The Depths of Obscurity: The 5 Best Robin Hood Films You Probably Haven’t Seen
There are 25 Robin Hood movies listed on Flickchart, so many that it’s counted as a franchise. They’ve been coming out every few years since the silent era, with every generation putting its own spin on the legend. Every so often a Robin Hood movie makes it really big: Errol Flynn‘s Technicolor classic, Disney’s Jungle Book–esque cartoon, Mel Brooks’s parody, Costner’s cheesy 90s epic. Those four films are all in the top 2000 of Flickchart’s global rankings, and each have been seen by thousands or tens of thousands of users. Are unknown gems lurking further down the list?
Here are five that are better than their rankings and viewership indicate.
The Robin Hood movies of the 1940s and ’50s, the post-Flynn decades, are all pretty unwatchable. They look and sound like B Westerns with the cast-off costumes of B Sword-and-Sandal films. But if you’re going to watch one, there are three reasons to make it 1960‘s Sword of Sherwood Forest. One is Richard Greene. If you ask people who grew up in the 1950s which Robin Hood they know best, nine times out of ten they’ll say Greene. He was the star of The Adventures of Robin Hood, a TV series that ran in several countries from 1955 to 1959. His Robin has more kinship with John Wayne’s square-jawed, horse-riding stoics than Flynn’s laughing tree-sprite. Greene’s acting varies between corny and wooden, but because he played Robin more often than any other actor, the true completist has to be aware of him.
Donald Pleasence was one of several people who played heavies on the TV show, but in the movie send-off for Greene’s Robin the antagonist is played by Peter Cushing of Star Wars and B-Horror fame. He’s the second reason to sit through Sword of Sherwood Forest. The third is to see if you can spot a youngish (OK, 46-year-old) Desmond Llewelyn three years before he began playing the role of Q in the James Bond series.
- Flickchart ranking: 18217
- Number of users who have seen it: 19
4. Robin Hood (1991)
1991 was a banner year for Robin Hood. Not only did the mega-blockbuster Prince of Thieves come out, so did this more sober, made-for-television version starring a pre-Pulp Fiction Uma Thurman. It also features Jeroen Krabbé, familiar to James Bond fans for his role in The Living Daylights. Though largely forgettable, this Robin Hood movie is unique in its emphasis on the larger sociopolitical struggle between Normans and Saxons. The best part is that the Normans actually speak with French accents, not the usual movie-bad-guy British. During the film’s climax, while Robin and the main baddie are having their de rigeur showdown, a much more interesting battle is taking place between Will Scarlett and a Norman baron. Between thrusts and parries, they debate the relative merits of their peoples’ claims to England. In a really unexpected twist, rather than allowing might to make right, Scarlett and the baron actually lay down their swords and agree to share and share alike.
Another fun twist occurs when Thurman’s Marian disguises herself as a young man and joins Robin’s band of outlaws. This Marian is probably the most physically powerful of any, which makes sense in light of Thurman’s later career as an action hero.
- Flickchart ranking: 11520
- Number of users who have seen it: 164
This family-friendly, made-for-television movie that aired on ABC in 2001 is a lot more fun than the TV movie FOX aired a decade earlier, and than the dreary Russell Crowe movie that came out a decade later. Keira Knightley stars as Gwyn O’Locksley, daughter of Robin Hood. Anybody could write a throwaway tale about the son of Robin and Marian, but why do it? The Robin Hood myth is supposed to be a progressive, socially-conscious story. If we are to keep telling and retelling it, we must find ways to keep it relevant, and casting a woman as the star is one way to do it. Though not literally Robin, Gwyn does everything Robin usually does, from trick shots to storming the castle. She also fights Robin’s old nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham, played by none other than Malcolm McDowell.
As TV productions and lesser-known Robin Hood movies go, you could do a lot worse than a bright, energetic Knightley and McDowell vehicle.
- Flickchart ranking: 25126
- Number of users who have seen it: 60
2. Robin Hood (1922)
This sprawling 1922 silent, with its production budget of $1.4 million ($19.5 million in 2015 dollars), is noted for being the first film to have an official Hollywood premiere. Had the Academy Awards existed, it surely would have been a favorite in many categories. Nearly 90 years later, it can only hope to be a favorite of film historians and Robin Hood buffs. But to this small and eager audience it speaks volumes – metaphorically, of course – and holds up well to critical dissection.
At least one set was designed by the son of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. A full-scale castle and village were constructed at great expense. Some scenes feature hundreds of extras, including animals. There are long action sequences and even some special effects. There was not much precedent for a production of this size, but prolific director Allan Dwan captures it all effectively and fairly seamlessly.
Star and matinee idol Douglas Fairbanks himself wrote the script under an assumed name, and he gave himself plenty to do. It is not until halfway through the two-hour runtime that his Earl of Huntingdon transforms into the outlaw Robin Hood, but the transition is a believable one. The first hour sets up a multitude of relationships between the Earl and King Richard, King Richard and Prince John, Maid Marian with everybody, and everybody with Sir Guy of Gisbourne.
The public-domain movie has been remastered and is available for free on YouTube.
- Flickchart rating: 5373
- Number of users who have seen it: 125
“That’s not obscure!” say the 364 Flickchart users who’ve ranked it. It certainly shouldn’t be. Richard Lester is well-known for directing two Beatles movies and, more controversially, Superman II and III. But he also helmed the best revisionist Robin Hood film ever made, 1976‘s Robin and Marian. Its cast alone makes it a must-see: Sean Connery, Audrey Hepburn, Robert Shaw, Richard Harris, Ian Holm, and Denholm Elliott of the Indiana Jones movies were each nominated for at least one Academy Award during their careers. James Goldman’s script (he also won an Oscar for writing The Lion in Winter) imagines Robin, Marian, the Sheriff, and some not-so-merry men in their twilight years, long after the events that made them folk heroes in their own time. This is, therefore, one of the only Robin Hood movies in which the outcome is not a foregone conclusion, and its most natural endpoint is not victory but death. By bringing familiar characters out of the realm of legend and into the unflattering light of near-reality, they become knowable and nearly human for the first time.
This movie is probably most famous for showing Connery’s bare ass. All that talent, a John Barry score, and commando Connery: no wonder it’s the 5th highest-rated Robin Hood movie on Flickchart.
- Flickchart rating: 3479
- Number of users who have seen it: 364
I’m guessing there are some Rat Pack fans out there who think 1964‘s gangland caper movie Robin and the 7 Hoods, starring Frank and Dino and Sammy and the boys, should be on this list. Admirers of other obscure Robin Hood movies are out there too, in their dozens, waiting to tell me what I’m missing. Let me hear it.