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A Rundown of the Best and Worst Cinematic Robin Hoods

Photo: Warner Bros. and Buena Vista Distribution Company.

As a character that pretty much every human being can recognize and no corporate entity can own outright, Robin Hood has been a staple of the movies since the silent era. And because the origins of the merry man’s man are murky at best — there is no defining literary work to pull from as source material — interpretations of the robber to the rich and giver to the poor have varied wildly, even if a few key works have undoubtedly shaped his legacy.

This week sees a new reinvention of Robin Hood, as Kingsman star Taron Egerton attempts yet another modern face-lift for the legend, this one getting really literal with the “hood” moniker when it comes to his wardrobe.

But with so many different interpretations of Robin, across several eras of Hollywood, which ones stand tall — presumably with their hands planted firmly on their hips while laughing heartily? Keeping our scope limited to theatrical releases, here is a rundown of who wore that pointy green hat the best, and who couldn’t even attempt an English accent.

16. Frankie Howerd in Up the Chastity Belt (1971)

This medieval spoof (and spinoff of the British comedy show Up Pompeii!) takes the bold stance of asking, “Don’t Robin Hood and his Merry Men seem kind of gay?” That’s the one joke of the segment featuring the character, done up in exaggerated makeup and sharing his affinity for the gang’s winter attire: black leather. It’s all really tired, a product of a different era of comedy.

15. Vincent Cassel in Shrek (2001)

The two minutes during which Monsieur Hood and his Merry Men show up in the post-modern, pre–good–DreamWorks Animation fairy tale is a nice encapsulation of why Shrek has aged so badly. During those 120 seconds, Robin Hood says, “Break it down,” the band does Riverdance, and Fiona parodies The Matrix.

14. Richard Todd in The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952)

Disney’s first crack at Robin Hood was also its second-ever live-action film (after Treasure Island in 1950). As the company was still a burgeoning outfit, the production is unsurprisingly low-rent, especially when compared to the lavish productions featuring Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn. Not helping matters is an underwhelming Robin from Oscar nominee and Golden Globe Award winner for Most Promising Newcomer, English actor Richard Todd. He’s too scrawny and smiley, without a whiff of danger about him.

13. Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

Ah, the early ’90s, when an actor’s star persona could be pasted onto any role, and everyone involved would say, “Yeah, that’s fine.” Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood has been mocked pretty much since opening weekend, mainly for his feeble, quickly abandoned attempts at an English accent. This Robin hales from L.A. County, and there isn’t a moment when you aren’t aware of that. Watched in close proximity to other Robins and even closer proximity to Alan Rickman’s delicious Sheriff, the turn is so flat and lifeless that it’s practically begging for the lampooning that Mel Brooks serves up two years later.

12. Barrie Ingham in A Challenge for Robin Hood (1967)

Hammer waited only seven years after Richard Greene in Sword of Sherwood Forest to get back in the Robin Hood game, and the follow-up is charmingly cheap, but missing a key element. Ingham, at only 35, somehow seems too old for the part, something akin to Roger Moore’s Bond (which, to be clear, is great on its own merits). But Ingham’s Robin doesn’t have the youth or charm of the best iterations, and the movie suffers for it.

11. David Warbeck in Wolfshead: The Legend of Robin Hood (1973)

Why is this movie — released on video as The Legend of Young Robin Hood — only 56 minutes long? Well, the “film,” featuring a star of Sergio Leone’s Duck, You Sucker!, began life as a TV pilot, which didn’t manage to get picked up. As these were the days when producers refused to waste any money, the pilot was released as a stand-alone, very short movie. Warbeck is compelling as a more serious and traditional romantic lead, but his connection to Robin Hood is pretty much limited to the character’s outlaw status. And you just can’t shake the feeling that there was another stage of his life — perhaps call it in an “episode” — left to tell.

10. Frank Sinatra in Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964)

Big shocker: The 1930s-set musical gangster spoof as a retelling of the Robin Hood legend starring the Rat Pack isn’t the greatest version of the story. And with Old Blue Eyes in the role of Robbo, the hood who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, the character is a lot like, well, Frank Sinatra. But as a trade-off, you’ve got some great songs like “Mr. Booze” and “My Kind of Town,” which ends by calling out famous Chicago landmarks like [squints] the Union Stock Yard.

