Tickling us more than any other film we can remember seeing when we were in our early teens, Robin Hood: Men in Tights took the complete mocked. every other Robin Hood film that had come before.
Making Errol Flynn and Kevin Costner seem dull by comparison, this Robin of Loxley is definitely our favourite interpretation of the character, so it’s without further ado that we present the following fascinating facts about this hilarious 90s comedy gem.
20. The film was inspired by an 11-year-old boy’s criticism of Prince of Thieves
1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was a huge box office hit. However, there was a whole lot about director Kevin Reynolds’ blockbuster that was ripe for parody – not least the fact that its English hero had a thick West Coast American accent. One young viewer who felt Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves deserved to be parodied was an 11-year-old named Jordan Chandler.
Young Jordan said as much to his father Evan Chandler, a Hollywood dentist who happened to have some film industry clients, one of whom was screenwriter J. David Shapiro. Recognising the potential of the idea, Chandler and Shapiro got to work on the screenplay together; the end result was Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
19. Director Mel Brooks had already made a TV series about Robin Hood
Comedy legend Mel Brooks has spent much of his career lampooning Hollywood hits, including westerns in Blazing Saddles, Gothic horror in Young Frankenstein and Star Wars-style space opera in Spaceballs. As such, Brooks was the obvious choice to direct a parody of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – but it wasn’t actually Brooks’ first time taking on such material.
Back in the mid-70s, Brooks worked on a small screen project entitled When Things Were Rotten. This was an outlandish sitcom set in the world of Robin Hood, starring Dick Gautier of Get Smart fame as the bow-wielding outlaw. Unfortunately, When Things Were Rotten wound up with pretty rotten ratings, and was cancelled after only 13 episodes.
18. Cary Elwes was offered the lead in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves but turned it down
Cary Elwes was a perfect fit for the lead role in a comedic take on Robin Hood – though things almost went a very different way for the actor. Off the back of his success in swashbuckling 1986 classic The Princess Bride, the actor was offered the lead in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Elwes turned the film down, in part because he didn’t want to be typecast as a swashbuckler, but also as he found the script “contrived.”
Mel Gibson is also said to have been in contention for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves before Kevin Costner agreed to take the role. In a further connection, Patrick Stewart – who stars in Robin Hood: Men in Tights as King Richard – was also a contender to play the Sheriff of Nottingham in Prince of Thieves before Alan Rickman signed on.
17. It was Dave Chappelle’s film debut
Once Elwes was on board Robin Hood: Men in Tights, the actor helped Brooks out with the casting process – and had a hand in getting Dave Chappelle his first movie role. American comedian Chappelle was just 20 at the time, and had never acted in a movie before. Chappelle was cast as Ahchoo – a lampoon of Azeem, Morgan Freeman’s character in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Elwes recalls, “We saw a lot of actors and when Dave came in, he was just so amazing and we knew right then and there this guy was a star.” As well as later fronting his own TV comedy show, Chappelle’s other movie roles would include The Nutty Professor, Con Air and Half Baked.
16. Mel Brooks wrote all the lyrics to the songs himself
Robin Hood: Men in Tights is by no means the only Mel Brooks movie to prominently feature singing and dancing (we all remember The Producers, right?). As was the case on his earlier films, Brooks provided the lyrics for all the original songs in his Robin Hood parody. These include the memorable Men in Tights theme song, and the Sherwood Forest Rap.
However, one song in the film is an existing composition: ballad The Night is Young and You’re So Beautiful. It’s also worth noting that singing doubles were used for every single cast member.
15. The actors were sent to sword-fighting boot camp
Even though Robin Hood: Men in Tights is a spoof, the cast were still required to match up to the physicality of more serious takes on such historical adventures. So that their sword skills would look realistic on screen, many of the actors in Men in Tights were signed up for a sword fighting boot camp. “The actors came in every weekend and they worked Saturdays and Sundays just on their sword fights,” Brooks is quoted as saying.
Luckily, leading man Cary Elwes already had a bit of a head start on the rest of the cast, having been extensively trained in fencing for The Princess Bride. Stunt co-ordinator Victor Paul was mightily impressed with Elwes’ swordsmanship, remarking, “All I had to do was teach him the routines, he knew how to fence.”
14. Some of the best scenes were completely improvised
The original Robin Hood: Men in Tights screenplay was written by J. David Shapiro and Evan Chandler, but when Brooks boarded the project, the comedy legend extensively rewrote it. As was also the norm for Brooks, he allowed his actors to go off-book and throw in their own ideas during the shoot. Some of the very best scenes in Robin Hood: Men in Tights were completely improvised by the actors.
