make a sequel however the Second World War prevented this.

The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1946)

DirectorsHenry Levin & George Sherman
StudioColumbia Pictures
PlotIt is twenty years after Robin Hood defied Prince John. A nine year-old king (Henry III) is on the throne and the ambitious Regent, William of Pembroke, has annulled Magna Carta. He now plots to assassinate the king and rule in his place, kidnapping him and taking him away from the Queen Mother. Only the once-again exiled Robin Hood aka Robert of Huntingdon, his band of aging merry men, Robin's son Robert Hood aka Robin of Huntingdon are willing to help Lady Catherine rescue him.
Length82 minutes
Settingc 1217 England, around Nottingham and Sherwood Forest
  • Lady Catherine Maitland (Anita Louise)
  • The Queen Mother (Jill Esmond)
  • Friar Tuck (Edgar Buchanan)
  • Robin of Huntington aka Robert Hood (Cornel Wilde)
  • Robin Hood aka Robert Earl of Huntington (Russell Hicks)
  • Regent William of Pembroke (Henry Daniell)
  • Will Scarlet (John Abbott)
  • Fitz-Herbert (George Macready)
  • Sheriff of Nottingham (Lloyd Corrigan)
  • Mother Meg (Eva Moore)
  • John Little aka Little John (Ray Teal)
  • Allan-a-Dale (Leslie Denison)
  • Lord Mortimer (Ian Wolfe)
  • The King (Maurice Tauzin)
Bechdel TestPass

A fun, light-hearted adventure, based on Paul Castleton's novel Son of Robin Hood (1941), renamed to The Bandit of Sherwood Forest as reportedly MGM were trying to copyright the name 'Robin Hood' and threatened to sue. Unusually the two leads are both female, although the Queen Mother does not do a great deal in the film's second half, though Anita Louise is by far the strongest female role in a Robin Hood film to date, insisting that she takes part in the daring rescue attempt of the king. She is incredibly flirtatious and seems to enjoy being grabbed by Robert Hood, despite giving him a hefty slap in return.

The fact that there are two Robin Hoods, father and son, who both use both 'Robin' and 'Robert' as their name interchangeably is surprisingly not as confusing as the premise suggests. The film's only weakness is the story does not understand what Magna Carta is, believing it to be a document creating an instant democracy rather than a charter guaranteeing the rights of the nobility and fish.

Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950)

DirectorGordon Douglas
StudioColumbia Pictures
PlotRichard the Lionheart and Robin Hood are dead. King John plans to raise taxes to raise enough money to hire Flemish mercenaries to rule absolutely, killing off the wealthiest barons in the country and confiscating their territory. Only Robin Hood's son Robin Hood can save the day, helped by his father's friends and King John's ward, Lady Marianne. Will he be able to persuade the remaining barons to unite behind the Archbishop of Canterbury's plan to persuade the king to sign a Great Charter?
Length79 minutes
SettingEngland, 1215, particularly Nottingham, Sherwood Forest also Reading, Leeds and Manchester
  • Robin Hood (John Derek)
  • Lady Marianne de Beaudray (Diana Lynn)
  • King John (George Macready)
  • John Little aka Little John (Alan Hale Snr)
  • Sir Giles (Paul Cavanagh)
  • Count of Flanders (Lowell Gilmore)
  • Friar Tuck (Billy House)
  • Alan-a-Dale (Lester Matthews)
  • Will Scarlet (William 'Billy' Bevan)
  • Baron Fitzwalter (Wilton Graff)
  • Archbishop Stephen Langton (Donald Randolph)
Bechdel TestFail

This is a fairly average film, again based on the son of Robin Hood. It is best known for being Alan Hale Snr's third and final appearance as Little John, which he first played in Robin Hood in 1922, 28 years earlier. This is the record for the longest period over which an actor has played the same character in unrelated films2. Filming took place at the Corrigan Movie Ranch. Curiously the film has Manchester and Leeds as major mediæval towns when they were unimportant settlements until the industrial revolution.

