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Who’s the Merriest Man of Them All?
Robin Hood has been showing up in the movies for almost as long as we’ve been making them. From Errol Flynn to Russell Crowe to an anthropomorphic animated fox, the folk hero has taken on as many forms as he has taken coins from the coffers of Prince John — but we can always count on him to steal from the rich, give to the poor, fight for the little guy, and get the girl in the process. In honor of the 25th anniversary of 1991’s big-screen hit Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, we’ve picked out 10 movies about the storied outlaw of Sherwood Forest and ranked them here, from poorest to richest. Check out our choice for the real Prince of Thieves ahead!
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10. Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950)
John Derek stars as Robin Hood’s son in Gordon Douglas’ forgettable revision of the tale. Rogues’ Robin Jr. reunites the now-middle-aged Merry Men (including Alan Hale, Sr. as Little John, in his third and final time playing the part onscreen) to stop Prince John — who is the lawful king after the death of his noble brother King Richard — from continuing his reign of cruelty over the English people. The romance is halfhearted, the swordfights are lackluster, and even Derek’s tights are just not quite the right shade of green (way too blue!). Its thrilling finale consists of Robin forcing King John to seal the Magna Carta. Yawn.
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9. The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952)
Disney’s live-action Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, directed by Ken Annakin with Richard Todd in the title role, is mostly just a bland, sanitized rip-off of the 1938 Errol Flynn version, offering little in terms of new contributions to the tale, and not improving substantially on anything that was already there. In short: Better than Rogues of Sherwood Forest; still insufficiently merrie.
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8. Robin Hood (1991)
This British adaptation had the bad fortune to come out in the same year as Prince of Thieves. Maybe it’s often forgotten because of that — or maybe it's because it’s forgettable. Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman star in the John Irvin-directed film, which pits Robin Hood against his friend, the Sheriff, when Robin disrespects an arrogant knight and is insulted when the Sheriff orders his punishment. Bergin is a fine Robin Hood, but the story lacks the epic scope of most other adaptations, rendering the hero's exploits rather trivial in comparison.
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7. Robin Hood (2010)
As revisionist movies of the 2010s are wont to do, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood focuses on its famous hero’s humble origins, sets the story against a gritty, “realistic” backdrop, and then denies us the story we showed up to see in the first place (that’s what sequels are for, after all). By the time the heavily historicized drama’s two-and-a-half-hour runtime is drawing to a close, there’s been a lot of political reshuffling and self-serious grimacing (mostly on the part of Russell Crowe’s Robin), and then, in the last five minutes, Robin is finally declared an outlaw and moves to Sherwood Forest. The movie boasts an all-star cast — Cate Blanchett plays Marian and Oscar Isaac is a wonderfully nasty Prince John — as well as some impressive action sequences, but good luck finding any actual fun in a single drab frame.
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6. Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
Mel Brooks' take on Robin Hood came two years after Prince of Thieves and parodied that film in particular, packing the legend full of anachronistic meta-references, campy musical numbers, and the filmmaker's trademark crude humor. Cary Elwes' Robin is the best part of Men in Tights; the Princess Bride actor's sly charm and, yes, English accent would make him a good Robin even in a movie that takes the hero seriously. But while the spoof has a worthy star at its center and a smattering of funny moments, the tale of Robin Hood and the storytelling tropes that come with it aren’t really ridiculous enough to merit 105 minutes of mockery. Brooks' shtick becomes tiresome faster than the men in tights can arrange themselves into a kickline.
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5. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
While Kevin Costner fell short as the most roguish, charming, mischievous hero in English folklore, he had such a great cast around him, particularly Alan Rickman as the dastardliest Sheriff of Nottingham we’ve ever seen and, in an uncredited cameo, Sean Connery as King Richard — a clever nod to his own turn as Robin in Robin and Marian 15 years earlier. The supporting performances slightly elevate Kevin Reynolds’ humorless Prince of Thieves, which, despite its deficiencies, went on to become the second-highest grossing movie of 1991.
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4. Robin and Marian (1976)
The name's Hood — Robin Hood. Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn star as the thief and his ladylove in Richard Lester's 1976 interpretation, which reunites a middle-aged Robin and Marian 20 years after the events of the original tale, during which time Robin has been away at the Crusades and Marian has become a nun. The plot is pretty weak, but the film boasts much more artful photography than any other you’ll find on this list, and Connery and Hepburn are both as wonderful as ever. When the pious Marian finally submits to their great love story and whispers to her out-of-his-prime outlaw, “I love you more than God,” our blasphemous hearts break right there along with hers.
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3. Robin Hood (1973)
It’s a true testament to the astounding greatness of such Disney classics as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King that the Mouse House’s charming Robin Hood is not usually named among its best animated films; it’s also a testament to the quality of Robin Hood that a movie about a cartoon fox ranks so high amid all these big-budget live-action productions. Indeed, the anthropomorphic hero of Disney’s Robin Hood has the roguish charisma and twinkle in his eye that both Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner, for example, lacked completely. Throw in some thrilling action sequences and great songs — especially the lovely “Love,” which was nominated for an Oscar — and the cartoon earns a spot as one of Sherwood’s finest.
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2. Robin Hood (1922)
Considering we’re all pretty much used to talkies by now, it’s easy for modern audiences to forget that silent cinema can still be completely delightful entertainment (!). Hardly ever more so than in Allan Dwan’s 1922 version of Robin Hood, which stars a dashing Douglas Fairbanks, his balletic athleticism on full display as he leaps, sneaks, and climbs all over the stunning scenery. And it may be silent, but this Robin Hood makes better, funnier use of intertitles than most others ever make of dialogue (e.g., Friar Tuck's excellent threat, "I'll knop your scop").
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1. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Almost 80 years after he first leaped across screens, Errol Flynn is still the definitive Robin Hood, despite countless new retellings. All later adaptations seem to rip off Michael Curtiz and William Keighley’s iconic Golden Age swashbuckler in one way or another — and rightly so. The dialogue is sharp and clever, Olivia de Havilland is lovely, the sets and costumes are brilliant in glorious Technicolor — but it’s Errol Flynn, with his effortless, irresistible charm, who brings a special magic to the classic. There was never any question which Robin Hood would take the top spot: The Adventures was always in like…well, Flynn.