This includes the scene where Latrine (played by Tracey Ullman) tries to persuade the Sheriff ( Roger Rees) to sleep with her. Bonus trivia: Ullman’s role (a direct parody of the witch Mortianna, played by Geraldine McEwan in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) was initially earmarked for one of Mel Brooks’ frequent collaborators, Madeline Kahn.
13. Prince John’s mole changes position throughout the film
Sometimes the targets of the gags in Mel Brooks movies are so specific, you need to be an expert in the movies being sent up to get the joke at all. For example, Robin Hood: Men in Tights has a running joke involving a mole on the face of Price John, played by Richard Lewis. Throughout the movie, the dark and prominent mole moves into different positions on the dim-witted Prince’s face.
This is a deliberate gaffe, making a joke at the expense of a genuine continuity error in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. In the earlier film, Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham has a mole that inadvertently moves around his face at different points.
12. Patrick Stewart’s performance deliberately makes fun of Sean Connery
Robin Hood: Men in Tights boasts a notable supporting turn from esteemed Shakespearean actor (and Star Trek captain) Patrick Stewart. However, some viewers may be left wondering why the very English Stewart plays the role of Richard, King of England with a thick Scottish accent. If that leaves you confused then you must have completely forgotten about the previous theatrical release featuring Robin Hood.
With his Scottish brogue, Stewart is of course making fun of Sean Connery’s King Richard in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The former James Bond makes a surprise cameo at the climax of the 1991 hit – but, much like Kevin Costner, he made no attempt to tone down his natural accent.
11. Sean Connery wanted to play King Richard again – but in drag
Even more interesting is the fact that Sean Connery was interested in reprising his King Richard role in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. However, the Scottish screen legend had some very specific caveats for playing the role in the Mel Brooks film. Firstly, and perhaps most unexpectedly, Connery said would only play King Richard in Robin Hood: Men in Tights if he could dress as a lady.
According to author James Robert Parish, Connery told Mel Brooks “that he would repeat his role of the monarch, but this time in drag,” an idea which the director was intrigued by. However, Parish notes the actor also demanded “a $1 million salary, which he planned to donate to Scottish charities” – and this was too steep for the $20 million-budgeted movie.
10. Hulk Hogan turned down the role of Little John so he could star in Mr Nanny instead
Believe it or not, Robin Hood: Men in Tights could have starred former WWF Wrestler Hulk Hogan. The handlebar-moustachioed titan was at the height of his fame at the time, both in the ring and (to a lesser extent) on the big screen. After a small role in Rocky III, Hogan took starring roles in 1989’s No Holds Barred and 1991’s Suburban Commando.
However, when Hogan was asked if he wanted to play Little John, he sadly turned the opportunity down, allowing Eric Allan Kramer to take the role. Perhaps unfortunately, the Hulkster chose instead to take the lead role in 1993 family comedy Mr Nanny, which at present has a pretty abysmal Rotten Tomatoes score of 7%.
9. Elwes hung up on Mel Brooks when he called to offer him the film
After breaking through in Hollywood with The Princess Bride, Elwes took roles in Days of Thunder, Glory, The Crush and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Perhaps even more significantly considering his casting in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, he had also starred in 1991’s Hot Shots!, a Top Gun spoof from the makers of Airplane! and The Naked Gun. However, when Mel Brooks called Elwes personally to offer him Robin Hood: Men in Tights, the actor didn’t believe it was really Brooks on the line.
Elwes recalls, “He actually called me at home and I thought someone was pulling my leg so I hung up on him.” Fortunately, Brooks “called back and he said ‘don’t hang up, it’s really me!’ I apologised, but I couldn’t believe he was calling me.”
8. The joke about Robin’s English accent had to be completely rewritten in international versions
One of the funniest and most memorable lines in Robin Hood: Men in Tights comes when Elwes declares (direct to camera), “unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent.” This was, of course, a direct stab at Kevin Costner’s performance in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, in which the American actor makes almost no effort to sound like an Englishman. However, this line proved to be a little problematic in non-English speaking territories, where both films were either subtitled or dubbed, and audiences were unaware of the accent issue.
In Germany the line became, “unlike some other Robin Hoods, I don’t cost the producers $5 million,” whilst in France and Italy it became, “I do not dance with wolves” – a nod to Costner’s Oscar-winning hit Dances with Wolves. Some translations were a bit more eye-opening: in Hungary, the line became “unlike Kevin Costner, I have a shapely bottom,” a reference to the well-reported fact that Costner insisted on using a butt double for his brief rear nude scene in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
7. It parodies other Robin Hood movies besides Prince of Thieves
Whilst Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was in 1993 the most recent Hollywood movie to tackle the legend, there had been plenty more beforehand. Robin Hood: Men in Tights also boasts a number of scenes which refer back to these older films – though none of them are quite so barbed as the stabs at Prince of Thieves.