The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952)

DirectorKen Annakin
StudioWalt Disney Productions
RKO Radio Pictures

With King Richard on crusade the ambitious Prince John wishes to build his own army to gain a position of strength within England and be able to keep the throne, and to do so enlists the Sheriff of Nottingham to severely tax the midlands. After the sheriff murders Robin's father for speaking out, Robin is declared an outlaw and assembles a band of merrie men to steal from the rich and give to the Archbishop of Cantebury, who needs a vast sum of money to pay King Richard's ransom as he is being held captive in Austria.

Length80 minutes
SettingNottinghamshire, c1190s
  • Robin Fitzooth aka Robin Hood (Richard Todd)
  • Maid Marian of Huntingdon (Joan Rice)
  • Sheriff of Nottingham (Peter Finch)
  • Friar Tuck (James Hayter)
  • Little John (James Robertson Justice)
  • Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Martitia Hunt)
  • Prince John (Hubert Gregg)
  • Alan-a-Dale (Elton Hayes)
  • Archbishop of Canterbury (Anthony Eustrel)
  • King Richard (Patrick Barr)
  • Will Scarlet (Anthony Firward)
  • Scathelock, Merry Man (Sir Michael Horden CBE)
  • Will Stutely (Bill Owen)
  • Much the Miller (Hal Osmond)
Bechdel TestPass

This was only the second live-action film that Walt Disney made, following the previous year's Treasure Island. This was because the British Government had forbidden money made from British cinemas in the years following the Second World War to leave the UK and instead had to be invested on film production within the UK. James Hayter would return to play Friar Tuck in A Challenge for Robin Hood and the great Sir Michael Horden plays a comparatively minor role but would once again fight alongside Robin Hood in the 1982 adaptation of Ivanhoe. Unusually this film involved some location footage in the real Sherwood Forest in England and with the constant lute-play this is possibly the closest live-action film to a musical, though the best song is definitely Friar Tuck's duet with himself.

Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)

DirectorTerence Fisher
StudioHammer Films
PlotThe Sheriff of Nottingham pursues a fugitive into Sherwood Forest, but it isn't Robin Hood. Instead it is a mysterious man who warns Robin 'Danger! Bawtry!' before dying. In Bawtry a dispute about who should inherit the village, the villagers who live there or the Sheriff of Nottingham who plans to destroy the village and build a castle on the site, is unexpectedly settled by the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury. What has this got to do with the Earl of Newark apparently hiring Robin Hood to assassinate the sheriff and a gold medallion of a falcon clutching a daisy?
Length76 minutes
SettingNottinghamshire, c1199
  • Robin Hood (Richard Greene)
  • Sheriff of Nottingham (Peter Cushing)
  • Friar Tuck (Niall MacGinnis)
  • Maid Marian Fitzwalter (Sarah Branch)
  • Edward, Earl of Newark (Richard Pasco)
  • Archbishop Hubert Walter (Jack Gwillim)
  • John Little aka Little John (Nigel Green)
  • Prioress (Vanda Godsell)
  • Sheriff's Lieutenant (Edwin Richfield)
  • Alan A'Dale (Dennis Lotis)
  • Dying Fugitive (Desmond Llewelyn)
  • Martin of Eastwood (Derren Nesbitt)
  • Lord Melton (Oliver Reed)
Bechdel TestFail

This was the second of three Hammer films based on Robin Hood, following 1954's unrelated Men of Sherwood Forest. Richard Greene had starred in the popular television series The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-9), fondly remembered for the heroic theme song3. Peter Cushing makes an excellent sheriff of Nottingham while Oliver Reed appears uncredited in one of his earliest film roles, but sadly his dialogue is dubbed by another actor. Unusually, filming took place at Ardmore Studios in Ireland rather than Hammer's home of Bray Studios in Berkshire. Nigel Green, Jason and the Argonauts' Hercules, is the best Little John to date while Maid Marian proves herself more than capable of handling a sword when attacked, though at the climax she leaves the fighting to Robin and the Archbishop.

