A Medieval Russell Crowe Action Movie Is Trending On Netflix

Russell Crowe's Robin Hood is in the top ten most-watched on Netflix.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

Despite being an instantly recognizable, infamously crotchety actor, Russell Crowe also has the strange ability to appear at home in seemingly any time period. He will forever be associated with the glory and gore of ancient Rome for his performance as Maximus in Gladiator, but he has also been a singing 19th-century French policeman, a Biblical patriarch, a literal god of lightning, and, of course, Superman’s dad. However, one of his more forgotten movies took him to medieval England and it is currently in the top ten most streaming movies on Netflix: the 2010 Ridley Scott film Robin Hood.

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Robin Hood stars Russell Crowe as the titular legendary English bandit, whose historical existence will likely remain a topic of debate forever. In this particular version of the frequently told story, Russell Crowe is a 12th-century commoner and an archer in the army of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), whose failed crusades have bankrupted England and reduced the monarch essentially to a marauder sacking castles on his way back home for supplies and funds. In the opening scenes of the film, we see the nihilistic brutality of the warfare that Russell Crowe and his fellow soldiers engage in as well as the sense that his character (initially known as Robin Longstrider) is an honest man, but one of somewhat flexible morality. 

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After the demoralized King asks Russell Crowe for honest feedback on a campaign that has intentionally slaughtered women and children in a quest for glory, he praises the archer for his candor and then throws him and his comrades Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), and Alan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) in stocks to be whipped. It should never be said that Ridley Scott has a glowing view of humanity, as can be seen by the following various actions of Richard’s younger brother John (an oily, pre-fame Oscar Isaac) in womanizing and demanding taxes from impoverished northerners, the French King Philip’s infiltration of the English court via Godfrey (Mark Strong), and people just generally being jerks.

Robin Hood tries to walk a fine line between a gritty, realistic portrayal of medieval England in which the strong brutalize the poor to sadistic, psychopathic degrees, and one in which Russell Crowe gives rousing, heroic speeches about the need for rule of law and human rights. The latter is not as anachronistic as one might think; the historical King John did actually accede to the demands of his barons and signed the Magna Carta, one of the foundational documents of individual rights in Europe. As one could guess, neither Russell Crowe nor Robin Hood had a lot to do with it.

Robin Hood is the fourth and to date, most recent collaboration between Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, who doubtlessly hoped it might achieve Gladiator levels of acclaim and box office. Despite an impressive cast including the aforementioned Oscar Isaac, Cate Blanchett as Marian, and Max Van Sydow as a blind nobleman who convinces Robin to impersonate his son Robert Loxley, beginning his transformation to folk hero, Robin Hood was received tepidly by critics. While it grossed an impressive $321 million, it did not gain the kind of cultural presence only achieved by lines like “are you not entertained?!”

Interestingly, it seems that Robin Hood was intended to be a very different version of the legend. While the Ridley Scott-Russell Crowe version that eventually made it to theaters ultimately ends with Robin leading an army against French invaders, being declared an outlaw by the jealous Oscar Isaac, and turning out to basically be Robin Hood Begins, the original screenplay by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris was titled Nottingham. It reportedly portrayed the usually-villainous Sheriff of Nottingham (basically a non-entity in this movie) as more heroic and in a love triangle with Robin and Marian. 

It seems that Universal Studios eagerly bought this fresh new take on an old legend and immediately set to rewriting it back to a familiar story that would not challenge audiences. By the time Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott were on board, Nottingham had at one point involved the Sheriff as an early forensic detective (similar to Johnny Depp’s Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow), the Sheriff using the persona of Robin Hood as a disguise, and Robin Hood assuming the identity of the dead Sheriff. 

As one could expect from a major studio, eventually all the innovative ideas were discarded, Nottingham was retitled Robin Hood and the whole thing became a potential franchise starter for Russell Crowe as the bandit. No sequel has yet been forthcoming, but you never know: no one ever gets tired of remaking Robin Hood.