The 5 Least Worst Robin Hood Adaptions

The story of Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, while saving Maid Marion from the clutches of Prince John has been around since the 15th century.  It has been retold in film many times.

On November 22nd of this year another film reboots the story for a new generation.

Robin Hood (2018) stars Taron Egerton as a war hardened Robin, who along with Moorish commander Little John (Jamie Foxx), returns home from the Crusades to discover his homeland rife with corruption and evil.  Jamie Dornan plays Will Scarlet, Eve Hewson as Maid Marion, Tim Minchin as Friar Tuck, Paul Anderson as Guy of Gisborne, and Ben Mendelsohn as the Sheriff of Nottingham round out the strong cast.

With the release of the first official trailer this film looks to ignore substance for the sake of style.  Hollywood seems intent on continuing the trend of making flashy looking action films over historically accurate dramas (the recent King Arthur film comes to mind).

To help wash away the bad taste the trailer leaves here is a list of some of the Robin Hood films of the past worth watching:

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

For its day this film was packed with more star power than any modern day film.  Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, and Alan Hale Sr. rounded out the cast of this swashbuckling tale of a Saxon knight, Robin, who during the absence of King Richard, fights back against Prince John and the Norman lords that are oppressing the commoners.

Even thought Douglas Fairbanks had truly embodied the part when he played it for the 1922 film Robin Hood, Flynn became the quintessential Robin Hood from this point forward.  Alan Hale Sr. (father of the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island) reprises the role of Little John, which he played in the 1922 version.

Acclaimed by critics since its release, this film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress in 1995 and added to the National Film Registry.

Disney’s Robin Hood (1973)

Robin Hood was the 21st animated feature film from Disney.  It featured anthropomorphic animals in the roles instead of people.  For generations of children this will always be a favorite version of the story.

This version has Robin portrayed as a fox and Little John as a bear (who bears a striking resemblance to Baloo from the Jungle Book).  They rob Prince John (a lion) who puts a bounty on their heads.    With a great voice cast that includes Roger Miller (best known for his songs King of the Road and Dang Me) as Alan-A-Dale (a rooster) who croons several songs and tells the tale to the audience.  It also has Peter Ustinov (Logan’s Run)as both Richard and Prince John.

Filled with music and comedy this version is a joy to watch whether you are five or fifty.

Robin and Marian (1976)

Sporting a cast of talented actors like the venerable Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady), Robert Shaw (Quint in Jaws), Nicol Williamson (Merlin in Excalibur) Ian Holm (Bilbo in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Richard Harris (Dumbeldore in the first two Potter films), this film took a very different swing at the story of Robin Hood.  007 himself, Sean Connery, took on the role of this much older Robin.

Hepburn plays the aged Marian, who has become an Abbess but is again threatened by King John (Holm).  Robin rescues her against her will and their romance is rekindled.  While there is a lot of action in this one, it is the complex and tender treatment of the romance of the two leads that separates this film from the other iterations of Robin Hood.  They really do seem to be in love and who can blame them.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

This romantic action adventure stars Kevin Costner as Robin, Morgan Freeman as Azeem, Christian Slater as Will Scarlett, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Marian, and Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham.

In this version, Robin escapes from a prison during the 3rd Crusade and saves the life of a moor, Azeem, who accompanies him back to England.  Azeem believes he has a life debt to Robin and will stay with him until it is paid.  Robin reaches England to find his father dead, his home in ruins and the people being oppressed by the Sheriff.

It is an enjoyable film that does tend to a darker narrative than previous entries.  Costner’s lack of an English accent is noticeable, but it is Rickman’s performance that stands out.

Costner won the Golden Rasberry for Worst Actor and Bryan Adams song, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” was nominated for the Oscar and won a Grammy.

The appearance of Connery as King Richard at the end of the film is a nice nod to the history of the franchise.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

Even thought Mel Brooks would direct one more film (the horrible Dracula, Dead and Loving It), this is really the last one that most people remember.  Cary Elwes (best known as Westley in The Princess Bride) plays Robin who along with Ahchoo (Dave Chappelle in his first film role) fight against Prince John (Richard Lewis) while Robin tries to get past the chastity device worn by Marian (Amy Yasbeck).

This film was made almost as a direct parody of Costner’s film and even sports a surprise appearance of Patrick Stewart as King Richard at the end.

As expected there are a lot of jokes and a few musical numbers that are slightly reminiscent of Monty Python’s and the Holy Grail and Brooks’ magnum opus, History of the World, Part One.  It doesn’t rise to the level of Young Frankenstein or Blazing Saddles, but it is an enjoyable film that has gained a cult following over the years.

Honorable mention:

Time Bandits (1981)

While Terry Gilliam‘s Time Bandits is not really a Robin Hood film it does give fans a marvelous performance by John Cleese who plays the character as an upper class twit meant to parody Prince Charles.  While he doesn’t get more than a few minutes of screen time, Cleese steals the show.

After the heroes of the film steal treasure from other points in time they run into the famous Robin Hood and his band of merry men.  He assumes since they showed up with stolen goods that he can appropriate them to give to the poor.  Then, he literally gives the items to the poor, one person at a time.  Of course, his men don’t care much for the poor and as each poor person gets an item from the pile they also get punched by a member of his merry band.


Would you like to see more articles about the other representations of Robin Hood in TV and film?  Any favorite not listed here?  Let us know in the comments.

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