A Challenge for Robin Hood (1967)

DirectorCM Pennington-Richards
StudioHammer Film Productions and Seven Arts Productions

Shortly after murdering a former Saxon lord, Sir Fitzwarren, and being prevented from killing his son by Robin, Sir Roger de Courtenay murders his brother (William Squire) in order to inherit Courtenay Castle. He frames his cousin Robin de Courtenay. Robin escapes, helped by his friends Friar Tuck and Will Scarlett. During Robin's escape Will is captured and due to be hanged. Robin joins a band of Saxon outlaws led by Alan-a-Dale who help him rescue Will as well as the real Marian Fitzwarren, who has been forced to be the handmaiden of a Marian imposter (Jenny Till).

What was the point of the Marian imposter subplot? Will Robin steal from the rich, give to the poor, annoy the Sheriff of Nottingham and wear Lincoln Green in Sherwood Forest?

Length85 minutes
SettingSherwood Forest and Courtenay Castle, Nottinghamshire, c1199
  • Sir Robin de Courtenay aka Robin Hood (Barrie Ingham)
  • Sir Roger de Courtenay, Robin's evil cousin (Peter Blythe)
  • Sheriff of Nottingham (John Arnatt)
  • Lady Marian Fitzwarren aka Mary (Gay Hamilton)
  • Stephen Fitzwarren, her young brother (John Gugolka)
  • Friar Tuck (James Hayter)
  • Alan-a-Dale (Eric Flynn)
  • Much (Reg Lye)
  • Little John (Leon Greene)
  • Will Scarlett (Douglas Mitchell)
  • Wallace, Roger's henchman (John Harvey)
Bechdel TestFail

This, the final Hammer retelling of the Robin Hood legend, benefits from extensive location filming at Bodiam Castle. The subplot in which Marian's servant 'Mary' is revealed to be the real Maid Marian all along does not lead to anything. Presumably it was intended merely to divert the audience's attention to the wrong actress when Marian enters the room, but if so this does not work as the camera zooms in on the real Marian and ignores the impostor. This is BAFTA-winning actor James Hayter's second appearance as Friar Tuck having previously played him in The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952). He had also appeared as Tom the Miller in 2 episodes of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-60), a television series that also featured John Arnatt as the Deputy Sheriff of Nottingham.

Robin Hood (1973)

DirectorWolfgang Reitherman
StudioWalt Disney Pictures
PlotRobin Hood robs from the rich and gives to the poor people of Nottingham, helping them pay their taxes. After Robin robs Prince John, who rules England in the absence of Good King Richard, the Prince seeks revenge and arranges a deadly trap...
Length83 minutes
SettingNottingham in the 1190s.
  • Robin Hood, a fox (Brian Bedford)
  • Maid Marian, a vixen (Monica Evans)
  • Little John, a bear (Phil Harris)
  • Prince John & King Richard, lions (Sir Peter Ustinov)
  • Sir Hiss, a snake (Terry-Thomas)
  • The Sheriff of Nottingham, a wolf (Pat Buttram)
  • Alan-a-Dale, a rooster (Roger Miller4)
  • Lady Cluck, a chicken (Carole Shelley)
  • Friar Tuck, a badger (Andy Devine)
Bechdel TestFail

This, the 21st Walt Disney Animated Classic, combines the two elements Disney animations are best known for, mediæval settings and anthropomorphic animals. Disney himself had considered adapting French legend Reynard the Fox, who regularly defeated his enemy, Isengrim the Wolf. Disney concluded that Reynard was not suitable to become a Disney hero, being a sly, amoral and selfish character, choosing Robin Hood instead, though the influence of the French legends is clear. Robin, like Reynard, is a fox and his enemy the Sheriff is a wolf.