For example, the scene in which Robin bursts into a regal banquet with a dead boar over his shoulders is a direct recreation of a similar moment in 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. Men in Tights also features sequences shot at Lake Canterbury, a location nicknamed ‘Lake Sherwood’ after it was used in both the 1922 Robin Hood with Douglas Fairbanks, and the 1938 Errol Flynn movie.
6. British pop star Cathy Dennis sings on the end credits song
Readers might not be aware that a famed British pop star of the early 90s is featured on the Robin Hood: Men in Tights soundtrack – one Cathy Dennis. By 1993, the Norwich-born singer-songwriter had nine UK top 40 hits to her name, although her success internationally was more limited. Dennis performs a reprise of the song Marian over the Robin Hood: Men in Tights end credits, in a duet with Lance Ellington.
Dennis’ solo career eventually fizzled out, but she did go on to become a Grammy and Ivor Novello-winning songwriter for other artists. Dennis’ hits as a writer include Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head, Britney Spears’ Toxic and Katy Perry’s I Kissed a Girl.
5. Richard Lewis was struck down with Hepatitis A during the shoot – but Brooks still made him finish his scenes
Robin Hood: Men in Tights may be laugh-a-minute fun for the audience, but things got pretty serious late in production for Richard Lewis. The Prince John actor was struck with a 106-degree fever and had to be rushed to hospital, due to a case of Hepatitis A. However, Lewis still had one more scene to shoot – and Brooks was absolutely determined to get it in the can.
Lewis recalls the director telling him over the phone, “You’ll do your two lines, we’ll carry you right back into the (stretcher), you’ll be back (at the hospital) in 20 minutes.” The actor replied, “I think I’m dying,” and hung up – only for Brooks to call him back repeatedly until at last he agreed to come in and finish the scene.
4. Mel Brooks considered offering Kevin Costner a cameo, but chickened out
Considering how savage Robin Hood: Men in Tights gets in its references to Prince of Thieves, one has to wonder what Costner himself makes of it. Brooks and company might have actually found out first hand if they had offered Costner a cameo in their movie, something that was briefly considered. Co-writer J. David Shapiro said on the film’s release that the Men in Tights director had thought about reaching out to the Prince of Thieves actor, but ultimately decided against it.
According to Shapiro, “Mel feared he would be turned down and, well, you know, Costner’s expensive.” Apparently the role Brooks had considered offering Costner was that of King Richard, which went instead to Patrick Stewart.
3. Some critics savaged the film, calling it Brooks’ worst
If like us you’re a big fan of Robin Hood: Men in Tights, then you really should check out Mel Brooks’ other films as well. While the film has plenty of fans, a lot of critics believe Robin Hood: Men in Tights to be the worst entry in Brooks’ filmography. Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune wrote that it is “a most disappointing Mel Brooks movie parody that suggests that the once hilarious Brooks has lost his way.”
He continued by saying that “the pacing is agonizingly slow, and many of the jokes are recycled from his earlier, better work.” Today, Robin Hood: Men in Tights has a 40% fresh rating on reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes – more impressive, we might add, than 1995’s Dracula: Dead and Loving It, which boasts a measly 11%.
2. It was a modest success at the box office, but a bigger hit on VHS
Despite the negative critical reaction, Robin Hood: Men in Tights performed reasonably well at the box office. It made just over $36 million in ticket sales worldwide, from a budget of $20 million. This was only a little less than Brooks’ 1987 film Spaceballs, which took $38.1 million from a $22.7 million budget.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights also sold well on VHS, on which format it was Mel Brooks’ second best-selling film behind Spaceballs. Brooks’ biggest box office hit remains 1974’s Blazing Saddles, which made $119.6 million (an even greater sum adjusted for inflation).
1. Russell Crowe called Men in Tights the “most entertaining” Robin Hood movie
In the years since Robin Hood: Men in Tights, there have been more big screen takes on the legend – though none have proven particularly successful. Russell Crowe took the title role in 2010’s Robin Hood, which reunited the Antipodean actor with his Gladiator director Ridley Scott. Whilst promoting that film, Crowe declared Robin Hood: Men in Tights to be “the most entertaining” Robin Hood movie yet made.
Crowe explained, “it examines the same exact clichés as all the other films that wrap the legend up and throw it away. And once Mel Brooks has had a go at it, it’s time to wipe the slate clean.” Critics and audiences would seem to agree, as 2010’s Robin Hood was met with a very muted response. 2018’s Robin Hood with Taron Egerton, meanwhile, fared little better.