Some characters have a lasting appeal that spans the generations, and invites endless reinvention. Many have seen countless incarnations in only a few decades, like comic book heroes and James Bond, while others have literally centuries worth of stories behind them. Of all the classic characters that seem to constantly make an impact in modern times, my favorite has to be Robin Hood.
Defender of the poor, thief of the rich, self-imposed outlaw, and unparalleled archer. In some ways, Sir Robin of Locksley is more relevant than ever, with so many archers taking the spotlights and battling against the rich echoing across modern times. But unlike the heroes of today, Robin has deep roots in both ancient myth and classic film. Today, I look at four versions of Robin Hood on film, if they do the character justice, what qualities they alone possess, and pit them against each other.
Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood
Classic Story Points: Plenty of the pieces are in place – The river fight with Little John, his relationship with Will Scarlett, the romance of Maid Marian, and finding great enemies in Prince John, The Sheriff of Nottingham, and Sir Guy of Gisbourne. But really, it’s The Adventures of Robin Hoodthat truly created the modern day idea of the outlaw from Nottingham.
Archery Skills: Deadly. Countless enemies are struck dead on screen and he splits the arrow. Stunt men actually wore torso armor and were shot with real arrows by a skilled archer for these scenes, so those looks of terror are real!
Best Traits: The living embodiment of the term “swashbuckling,” Flynn’s Robin is charming, romantic, and very heroic. He also does some great practical stunts, including being flung up and over a portcullis by a rope. His sprawling duel with Basil Rathbone’s Guy of Gisbourne is a swordfight for the ages!
Weaknesses: Maybe a little too friendly? After all, his Merry Men capture Guy, The Sheriff, and all their men in the forest at one point, but only humiliate them and let them go. Then again, he doesn’t think twice about taking out an enemy soldier in battle.
Brian Bedford in Disney’s Robin Hood
Classic Story Points: Little John, Maid Marian, Prince John, Alan A Dale, Friar Tuck, and The Sheriff of Nottingham are all featured prominently, but a few key ideas are left out. Then again, this film’s really all about romance and having a few laughs. Will Scarlet, Sir Guy, and the idea of The Merry Men are absent, but they are replaced by adorable bunnies, turtles, and mice.
Archery Skills: Impeccable. Only this version can shoot his own arrow out of the sky to redirect it and hit a perfect bullseye. He also defeats countless enemies without ever hurting really them, making him the least fatal of all the Robin Hoods on this list.
Best Traits: Dashingly charming, unparalleled in disguises, and one half of Disney’s best bromance. He’s also instantly loveable and has a great romance with Maid Marian. He has all of the defining Robin Hood qualities, while also being the only anthropomorphic version of the character ever seen on the big screen.
Weaknesses: Will do anything for the people he loves and the citizens of Nottingham. Not a bad thing, but it gets him in over his head several times throughout the film, including a near fatal escape from a burning castle. But Little John has his back, so he can never be in too much danger.
Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Classic Story Points: Robin and The Merry Men wage war against the tyrannical Sheriff of Nottingham while our hero romances Maid Marian. The rest is a somewhat new take on Robin’s outlaw days. Not that a fresh take is bad, but do we really need a creepy witch, mixed up family relations, and extra sappiness?
Archery Skills: Dead-on, if not spectacular. Of note, he kills an executioner with a slow motion flaming arrow shot before he chops off Will Scarlet’s (Christian Slater) head. Then again, Slater is rather annoying in this movie. Points redacted.
Best Traits: A willingness to cross controversial racial and religious lines through his friendship with the Moor Azeem. And maybe that mullet.
Weaknesses: One really bad accent that changes on a whim. A timelessly horrible theme song in Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.” A seeming refusal to smile. Cheer up! You’re Robin Hood!
Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood
Classic Story Points: None! Yes, this is sort of like a prequel, but much of the conflict between Robin and Prince John is missing. The Sheriff of Nottingham has approximately three lines of dialogue. And The Merry Men are a couple of crusty drunks and some feral kids. Instead, we get Robin fighting indiscriminate traitorous knight Godfrey and something about the Magna Carta.
Archery Skills: Solid, but underused. Most of the film has Robin fighting with his hands, using swords, and moping. He also only grazes Godfrey near the beginning of the film, making him the least of accurate of these four. But that ending arrow shot is badass!
Best Traits: Being played by Russell Crowe. He automatically has some gravitas and his romance with Maid Marian (Cate Blanchett) is a more mature and wise love. He’s also got a great look to him. I love the heavy leather and chainmail with a longbow.
Weaknesses: Post-traumatic stress disorder and flashbacks caused by childhood trauma may interfere with battle focus and concentration (needed for archery!).
It’s a tie! Errol Flynn’s original rogue and Brian Bedford’s animated fox are the two best versions of the outlaw seen on screen. They both encapsulate the charm, romance, skills, and altruistic heroism that made Sir Robin of Locksley a classic character in the first place.
While it’s been awhile since Robin has been such a strong screen presence, I have no doubt that such a classic character will once again merit an equally remarkable performance once again on film. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Have a favorite version of Robin Hood? Is yours missing from this list? Let me know!