This Robin Hood adaptation contains references to Appalachian folktales about the outlaw as much as the original English story. Robin Hood also borrowed heavily from previous Disney films, recasting Phil Harris, previously bear Baloo in The Jungle Book, as bear Little John. This made it easy to trace movements from the earlier film and quickly adapt them for Robin Hood. Similarly, scenes of Robin Hood and Maid Marian dancing were made by overtracing scenes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

Robin and Marian (1976)

DirectorRichard Lester
StudioColumbia Pictures

Robin Hood in his younger days rebelled against the Sheriff of Nottingham and lived with Maid Marian and merrie men in Sherwood Forest, but that was a long time ago. After he and John spent 20 years crusading with King Richard the Lionheart in the Holy Land as well as fighting in France. Shortly before Richard dies Robin refuses to obey an order to kill old men, women and children. Robin returns to Nottingham where he discovers that Marian has become a nun and is Abbess of Kirklees Abbey. King John, facing excommunication from the pope, has ordered that all senior church figures be expelled or arrested. After saving Marian from imprisonment they return to Sherwood Forest where, of his merrie men, only Friar Tuck and Will Scarlett survive.

Will Robin risk all to rescue arrested nuns? Can he relive his youth by fighting the sheriff once more, as well as King John's crony, Sir Ranulf? Will Marian forgive him for leaving her all those years ago and can they recapture their lost love? Will it all be like the good old days?

Length103 minutes
SettingNottinghamshire, c1209?
  • Robin Hood (Sean Connery)
  • Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn)
  • Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw)
  • King Richard the Lionheart (Richard Harris)
  • Little John (Nicol Williamson)
  • Will Scarlett (Denholm Elliott)
  • Sir Ranulf (Kenneth Haigh)
  • Friar Tuck (Ronnie Barker)
  • King John (Ian Holm)
  • Mercadier (Bill Maynard)
  • Old Defender (Esmond Knight)
  • Sister Mary (Veronica Quilligan)
  • Surgeon (Peter Butterworth)
  • Queen Isabella (Victoria Merida Roja)
Bechdel TestPass

By far the most bittersweet Robin Hood film that was filmed as The Death of Robin Hood but changed to a much more marketable title. By giving Marian equal billing in the title it reflected Audrey Hepburn's return to acting having spent a decade concentrating on her family. Nottinghamshire looks remarkably Mediterranean in this film as it was filmed in Spain; Scottish actor Sean Connery was in tax exile and avoiding the UK to get out of paying taxes. In real life this would give Connery more in common than the Sheriff than the hero. Reportedly Connery was keen to appear in the film specifically because there was no possibility of a sequel, following his increased frustration of the success of the James Bond films, although it led to his being cast in later film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Historically the film is all over the place. It implies that Robin rebelled against Prince John then spent 20 years campaigning with King Richard I. However Richard only ruled for ten years (1189-1199), dying in 1199 after besieging the castle at Châlus-Chabrol in France. Robin returns home on Richard's death to find that John has expelled senior members of the clergy following a dispute with the pope, which happened 1208-1213. There is indeed a grave said to be Robin Hood's in the grounds of Kirklees Priory.

The cast is quite eclectic, including Carry On actors Bill Maynard and Peter Butterworth, who had played Friar Tuck in an episode of Carry On Christmas, as well as the incomparably talented comic actor Ronnie Barker in a straight role. Director Dick Lester had begun his career in British comedy, working closely with the Goons, particularly Peter Sellers with whom he was nominated for an Oscar for The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1959). He then directed Beatles films A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965), the definitive version of The Three Musketeers (1973) and went on to direct Superman films.

Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991)

DirectorKevin Reynolds
StudioMorgan Creek Productions, distributed by Warner Bros.

Robin of Locksley escapes imprisonment in Jerusalem and saves the life of fellow prisoner, the Moor Azeem. His friend, Peter Dubois, dies, asking Robin to swear to protect his sister, Marian, who is King Richard's cousin. Robin returns to England with Azeem, who has vowed to stay with Robin until he has repaid his life debt. Robin lands in Sussex and heads to Nottingham via Hadrian's Wall for no apparent reason. When he finally gets home he learns that since King Richard has been away, the cruel Sheriff of Nottingham has killed Robin's father and rules the north of England along with his cousin Guy of Gisbourne, the corrupt Bishop of Hereford, and secretly advised by the witch Mortianna.

When travelling through Sherwood Forest Robin meets a band of outlaws led by Little John and Will Scarlett, who hates Robin. After fighting Little John Robin teaches them how to fight and they rob the rich to give to the poor, aided by Friar Tuck. After a tricky beginning, Robin and Marian are reunited and fall in love.

