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The history of Robin Hood on the big screen


Kingsman star Taron Egerton is an athletic, revamped Robin Hood in this week's action-packed reboot of the same name.

The charismatic British actor leads this slick take on the UK's most famous outlaw figure, teaming with Jamie Foxx's Little John and Eve Hewson's Maid Marian to battle Ben Mendelsohn's evil Sheriff of Nottingham.

Of course, this isn't the first time Robin has let fly and hit a cinematic bullseye. With the new movie incoming this Friday, we're recapping the Robin Hood movies that have hit the big screen.

Robin Hood (1922)

The history of Robin Hood on film stretches right the way back to 1908 with a silent film directed by Percy Stow. However, it was arguably the debonair, dashing Douglas Fairbanks Jr. who first demonstrated the cinematic capabilities of the character.

With a then hefty budget of $1 million, this silent offering was one of the most expensive movies produced during that decade. It was also the first-ever Hollywood movie to host its own premiere, at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre on 18th October 1922.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

The image of Robin replete with feathered cap and pea green costume was cemented by this lavish Hollywood production, adorned with a rogueish, raffish performance from Errol Flynn as the title character.

Interestingly, the role was originally intended for James Cagney, a Hollywood star more readily associated with gangster pictures, but by leaving his Warner Bros. contract he paved the way for Flynn. 

Shot in glorious Technicolour on an expansive Hollywood backlot, the film possesses an irresistible sense of theatrical adventure that permeated all subsequent takes on the character. Co-starring Olivia de Havilland as Marian, Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisbourne and Claude Rains as Prince John, and adorned with Erich Wolfgang Korngold's trend-setting score, it's little wonder many still consider this the definitive take on Robin Hood.

Robin Hood (1973)

Disney's animated features famously weren't in the best of health in the 1970s, but this anthropomorphised take on the enduring British myth still commands affection.

With Robin and Marian portrayed as a fox and vixen (charmingly voiced by Brian Bedford and Monica Evans), the show is undeniably stolen by cowardly lion Prince John, performed in grand, scene-stealing fashion by the great Peter Ustinov. His scenes with fellow British legend Terry Thomas, deploying his signature lisp to voice snake Sir Hiss, are among the film's funniest, and indeed there's a kind of no-holds-barred craziness coursing throughout the movie that makes one overlook the deliberate anachronisms.

Robin and Marian (1976)

Acting legends Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn paired for the first and only time in this melancholy, romantic take on the Robin and Marian romance.

Originally entitled The Death of Robin Hood (you can see where this is going), the title was later changed at the risk of alienating the audience. Directed by Richard Lester, a veteran of Beatles movie Help! and The Three Musketeers, the movie's unashamedly downbeat ending (scored to John Barry's bittersweet music) punctures the bravado of the earlier Hollywood offerings. 

Time Bandits (1981)

Terry Gilliam's surreal time-travelling epic isn't technically a Robin Hood movie – he only appears very briefly in one part of it – but so brilliant is John Cleese's performance that we have to include it.

This morbid cult classic is the story of a group of dwarves who embark on a time-travel quest with a young boy, and at one point they run across Cleese's outwardly chipper Hood. It's something of a Monty Python reunion between director and star, underscored with classic sharp wit as Robin reveals his rude, judgmental side at the close of the scene.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

This is possibly the only rival to Errol Flynn's crown as the most famous Robin Hood movie of all. A mulleted Kevin Costner ditches any attempt at a British accent (although he reportedly did attempt one, badly, during production) as the somewhat dour Robin of Loxley, who returns to the UK from the Crusades to claim what's rightfully his.

Kevin Reynolds' epically staged adventure is famous for many reasons, chiefly Alan Rickman's deliciously sneery, BAFTA-winning Sheriff of Nottingham who steals the show from its nominal hero. There's also that Bryan Adams number that stayed at the top of the UK charts for what felt like 10 years. And those point-of-view flying arrow shots that we now take for granted? It all started here.

Robin Hood: Men In Tights (1993)

Arriving right on time to skewer Prince of Thieves' pomposity, this ribald Mel Brooks parody stars Cary Elwes as a bumbling variation on Robin Hood.

In fact, the movie frequently alludes to the rich history of previous Hood movies (including the Errol Flynn classic), but the true measure of the film's approach resides in the character named 'Latrine' (played by Brooks regular Tracy Ullman). It's not a classic like earlier Brooks movies The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, but it hits the target on occasion.

Robin Hood (2010)

If Men in Tights lampooned the Robin Hood legend, along came Gladiator director Ridley Scott with this typically terse and visceral take on the legend. Scott's dark, gloomy movie, a sort of Batman Begins origin story of Robin (played by Russell Crowe) met with mixed reviews upon release, critics and audiences unsure whether they preferred this gritty approach or the naff but more enjoyable Prince of Thieves.

Still, with typically sturdy and authentic historical detail, plus some ripe performances from Cate Blanchett, Oscar Isaac, Max von Sydow and Mark Strong (all of whom make us overlook Crowe's wavering accent – barely), it just about passes muster.

Which brings us to...

Robin Hood (2018)

Appearing to take its stylistic cue from Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, this new Robin Hood deploys the slo-mo and camera trickery to bring the character to a new audience. It's the feature film debut of Peaky Blinders helmer Otto Bathurst, and with the reliably sturdy Taron Egerton in the lead role, is bound to hit the bullseye with those hungry for another dose of historical derring-do.

Click here to book your tickets for Robin Hood.