Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was one of those classic action films that we all flocked to see when it came out – and it went on to remain at the top of the box office charts for months after release. Such success is the envy of action movies to this day.
Let’s take a look back at this great film with some facts about Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves that you probably never knew.
20. Alan Rickman improvised the spoon threat
The Sheriff of Nottingham might be one of Alan Rickman’s most iconic roles, but it almost wasn’t. When first approached about the part, Rickman rejected it outright, and only reconsidered when the director agreed to let him develop the part however he wanted. The Sheriff’s iconic physicality and voice were all Rickman’s invention, and he even came up with the Sheriff’s most memorable line: “Locksley, I’m going to cut your heart out… with a spoon.”
That wasn’t the only line of Rickman’s invention, as he also came up with the quip about cancelling Christmas. Alan Rickman wasn’t the only one to get his improvised lines in the movie. Christian Slater accidentally shouted out “f**k me, he cleared it!” after Kevin Costner (as Robin) and Morgan Freeman (as Azeem) were catapulted over the castle wall. The line was so funny that it was kept in, despite the historical inaccuracy.
19. Cary Elwes was the first choice to play Robin Hood
It’s obviously difficult to imagine anyone but Kevin Costner in the role of Prince of Thieves’ Robin Hood, but the part was originally meant for someone else entirely. The casting director was initially set on casting Cary Elwes, thanks to the experience he gained when he played Westley in The Princess Bride. Unfortunately, Elwes rejected the part as soon as he was offered it.
After reading the script, Elwes concluded that the dialogue was too cliche and the plot was contrived, and so he refused to be a part of the production. Funnily enough, Elwes later got to play the part of Robin Hood anyway, when he starred in 1993’s Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Men in Tights – a Mel Brooks parody – references Prince of Thieves throughout, and draws attention to a lot of the plot weaknesses that Elwes noticed reading the script.
18. The flaming arrow shot was filmed at 300 frames per second
Prince of Thieves has plenty of iconic moments, but none so much as that where Robin Hood, played by Kevin Costner, shoots a flaming arrow in slow motion during a pivotal battle. The desired look was achieved by filming the shot at 300 frames per second, rather than the usual 24 frames per second, so it would retain stunning clarity when slowed down in post.
Christian Slater was apparently so impressed by Kevin Costner’s trick shots that he asked to be taught archery by him personally. The two spent a lot of time on set together practicing shooting various targets, and by the end of production Slater was almost as good as Costner – even if he didn’t get to show it off on screen.
17. Kevin Costner’s horse broke Costner’s nose
Like a lot of other historical fantasies, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves includes a fair bit of horseriding. All the core cast had to be fairly proficient, but even with all the training and precautions taken on set, accidents were still bound to happen. For instance, during the shooting of the scene where Robin, Azeem and Duncan flee from Marian’s, the fake escape didn’t exactly go to plan.
Quite unexpectedly, during one take of the scene Kevin Costner’s horse half-reared when it came to a stop, and threw its head back violently. Unfortunately for Costner, the horse’s neck collided with his head, smacking him on the nose. Amazingly, Costner carried on the take and acted through the pain, not letting a broken nose stop him from finishing up the scene.
16. Will Scarlett was offered to Johnny Depp first
In Prince of Thieves, Will Scarlett is one of the last people to join Robin Hood’s band of merry men. Unlike the rest of his group of outlaws and bandits, Scarlett is put off by the way Robin Hood immediately assumes the leadership position and brings everybody else on board. His journey from petulant to proud takes up a lot of the movie, and is what makes him so endearing.
Given the blend of standoffish and likeable that Will Scarlett had to be, it makes sense that Christian Slater eventually bagged the part. However, he wasn’t anyone’s first choice for the character, with Johnny Depp the first actor approached to play the handsome bandit. Depp refused immediately, opting instead to star in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, a decision that worked out pretty well for him.
15. Freeman got his role in Unforgiven because of Prince of Thieves
Morgan Freeman has had a lot of iconic roles throughout his storied career, from Red in The Shawshank Redemption to Eddie Dupris in Million Dollar Baby. However, one of Morgan’s most critically acclaimed performances came when he played Ned Logan in Unforgiven, a role which he indirectly bagged thanks to his agreeing to appear in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
While filming Prince of Thieves, Kevin Costner brought the script of Unforgiven to the attention of Freeman, thinking that he might enjoy the story. Freeman was so taken with Unforgiven that he contacted director Clint Eastwood right away and asked for the role of Ned Logan. Eastwood agreed to give Freeman the part and it went on to become one of his most beloved.