The Sheriff hires Celtic mercenaries to defeat the Merrie Men and plans to claim the throne by marrying Marian. Will Marian agree when the sheriff promises that if she does, he will save the lives of his prisoners? Why does Will Scarlett hate Robin? Will theme song '(Everything I Do) I Do It For You' be number one for all eternity?

Length143 minutes
SettingJerusalem and England, particularly Nottinghamshire, c1199
  • Robin Hood (Kevin Costner)
  • Azeem (Morgan Freeman)
  • Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio)
  • Will Scarlet (Christian Slater)
  • Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman)
  • Friar Tuck (Mike McShane)
  • Lord Locksley (Brian Blessed)
  • Guy of Gisbourne (Michael Wincott)
  • Mortianna (Geraldine McEwan)
  • Little John (Nick Brimble)
  • Duncan (Walter Sparrow)
  • Bishop of Hereford (Harold Innocent)
  • Wulf (Daniel Newman)
  • Bull (Daniel Peacock)
  • Much (Jack Wild)
  • King Richard I (Sean Connery)
Bechdel TestFail

Prince of Thieves deviates from the established story quite wildly, lacking Prince John, Archery Contests and a whole lot more. The film also contains attempted rape, racism, constant swearing, devil worship, nudity and defenestration and is rated PG. The actor's accents are also rather bizarre, with no-one sounding as if they have ever been to Nottinghamshire. The surprising thing about Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is that it came out in 1991, same as Terminator 2: Judgement Day. While Terminator 2's Sarah Connor is a strong, feminine, focussed, determined, well-rounded, motherly heroine, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves has a different portrayal of women. Maid Marian screams 'Robin!' a lot and doesn't otherwise do a lot. Even though the film's set in the Middle Ages, there's no need to portray women in a way so mediæval.

Sean Connery cameos in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves but his Robin and Marian co-star Audrey Hepburn sadly does not. Brian Blessed would later play Friar Tuck in 2018's Direct-to-Video Robin Hood: The Rebellion. A longer Director's Cut was released on DVD with more scenes featuring the Sheriff and witch.

Kevin Costner enjoyed working with director Kevin Reynolds so much he asked to work with him again on Waterworld (1995), only for them both to spectacularly fall out when making that film.

The Oscar-nominated song '(Everything I Do) I Do It for You' by Bryan Adams won the Grammy Award for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television. It was also number one in the UK for 16 consecutive weeks between July and October 1991, the longest unbroken run at number one in the history of the UK's Official Singles Chart. Alan Rickman won a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor BAFTA in a defining role for Alan Rickman. Brian Blessed has an all-too brief appearance and Morgan Freeman also out-performs Kevin Costner at every opportunity.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

DirectorMel Brooks
StudioBrooksfilms, Gaumont, distributed by Columbia TriStar international, 20th Century Fox US

After escaping from gaol in Jerusalem during the Crusades with the help of Asneeze, who asks him to look after his son Ahchoo, Robin returns to England. He learns that the Sherriff of Rottingham has repossessed his Loxley Hall. With Ahchoo, his blind servant Blinkin and Merry Men Little John, Will Scarlet O'Hara and Rabbi Tuckman, they begin training a band of men in tights that aims to restore the reign of King Richard. Will Robin find the key to Marian's heart and chastity belt, and who will win the archery contest?

Length100 minutes
SettingJerusalem and England, particularly Nottinghamshire in the 12th Century
  • Robin Hood (Cary Elwes)
  • Prince John (Richard Lewis)
  • Sheriff of Rottingham (Roger Rees)
  • Maid Marian (Amy Yasbeck)
  • Blinkin, Robin's blind servant (Mark Blankfield)
  • Ahchoo, Merry Man (Dave Chappelle)
  • Asneeze, Ahchoo's father (Isaac Hayes)
  • Broomhilde, Marian's Lady-in-Waiting (Megan Cavanagh)
  • Little John (Eric Allan Kramer)
  • Will Scarlet O'Hara (Matthew Porretta)
  • Latrine, John's witch-like cook (Tracey Ullman)
  • King Richard I (Sir Patrick Stewart)
  • Don Giovanni (Dom DeLuise)
  • Rabbi Tuckman (Mel Brooks)
Bechdel TestPass

This, the penultimate film directed by Mel Brooks, is a warmly regarded parody of the legend and particularly film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. It features a hero who 'unlike other Robin Hoods, can speak with an English accent'. Cary Elwes had previously played the Robin-like Wesley in The Princess Bride (1987).