9. Russell Crowe in Robin Hood (2010)

Capitalizing on the success of The Lord of the Rings and Gladiator — the first collaboration of director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe — this kinda gritty Robin Hood makes sense on paper. But it’s also a joyless Robin Hood, and a not–really–Robin Hood Robin Hood. This is a war movie that serves as a prequel to the stories we actually like, a miscalculation that studios can’t help but make over and over again. It’s hard to fault Crowe too much, though, since his mandate isn’t to play the legendary outlaw. He’s tasked with playing someone much more generic, who just happens to shoot a bow and occasionally redistributes wealth.

8. Harold Warrender in Ivanhoe (1952)

Before Fairbanks and Flynn basically cemented our collective understanding of who Robin Hood is as a character, there was Sir Walter Scott’s 1820 novel, Ivanhoe. Elements from this tale about a nobleman’s son, Wilfred of Ivan, returned from the Crusaders to fight for the rightful king, Richard, were later absorbed into the mythos of Robin Hood, who appears in the book as a supporting character. That being the case, Locksley in MGM’s big-budget adventure film is more of a proto-Robin, still brandishing the bow and arrows, but missing the playfulness and personal stakes.

7. Sean Connery in Robin and Marian (1976)

The very concept of director Richard Lester and writer James Goldman’s revisionist Robin Hood and Maid Marian (played by Audrey Hepburn) romance demands that these characters not be the people we’ve known. After Robin abandons his fair maiden to fight in the Crusades, she attempts suicide. This is a story about these character getting older, and to that point Connery’s Robin is a refreshing twist on the character, his vulnerability as apparent as his receding hairline.

6. John Cleese in Time Bandits (1981)

John Cleese playing any legendary character is a good thing, and so naturally his take on Robin in this Terry Gilliam fantasy adventure is hilarious. When the group of time-traveling thieves enter Sherwood Forest, Cleese’s Robin Hood can’t wait to introduce them to “the poor,” a rather miserable lot who line up to receive riches — and a punch in the face. It’s absurd and irreverent without ever being cheap.

5. Richard Greene in Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)

The Adventures of Robin Hood ran on Britain’s ITV for 154 episodes from 1955 to 1959, establishing Richard Greene as the Robin Hood of the era. His Robin is a more typical leading man of the late 1950s, square-jawed and not overly serious. That version of the character made a few appearances in cinemas, as compilations of several episodes were cut together as theatrical releases. It wasn’t until usually horror-focused Hammer Films produced a Sword of Sherwood Forest that Greene’s Robin became the star of his own movie. And on top of that, you’ve got the added benefit of Hammer regular Peter Cushing as the Sheriff of Nottingham.

4. Cary Elwes in Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

Porting over a lot of what made his performance in The Princess Bride so indelible, Elwes’s Robin is handsome, the right amount of smug, and — as he’s happy to point out — can speak with an English accent. While existing within a spoof, this is still a really solid Robin that borrows a lot from Errol Flynn and works a corrective to Kevin Costner in Prince of Thieves. Watching the movie, which is still decent despite having aged really poorly in some spots, it’s hard not to want a more straight-faced Robin Hood for Elwes. But then you remember that The Princess Bride exists, and then it’s fine.

3. Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1922)

The early Hollywood icon essentially cast the mold for Robin Hood on the big screen, and this silent film, which Fairbanks produced and helped write, became the template. Even without sound, Fairbanks’s Robin is impressive, zipping around the enormous sets with a sense of humor and physical prowess. His weak side-arm-bow form may leave something to be desired, but it’s hard to deny the legacy of this Robin.

2. Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Sixteen years after Fairbanks donned the pointy cap, Flynn came along with a Robin in the tradition of the silent-era star, but with all of the benefits of synchronized sound and early Technicolor. Coming off of a string of successful swashbucklers, Flynn was practically destined for the part — though he only got it after James Cagney quit. He’s charming and wry and manages to make that pair of kelly-green tights look damn good.

1. Brian Bedford in Walt Disney’s Robin Hood (1973)

The best-known animated interpretation of the character might also be the sexiest? Its potential role in the advent of furry culture aside, Disney’s Robin Hood is a romantic and occasionally dark adventure that’s less of a children’s movie than the rest of the animation company’s early output. Bedford’s performance — only in voice — manages to be dashing and appropriately charming, despite the fact that he’s an anthropomorphized fox, surrounded by a menagerie of anthropomorphized bears, lions, chickens, and wolves. It may seem like an odd choice in hindsight, but the concept is played so straight and with so much fun that you don’t question it.

A Rundown of the Best and Worst Cinematic Robin Hoods