14. Robin Wright was cast as Maid Marian, but had to drop out when she became pregnant
The final cast list for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ended up being substantially different from what it was originally set to look like. Not only was Kevin Costner not originally supposed to bag the starring role, with Cary Elwes from The Princess Bride being everybody’s first pick for the part, but another Princess Bride star was also supposed to appear in the film.
The role of Maid Marian was originally given to Robin Wright, who, like Cary Elwes, had recently starred in The Princess Bride. Unlike Elwes however, Wright did accept the role, and was all set to begin shooting. It was only when Wright found out that she was pregnant that she made the decision to drop out of the production, leaving Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio to take over.
13. The real King Richard was 24 years younger than Sean Connery at that time
King Richard is a huge part of Robin Hood lore, but he actually doesn’t play a huge role in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Sean Connery’s Richard only has a few minutes of screen time, where we see him visiting France at the end of the third crusade at the beginning of the movie, and returning to give Marian away at her wedding at the end of the movie.
Despite his limited screen time, Sean Connery makes a huge impact as the lion-hearted king. However, he was actually totally the wrong age to accurately play the monarch. Connery was already 61 years old when he appeared in the film, despite the fact that in 1194 (the time the movie is set) Richard the Lionheart would have only been 37.
12. Rickman and Mastrantonio were neighbours in real life
As it goes on so many a movie, the cast of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves got pretty close over the course of production. However, two actors had a stronger bond than most, despite them playing two characters who definitely didn’t get along. Even though the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and the radiant Maid Marian are diametrically opposed for most of the movie, Alan Rickman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio had a great time on set.
Their unexpected bond came down to the fact that the two were actually next-door neighbours, who happened to live on the same street in London. At the premiere of the movie, Rickman even joked about popping round to Mastrantonio’s house to borrow milk and a cup of sugar. They might even have shared a cab on the way to the premiere!
11. Rickman made a child co-star giggle so much that she struggled to act
Over the years, the late, great Alan Rickman played a lot of iconic villains, from the slimy Professor Snape to the brutal Hans Gruber to the fearsome Sheriff of Nottingham. However, despite the fact that Rickman could be hugely convincing in any role that required him to be menacing or scary, when the director called cut he was actually the complete opposite.
When Rickman was filming the Prince of Thieves scene in which the Sheriff of Nottingham reflects on his sad childhood, the actor was worried he might scare the young actress in the scene named Sarah Alexandra. To set her at ease, Rickman goofed around so much between shots that Alexandra was giggling throughout their takes and struggled to keep a straight face on camera.
10. The wardrobe department pranked Kevin Costner about his costume
When you think of Robin Hood, you probably have a few classic images come to mind: An arrow being shot through an apple, a Disney fox with a feather in his cap, a pair of forest green tights tucked into pointy shoes. Despite these associations, the production team on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves were eager to create a new aesthetic for the 1991 film.
They ditched the tights and bright colours, and focused instead on historically accurate clothing in rugged materials and colours appropriate for the time period. However, despite this change in direction, the wardrobe team still decided to have a little fun with Kevin Costner, at one point leaving a pair of lime green tights in his dressing room for him to try on. Fortunately, these don’t appear in the film.
9. Costner’s accent is inconsistent because he kept changing it to annoy the director
One of the most fraught parts of any historical movie is the accents. Despite being set in Sherwood Forest, hardly anyone in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves sounds convincingly like they’re from Nottingham. In particular, Kevin Costner seems to dip in and out of what is some ways off from being a passable English accent, with his voice changing from scene to scene.
The reason for Costner’s inconsistent accent is simple: director Kevin Reynolds hated his star’s English accent, and insisted that he not use it. In retaliation, Kevin Costner would use his natural accent for the film whenever he and the director were getting along, but would petulantly switch to English whenever they disagreed about the direction of the story.
8. Azeem does not appear in the original Robin Hood stories
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is an amalgamation of many versions of the Robin Hood story, with the 1984 BBC series Robin of Sherwood providing particular inspiration. Unfortunately, Prince of Thieves screenwriter Pen Densham took a bit too much inspiration from the BBC story, and accidentally included a fictional, copyrighted character in the script for his own movie.
Specifically, Densham included the character of Nasir, who was originally played by Mark Ryan in the BBC series. Densham had assumed that Nasir was one of the original Merry Men from the old legends, even though he was actually a BBC creation. It took stuntman Terry Walsh, who had also worked on Robin of Sherwood, pointing out that the character did not exist in the original stories, to prompt a hasty name change of Morgan Freeman’s character from Nasir to Azeem.