Robin Hood (2010)

DirectorSir Ridley Scott
StudioProduced by Imagine Entertainment, Relativity Media and Scott Free Productions and Distributed by Universal Pictures

Robin Longstride, an orphan with no memory of his background, leads a band of archers in King Richard the Lionheart's army as they are fighting their way back from the crusades through France. King Richard is killed besieging a castle and Robin decides to lead his men home to England. On their journey they encounter the ambushed and dying Sir Robert Loxley and drive the attackers away. Loxley was carrying Richard's crown and had been waylaid by the traitorous Sir Godfrey who was trying to take the crown to King Philip of France. Robin swears to Sir Robert that he will return Robert's sword to his father in Nottingham and, in order to do so, he and his men impersonate Sir Robert and other knights, delivering the crown to Prince John before heading to Nottingham to deliver word of Sir Robert's death to Robert's father, Walter.

Sir Walter Loxley is blind and old and knows that if he dies without a male heir, his estate will be forfeit to the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham. He therefore asks Robin to continue impersonating Sir Robert, much to the annoyance of Marian, Sir Robert's widow. He also implies he knows who Robin really is. Meanwhile King John decides to replace the competent Sir William Marshal, Earl Marshal of England with Sir Godfrey, unaware that Godfrey is working for France. Godfrey raids northern England with French troops claiming to be raising taxes for King John but in reality aiming to encourage the northern barons to rebel against the king and thus divide and weaken the country before a French invasion.

Who is Robin really? Will the country unite behind King John? Will Robin lead King John's troops into battle and will John agree to the Magna Charter?

Length140 minutes
SettingFrance and England, particularly Nottinghamshire, c1199
  • Robin Longstride, impersonating Robert Loxley (Russell Crowe)
  • Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett)
  • Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow)
  • Sir William Marshal (William Hurt)
  • Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong)
  • Prince John (Oscar Isaac)
  • King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston)
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eileen Atkins)
  • Friar Tuck (Mark Addy)
  • Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen)
  • Little John (Kevin Durand)
  • Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes)
  • Allan A'Dayle (Alan Doyle)
  • Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge)
  • Queen Consort Isabella of Angoulême (Léa Seydoux)
  • King Philip of France (Jonathan Zaccaï)
Bechdel TestPass

This take on the story reunited the star and director of Gladiator (2000). Although popular in the UK it failed to make an impact against Iron Man 2 in the US and was considered a box office disappointment. Though the story had been left open for a sequel the poor box office in America ruled this out.

This is the only film to suggest that Robin Hood's father, though a commoner, wrote the first draft of the Magna Carta. It also is unique to have Robin as a commoner impersonating a lord. This film's Marion is one of the most dynamic, in a scene reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) or Mulan (1998) she dons armour and charges at the French invaders, fighting them on the beaches and on the landing grounds. She's also not afraid to get her hands, feet, waist, neck and nose dirty, jumping into a bog in order to rescue a stranded ram.

Notably, Russell Crowe's attempt at an English accent is all over the place geographically, never hitting the bulls eye and rarely straying as close to Nottingham as Scotland, though it is still better than Dick van Dyke's in Mary Poppins (1964). The film obviously suffers from having an international cast as heroes but British actors playing the baddies.

Filming was initially delayed by the 2007-8 Writer's Guild Strike. Locations used include Surrey and Pembrokeshire in Wales. In the UK to date only the 15-minutes longer Director's Cut5 has been released on home video.

