Sherwood's Appendix N: Ranking the Big Screen Robin Hoods

And the winners are…

So last year when I started work on Sherwood, I set out to watch all the theatrically-released Robin Hood talking pictures in English (there are also theatrically-released Robin Hood films in German, Hindi, Italian, Russian, and Spanish, and I’ve gotten to watch a few of them, too). I informally started ranking them as I watched.

Since the scope is “talking pictures,” I’m leaving off Douglas Fairbanks (besides, who wants to compete with Douglas Fairbanks). I’m also not counting Harrold Warrender’s turn at Robin in the 1952 Ivanhoe since it was a fairly minor role in the film.

I’m also leaving off the small-screen Robin Hoods, including Jonas Armstrong, Michael Praed, Jason Connery, and Martin Potter (Richard Greene went on to play Robin in a theatrically-released movie, so he qualifies for his honorable mention), as well as direct-to-video and TV movies.

Honorable Mentions

Taron Egerton

Taron Egerton as Robin with Jamie Foxx as John
Taron Egerton as Robin with Jamie Foxx as John

Otto Bathurst’s Robin Hood struggled in many places and floundered at asking some of the questions it claimed to ask, but in addition to attempting to use the visual language of contemporary action cinema to tell a Robin Hood story and (oddly) devoting itself to Nottingham’s actual ecclesiastical history, it also picked Taron Egerton to play the title role.

I remember reviewer complaining that Egerton lacked the charisma of Kevin Costner (who has a good bit of charisma but didn’t try to display it in his Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) or Russell Crowe (whose Robin Hood is mainly memorable for having some really hot companions in 2010’s In What World Is This a Fucing Robin Hood Movie?). I laughed.

Sean Connery

Sean Connery in Robin and Marian
Sean Connery in “Robin and Marian”

A lot of remember Sean Connery’s surprise cameo as Richard the Lionhearted in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but too few remember him playing Robin Hood (opposite Audrey Hepburn) in this 70s deconstruction of both Robin legends and Hollywood costume dramas.

Richard Greene

Richard Greene returns to the Robin Hood role in Hammers The Sword of Sherwood Forest
Richard Greene returns to the Robin Hood role in Hammer’s “The Sword of Sherwood Forest”

Greene has already played Robin Hood in the TV series Adventures of Robin Hood, the Hannah Weinstein-produced (and probably CPUSA-funded) TV show that ran on both ITV in the UK and CBS in the US. Then Hammer brought him in to play Robin again in their film The Sword of Sherwood Forest, making him one of the first people to work on two different Robin Hood projects and (at the time) one of the more mature actors to take on the role of Robin as a leading role.

Like Columbia’s Robin Hood films, Hammer’s are often forgotten, but unlike Columbia’s, they’re actually good.

The Top 5

Yes, I’ve tried to put these in order, but really, they’re mostly pretty close. While I might rank the films as a whole differently, these are my favorite Robin performances.

5. Don Taylor

Don Taylor as Robin in disguise
Don Taylor as Robin in disguise

Robin discovers a plot against the king (away on Crusades) and leaves Sherwood with Friar Tuck (Reginald Beckwith) to discover and expose the conspiracy. Don Taylor was a popular Western actor in the US when Hammer cast him in their first Robin Hood movie (the only Hammer Hood film about the end of Robin Hood’s career). Like Costner almost 30-something years later, Taylor made no effort to affect a British accent, but unlike Costner, Taylor was all in for this movie, bringing charm, energy, and enthusiasm to the role. Easily one of the most enjoyable big-screen Robin performances in a criminally underrated movie.

4. Patrick Bergin

The Robin Hood we deserved in 1991 was so much better than the Robin Hood we got
The Robin Hood we deserved in 1991 was so much better than the Robin Hood we got

While hunting, Sir Robert Hode discovers a foreign knight (Jürgen Prochnow) about to kill a local peasant for poaching in the royal forest. After going on the run, he takes over an established outlaw band, recruits the signature Merry Men characters, captures some longbows from the local aristocracy’s suppliers, and sees the movie’s tone shifts from hyper “realist” to something like a dark Elizabethan comedy. And Patrick Bergin is all in for all of it.

While this didn’t get a US theatrical release (the studios were protecting that awful Costner vehicle), it did get one in the UK, so I’m counting it.

3. Richard Todd

Richard Todd as Robin Hood in Disneys The Story of Robin Hood
Richard Todd as Robin Hood in Disney’s “The Story of Robin Hood”

For their 1952 movie, Disney demoted Robin to his historical position as a commoner and gave him an actual character arc (I’ll die on the hill that Marian is the actual main character of the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood). After his employer, the Earl of Huntingdon, follows King Richard to the Crusades, Robin sees the Sheriff and Prince John’s lackeys kill his father, forcing him to flee to the woods and start an outlaw band. There are a lot of things to love in this Robin Hood (including Martita Hunt’s turn as Eleanor of Aquitaine), but Richard Todd showed us Robin’s shift from a skillful but inexperienced youth to a capable and principled leader.

2. Cary Elwes

Cary Elwes always wins because, as the movie tells us, hes not supposed to lose
Cary Elwes winning

Sure, it’s a parody, but Cary Elwes is both charming and funny and significantly more memorable than either Flynn or Costner (the two Robins Mel Brooks was satirizing).

1. Brian Bedford

Disneys most famous Robin, voiced by Bedford
Disney’s most famous Robin, voiced by Bedford

It’s almost unfair, but be real: the Bedford-voiced red fox (visually mashing up Robin and Reynard) is the greatest Robin on the big screen.

That Other Guy

When I started this list, I decided not to include Nazi-sympathizers and sexual-predators in my rankings, thus disqualifying Errol Flynn (also John Derek, but he wasn’t going to be on anyone’s shortlist). However, I’ve found that watching Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood as an adult, it was hard to see Flynn as anything more than a skilled athlete and mediocre actor who spent the film riding the coattails of Olivia de Havilland and Basil Rathbone. As mentioned above, I’ll die on the hill that this movie is about Marian: she’s the one who develops, grows, changes, and takes big risks. Flynn has some amazing action scenes, but as a character in a narrative, we don’t get a lot from him, and he clearly didn't have a lot to give.


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