Have critics ever enjoyed 'Robin Hood' films? (Answer, not really)

Ben Arnold
Contributor
Taron Egerton as Robin Hood (Credit: Lionsgate)

The legend of Robin Hood has been re-written, rebooted, reimagined, remade and revamped in countless ways since it first entered communal folklore in the 13th century.

Maybe there’s just something universal about the notion of stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

Sadly, there’s also something pretty universal about Robin Hood’s travails on the big screen too, and not in a good way.

The latest incarnation of the altruistic outlaw, directed by Otto Bathurst, starring Taron Egerton and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, is getting a bit of a panning at the hands of the critics.


The Daily Beast calls it ‘incomprehensible’ and ‘an unmitigated disaster’, while The Hollywood Reporter suggests that ‘in a just world, everyone involved in this mess would be required to perform some sort of public penance’.

So far it’s just managing 14 percent ‘fresh’ on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus being – to put it mildly – that it’s a bit of a duffer.

“Say this and little else for the new Robin Hood movie: It’s less of a self-serious slog than the last Robin Hood movie,” adds A.V. Club.

Russell Crowe as Robin Hood (Credit: Universal)

Indeed, it’s predecessor, directed by Ridley Scott and finding Russell Crowe leading the men in tights, also got an arrow to the heart back in 2010.

The Spectator reckoned: “Scott decided, I think, to get away from the whole campy thing in tights business and wanted to make this ‘real’. So there is sweat and dirt and rats at the cheese and even bad teeth, which is fair enough, but it is also joyless.”

The Evening Standard went on: “There are great roaring fires and buckets of mead but none of it will ever warm you to Russell Crowe, whose charm seems to diminish by the nanosecond.”

Even veteran critic Richard Roeper could only manage that ‘yes, it’s dour, but it’s also gritty and not nearly as silly as most Robin Hood adaptations,’ surely the very definition of faint praise.

Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Credit: Warner Bros)

But surely Kevin Costner’s soft-focus Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves from 1991, perhaps the most famous version in recent times, was well received, right?

Not so much.

The late Roger Ebert hated it.

“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a murky, unfocused, violent, and depressing version of the classic story… The most depressing thing about the movie is that children will attend it expecting to have a good time,” he wrote back in 1991.

The New York Times called it ‘a mess, a big, long, joyless reconstruction of the Robin Hood legend’, while many slated Costner for not even attempting a British accent.

Meanwhile, the rival Patrick Bergin-Uma Thurman version, which also emerged in 1991 but ended up going straight to broadcast TV, was pretty much dead on arrival after being scuppered by Costner and co, and was almost universally critically ignored as a result.

Prior to that, you’d have to go back to 1938, and Errol Flynn’s ‘richly produced, bravely bedecked, romantic and colorful show’ (per the New York Times) turn in The Adventures of Robin Hood, which was roundly praised, or even further to 1922 and the Douglas Fairbanks version of the legend, to get any significant critical love.

So perhaps this latest incarnation shouldn’t fret too much. The bar has been set pretty low ever since.

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