Robin Hood (2018)

DirectorOtto Bathurst
StudioAppian Way Productions, Safehouse Pictures, Thunder Road Films and Lionsgate (through subsidiary Summit Entertainment)

Lord Robin of Loxley was conscripted into the army and fought in the crusades against the Arabian army. After trying to save the life of an Arabian teen, Robin is sent home wounded unaware that the boy's father, Yahya or known in England as John, is accompanying him. After discovering that the love of his life, Marian, is in a relationship with Will Tillman and that he had been declared dead by the sheriff, who has confiscated his property as part of his attempt to raise money for the war effort. The common people of Nottingham have all been taxed so heavily that they have all developed Irish accents and live outside the city walls in a shanty-town in the mining district known as 'the Slags'.

Trained by Yahya to investigate the sheriff's activities further in an attempt to end war, Robin spends his days as a spoilt aristocrat playboy and his nights as a vigilante known as 'The Hood', stealing from the sheriff and giving to the poor. He discovers that the Sheriff is in cahoots with corrupt churchmen and the money they have raised is being used to finance the Arabian army to keep the (unseen) king distracted while they plot against him somehow. With the sheriff hiring mercenaries to kill the Hood and destroy the poor in the Slags, will Robin reveal his identity, win Marian's heart and save the day?

Length112 minutes
SettingHoly Land and a Nottingham that inexplicably is Europe's financial centre during the Industrial Revolution, surrounded by mountains and a vast mining operation
  • Robin of Loxley aka 'The Hood' (Taron Egerton)
  • Yahya aka John (Jamie Foxx)
  • Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn)
  • Marian (Eve Hewson)
  • Will Tillman (Jamie Dornan)
  • Friar Tuck (Tim Minchin)
  • Guy of Gisbourne (Paul Anderson)
  • Cardinal (F Murray Abraham)
  • Arch Deacon (Ian Peck)
Bechdel TestFail

This film decided to give the legend an urban, counter-culture feel, with the Crusades sequence seeming very much like gritty street-fighting, only with bows-and-arrows acting like automatic weapons. Unfortunately the film concentrates so much on reinventing the wheel it does not notice that it has thrown the baby out with the bathwater; the plot is a mess and tries so hard being new and trendy that the whole charm of Robin Hood's story is lost. Nottingham is unrecognisable, largely because most of the scenes set there were filmed in Dubrovnik in Croatia, with some location filming taking place in Le Raincy in France. The sets for Nottingham's streets were inspired by Japanese, Chinese and Brazilian architecture. Taron Egerton who plays Robin is Welsh.

In many ways the film is a closer adaptation to the story of Batman than Robin Hood and particularly borrows heavily from the Dark Knight trilogy. Like Batman Robin plays the spoilt brat by day and a hooded vigilante by night – or knight - with John effectively Alfred. The film, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio's company Appian Way Productions, bombed, failing to recoup its production cost, and was nominated for 'Worst Remake', 'Worst Supporting Actor' and 'Worst Picture' at the Razzies.

Robin Hood: The Rebellion (2018)

DirectorNicholas Winter
StudioPicture Perfect / Signature Entertainment

Maid Marian has been kidnapped by the Sheriff of Nottingham! Will Robin Hood and both his moody men – Little John and Will Scarlett – succeed in rescuing her? How many dark, unlit passages does the castle have and how much wandering along them can be fitted into one film? How many corridors must a maid walk down before you can call her Marian? Is there no peaceful solution to this situation?

Length88 minutes
Setting12th Century Sherwood Forest and numerous castle corridors
  • Friar Tuck (Brian Blessed)
  • Thomas, man passing by (Kristian Nairn)
  • Robin Hood (Ben Freeman)
  • Brimstone, 6'8" tattooed henchman (Martyn Ford)
  • Green, Nottingham's man-at-arms who is friends with Robin (Gareth David-Lloyd)
  • Much, a boy (Charlie Hiett)
  • Sheriff of Nottingham (James Oliver Wheatley)
  • Maid Marian (Marie Everett)
  • Guy of Gisborne (James Groom)
  • Will Scarlett (James G Nunn)
  • Little John (Jamie Kenna)
Bechdel TestFail

