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Robin Hood in Prince of Thieves
Image: Warner Bros.

Film

30 Years Ago: Kevin Costner was an Unlikely Robin Hood in Prince of Thieves

What is it that you remember most about 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Was it Kevin Costner’s very questionable English accent, which he didn’t bother to do for most of the film? Was it Alan Rickman’s sneering villain performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham? Was it Bryan Adams’ song “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You?” Was it that out-of-nowhere late cameo by Sean Connery as King Richard? Or was it that awesome point of view shot from an arrow, which was cutting edge at the time? 

The film, which marks its 30th anniversary this week, adds up to an enjoyable reimagining of the familiar Robin Hood mythology, filled with a deep cast that includes the likes of Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Maid Marian. That is if you can get past Costner’s accent. 

Directed by Kevin Reynolds, who was Costner’s director of choice for a time – the two Kevins would famously feud, years later, during the production of Waterworld Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves took a something of an unconventional approach to the Robin Hood legend. 

Robin Hood in Prince of Thieves
Image: Warner Bros.

In this version, Robin of Locksley (Costner) is a nobleman, who joined King Richard on the Third Crusade in the 12th century. While returning from the Holy Land, Robin befriends Azeem (Freeman), Robin Hood assumes command of his usual entourage, including Little John (Nick Brimble), Friar Tuck (Michael McShane), and Will Scarlett (Slater.) 

Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, not to be confused with her contemporaries Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary Steenburgen) soon emerges as the love interest and is later a target of villain the Sheriff of Nottingham (Rickman), who spends most of the third act trying to marry the maid against her will. 

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was Costner’s first movie after he won a stack of Oscars for his 1990 directorial debut Dances With Wolves. Having starred in The Untouchables, Bull Durham, and Field of Dreams around that time, it was clearly part of Costner’s epoch as one of the biggest movie stars in the world, even if he didn’t get nearly the positive notices this time around. Prince of Thieves also Rickman’s first time playing a villain since his legendary turn in Die Hard in 1988. 

The film earned mixed reviews at best- Roger Ebert called it “a murky, unfocused, violent and depressing version of the classic story, with little of the lightheartedness and romance we expect from Robin Hood”- and the Costner performance that was such a laughingstock that it won him a Razzie for Worst Actor. 

But Prince of Thieves was a big box office hit. It earned $164 million, which was the second-most of any film in 1991. It finished behind Terminator 2: Judgment Day and ahead of Home Alone, Silence of the Lambs, and City Slickers

Prince of Thieves was one of many Robin Hood movies from around that time, with Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman starring in a TV version that same year. Mel Brooks’ spoof Robin Hood: Men in Tights would follow in 1993, even directly making fun of the Costner version at times. There hasn’t really been a definitive Robin Hood movie since. Most recently, Hollywood has churned out both the mediocre Ridley Scott/Russell Crowe version in 2010, and the even more unfortunate 2018 take, with Taron Egerton as Robin. 

Prince of Thieves doesn’t have nearly the legacy that most of the other top 1991 films have enjoyed. It isn’t frequently played on TV, nor has there been much critical effort to reassess it. But the film is what it is- a fun summer blockbuster, even if it does have a lead performance that you can laugh at. 

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Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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