Hollywood’s got a thing for Robin Hood.
Over the last 70 years or so, countless blockbusters and feature films have been dedicated to the talented archer-turned-revolutionary. His story is widely praised — a man who steals from the rich and gives to the poor — but it’s taken quite a few forms over the decades. There are space adventures starring Robin Hood and his band of merry men, animated stories with talking animals playing the titular hero, modern action epics, men in tights, Kevin Costner with a mullet.
By now, every version of Robin Hood’s legend has been explored, but not all are created equal. In fact, plenty of the films on this list are critical and commercial duds, and none would be winning an Oscar in 2019. Still, they deserved to be ranked, and we’re taking up the thankless, dirty job of doing it.
Robin Hood (1991)
There are two Robin Hood films from 1991 on this list, though one is clearly more bearable than the other. Unfortunately, this British adventure flick does not come out on top, despite casting a young then-unknown Uma Thurman as Maid Marian. Patrick Bergin stars as the renegade hero who becomes entangled in a strange sort of love triangle with a new, entirely fictional character the film decided it needed? There’s no Sheriff of Nottingham for Robin to fight here either. Instead, the arrow-assassin goes head-to-head with a former friend and fellow lord who refuses to let him marry the woman of his affections. The whole thing feels particularly childish and petty and the low-budget theatrics don’t elevate the plot either. It’s a medieval soap opera. Uma Thurman deserves better.
Robin Hood (2010)
Ridley Scott has an impressive track record when it comes to medieval epics but his take on Robin Hood — reimagined here as a hardened war vet returned home to a feudal economy controlled by a juvenile, greedy King John — feels lacking. Russell Crowe plays the aged vigilante, a man who assumes a lord’s identity and must take up arms to defend his family and village. Again, the Sheriff of Nottingham feels less like the villain here, replaced by Oscar Isaac’s King John, a guy who would rather bang his French mistress than govern his subjects. Cate Blanchett plays Maid Marian, a modern woman who takes up arms against the king and eventually warms to her fake husband, but the whole film is too plot-heavy to enjoy the standout performances from Isaac and Blanchett.
The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952)
The first of two warring Disney takes on the legendary hero, this film marks the second live-action flick Disney ever created. It’s filled with good music and a storyline that closely follows the folklore of its titular protagonist but it fails to drum up excitement in key scenes — like Robin’s showdown with Nottingham or his meetings with Little John and Will Scarlett.
Robin and Marian (1976)
We want to love this romantic adventure more than we actually do. It’s got Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn as the title characters and it makes an earnest attempt to give us a more inventive look at a legend that’s been worn out on film. Connery plays Robin Hood at the end of his life, a man weary from battle, longing for the glory days of his youth, who returns home to right wrong, enact vengeance, and hook up with his old flame. Enter Hepburn, who plays Maid Marian as an older woman, disgraced by her former relationship with Robin, who’s dedicated her life to serving God in a convent. The two reconnect and explore themes of love, regret, duty, honor, and the eventuality of death which makes this just too depressing of a watch to actually enjoy. Still, the performances are great and we’re all for deconstructing a white male hero whose flaws have been glossed over too many times on film.
Robin Hood (2018)
Otto Bathurst wanted to give fanboys a medieval origin story that rivaled the superhero showdowns dominating the box office with his Robin Hood. There were the classic action elements any vigilante-in-the-making saga needed: a good man wronged by an inherent evil, a forbidden love story, ideologies of revolution, rebellion, and justice, slow-mo fight sequences, explosions, hunks with their shirts off. Really, there’s a lot to love about this film starring Jamie Foxx and Taron Egerton. The two have undeniable comedic chemistry and we’d forgive anything for another look at Egerton’s chiseled jawline, but Bathurst crammed too much into this one — terrorism, racism, civil rights, union organizing — to appreciate the finer aspects of the film, like the stunt work and its charismatic cast.
Princess of Thieves (2001)
A Robin Hood interpretation starring Keira Knightley as the thieving heroine with a talent for notching bad guys? Sign us up. This may technically be a made-for-TV movie but there’s no rational excuse for ignoring this feminist work of art. Knightley, who was just 15-years-old when she took the role, plays Gwyn, Robin Hood’s daughter, who must save England and her father after Prince John has him imprisoned and plans to assume the throne. She joins with her dad’s band of merry men and the exiled Prince Phillip (a young Stephen Moyer) to remove John from power. Fights, arrow-slinging, and romance follow but the most badass part of this film takes place towards the end when Gwyn decided to forego the chance at love with Phillip for a place crusading by her father’s side.
Robin Hood (1973)
Any millennial who grew up with Disney as a babysitter had a sexual awakening to this next Robin Hood installment. This animated musical used anthropomorphic animals to re-tell the tale of the arrow-slinging hero. Here, Robin is the foxiest vigilante in Sherwood forest, an easy-going guy who takes real joy from stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. There’s a real hipster vibe happening in this flick and because of strained production and tight deadlines, the movie recycles elements of past Disney blockbusters which gives it a nostalgic feel.
Robin Hood: Men In Tights (1993)
Give us a group of outlaws proudly equating masculinity with historically-feminine clothing through dance and song. Give us Cary Elwes as the mustachioed hero wearing a sly smirk and seducing women out of their chastity belts. Give us Dave Chappelle as a British medieval outlaw. Give us Richard Lewis as a laughable, mole-sporting King John and Patrick Stewart doing his best Sean Connery impersonation as King Richard. Give us more men in tights!
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
This classic American technicolor tale is considered by many to be the best Robin Hood film of all time and for good reason. It stars Errol Flynn in the best role of his career as the valiant archer and Olivia de Havilland as his love interest, Maid Marian. The story follows the legend of Robin Hood more closely than any other on this list and the action is excitingly inventive. You get the real sense that the creatives behind this masterpiece wanted to push boundaries and test limits with every sword-fight, archery-contest, and all-out battle. It’s a must-watch if you’re a fan of the source material and it would’ve ranked number one if it weren’t for…
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Kevin Costner. Kevin Costner can sport a truly hideous mullet and put on an atrociously-awful English accent and his Robin Hood could still get it any day of the week. We’re going to ignore the laws of movie criticism for Kevin Costner with this one because, by most accounts, Prince of Thieves is not the best Robin Hood flick. It’s got great action sequences and a decent plot, but then again, so do many of the films on this list. No, what sets the movie above the rest is Costner who, despite his gratingly-bad British twang, throws himself into the role of the swashbuckling hero. He sells every scene he’s in, playing a confused, tortured vigilante wanting to do right by his people and achieve some sort of justice for his own suffering. He’s the quintessential Hollywood hero and the only Robin Hood this fandom recognizes.