A direct-to-video release that is definitely the weakest Robin Hood film to date, however it does look as if it was made for a fraction of the budget of an average shampoo advert. Top billing goes to Brian Blessed. Though only in the film for five minutes he nevertheless steals it, despite his role being limited to reciting the Lord's Prayer6. Kristian Nairn, famous for playing Hodor in Game of Thrones, appears for under a minute and is given second billing despite not actually doing anything, leading to the overwhelming conclusion that the credits are listing characters by how famous the actors are rather than how large a role they have. The plot, such as it is, is quite basic and the background music is so desperate to be in the foreground instead it makes hearing the dialogue difficult. This is no real loss as the baddies endlessly recite one of three sentences over and over: 'Robin is a thief', 'Robin is a coward' or 'Robin is dead!' Both sides frequently assume they have killed their enemy without bothering to check and when Robin, John and Will decide to steal the guards' clothes in order to infiltrate the castle, they actually steal every scrap of clothing including underwear and footwear, leaving the guards' bodies lying completely naked, which seems excessive.

Conclusion: Making the Ideal Robin Hood Film

Having seen the various Robin Hood films, you might ask which is better? The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) is still a firm favourite as obviously Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland DBE out-act later stars such as Kevin Costner and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio without question. Yet the 1938 film has the incomparable Basil Rathbone as the Sheriff of Nottingham and it is impossible to see him without expecting him to declare the case elementary and defeat Moriarty. So what makes the perfect Robin Hood film?

To make the perfect Robin Hood film combining the best of everything reviewed here we would need to steal characters from both the rich and poor films listed above. Robin Hood would be played by Errol Flynn speaking with Cary Elwes' genuine English accent. Dame Olivia de Havilland would be Maid Marian with Tracey Ullman as her lady-in-waiting, Little John would be played by Nigel Green and Friar Tuck by Brian Blessed. In the Robin Hood films it is the villains that really steal the show, with actors of the calibre of Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing and Alan Rickman making it difficult to choose which Sherriff Robin would face, but leaving plenty of opportunity for sequels. Sir Peter Ustinov would play Prince John with henchmen played by Terry-Thomas and Oliver Reed, with theme song '(Everything I Do) I Do It For You' by Bryan Adams over the end credits.

Robin Hood films have been considered to be a dangerous threat to society by those abusing their authority; during the McCarthy era Robin Hood's championing of taking from the rich to help the poor was considered 'Un American' and films featuring the hero discouraged. The threat extended to censoring books featuring the character, leading to the opposing 'Green Feather' movement in US Universities. The films in their turn have also been influenced by television; almost all films made since television series Robin of Sherwood (1984-6) have likewise featured a Moorish character as part of Robin's band.

Sadly few Robin Hood films pass the Bechdel test and even when they do it is usually only barely. Other than Maid Marian, many films only other named female character is Marian's lady-in-waiting whose dialogue usually consists of phrases such as 'yes, my lady'. In any case, no-one can say 'Yes, my lady' like Thunderbirds' Parker. Of the thirteen actors to play Robin Hood in the twelve films listed here, only five have been English: Richard Greene, Barrie Ingham, Brian Bedford, Cary Elwes and Ben Freeman.

1Also called Marion and Marianne.2Sylvester Stallone holds the record for playing a character the longest in related films, having played Rocky Balboa in nine films over 42 years (1976-2018) to date.3Sung by Dick James who would later become the music publisher for songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and is responsible for the Beatles losing the rights to their songs. The Robin Hood theme song was famously parodied in an advert for Weetabix.4Miller also wrote three of the five songs for the film. One of the other two, 'The Phony King of England', was inspired by older folk song 'The Bastard King of England' but with new, clean lyrics and credited to Johnny Mercer.5Ridley Scott, along with James Cameron, is one of the top proponents of the Director's Cut. Ridley Scott films that have had subsequent Director's Cut releases include Alien (1979/2003), Blade Runner (1983/1992/2007) which was one of the first films to establish the Director's Cut phenomenon, Legend (1985/2002), Gladiator (2000/2005), Kingdom of Heaven (both cuts 2005) and American Gangster (2007/8).6Including the historically inaccurate Henry VIII amendment of the doxology, 'for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever, Amen'.

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