7. Costner had real archery skills
Usually, the process of getting a part as an actor involves a lot of tests of skills. Can you convincingly portray the character you’re supposed to be playing? Can you pull off their voice and mannerisms? Do you have chemistry with the person playing your love interest? Can you ride a horse? When it came time for Kevin Costner to audition for the part of Robin Hood, though, he made it all the way to the end without demonstrating the character’s most crucial skill.
Costner was cast in the title role without ever proving that he had the archery chops to play the part of Robin Hood. When director Kevin Reynolds finally asked Costner if he could shoot, the actor responded by perfectly firing an arrow through a rabbit that was hanging 30 feet away, without a word. He then refused to demonstrate his skills for a second time, in front of anyone.
6. Sean Connery donated his whole salary to charity
Right from the beginning of production on Prince of Thieves, Kevin Reynolds was determined to get Sean Connery on board. Reynolds first approached him to play Lord Locksley, but Connery declined on the basis that he had already played a number of fathers in recent years, and so the part went to Brian Blessed instead. Still determined to include the former 007, Reynold’s then offered Connery the role of King Richard.
To play King Richard, Sean Connery only had to be on set for two days, but he was still paid a whopping $250,000 for his appearance. Connery loved working on the film, and donated every penny he made from his cameo to charity. Connery had already visited Sherwood Forest once before when he played an ageing Robin Hood in Robin and Marian.
5. Alan Rickman (and Ruby Wax) helped rewrite the script
Right from the beginning, it was an open secret on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves that the script was not the best. Two drafts of the screenplay were written, by Pen Densham and John Watson respectively, but much of the dialogue still came out as obvious and trite. Alan Rickman tried to fix problems on set by adding his own improvised lines, but that wasn’t where his contributions ended.
Much earlier in the process, Alan Rickman tried to fix the screenplay by sitting down on multiple evenings and editing the dialogue with a pen and highlighter. As for where he chose to do it, he could be found sitting in the corner of a Pizza Express, eating pizza and scribbling out lines of dialogue, with the help of Ruby Wax and Peter Barnes.
4. Kevin Costner insisted the film only feature tiny livestock
Prince of Thieves is far from the most historically accurate movie out there. The geography of the movie is all over the place, with characters travelling from place to place faster than should be possible and locations moved around to suit the narrative. However, when it came to one tiny detail, Kevin Reynolds was insistent that it had to be as authentically historical as possible.
Essentially, Reynolds insisted that all the livestock that appeared in the movie, from cows and bigs to sheep and horses, had to be the right size. In the age in which Robin Hood lived, all farm animals would have been much smaller than they are now, and so Reynolds sent a production assistant out to procure smaller than average livestock to appear in the movie.
3. Costner won a Razzie for his performance
In terms of the numbers, Prince of Thieves was a huge success. It was the second-highest-grossing film of 1991, opening just behind Terminator 2: Judgement Day. However, just because people went to see a film in droves doesn’t necessarily mean it was super well received by critics, who mostly concluded that this Robin Hood adaptation was middling to poor (with the exception of Alan Rickman’s Sheriff).
After Prince of Thieves was released, Christian Slater was nominated for a Golden Raspberry in the Worst Supporting Actor category, and Costner won in the Best Actor category. Costner was no doubt embarrassed, but Slater arguably had it worse, as he was also nominated for a Worst Supporting Actor Razzie for his performance in Mobsters in the same year.
2. Kevin Costner had the film’s original editor locked out of the editing room
From the beginning of pre-production right up to the release of the movie, the making of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was troubled. Even once the script had been rewritten by Alan Rickman in the back of a Pizza Express, and two screenwriters had taken a pass at the story, things got worse in post-production when it came time to edit the movie.
At some point during the editing process, Kevin Costner himself took over editing responsibilities and even went so far as to lock original editor Peter Boyle out of the editing suite. The whole thing was apparently an attempt to ensure that as few people saw the final cut of the movie as possible. When director Kevin Reynolds eventually saw the film, he was apparently very disappointed.
1. Brian Blessed was nearly trampled by a horse on set
Brian Blessed’s performance as Robin’s father is brief but, like all the bellowing Blessed’s roles, it’s also impactful. In his final moment on screen before being murdered, we see Lord Locksley riding out through the castle gates, into the wilderness. Blessed looks completely effortless on a horse, but that does not mean that getting the shot was easy.
During one take of the scene, Blessed was thrown from his horse, which then kept moving despite him no longer being on its back. The horse stomped on Blessed and almost trampled him. Despite it being a pretty dangerous situation, Blessed immediately got back up and asked to do another take, which ended up being used in the movie.