In 1908, the silent film Robin Hood and His Merry Men introduced theatergoers to the dashing rogue of English folklore who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, and since then, he has appeared in a neverending run of television shows and movies. Dozens of actors have played Robin Hood, and they’ve all brought their own distinct and varied styles (and accents) to the role. But there is one thing they have in common: They’ve all had to expertly fire arrows in movies like Robin and Marian (1976), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), and Robin Hood (2010), among others.
With the latest Robin Hood promising copious amounts of archery action (18 arrows are fired in the first trailer!), we decided to take a look at movies featuring the character and other iconic archers to see if we could find any trends, patterns, or cool facts to drop on you. Sit back, relax, and enjoy this deep dive into the world of cinematic archery.
Sidenote: We’re leaving out crossbows because Robin Hood has no time for crossbows.
In a merry coincidence, two Robin Hood movies are tied for first place. Robin Hood (1922) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) have 100% Tomatometer scores, and they established the majority of the ground rules for the cinematic portrayal of the character (split arrows, archery contests, stealing money, green hats). These classics still hold up because of their massive budgets, acrobatic set pieces, and the committed performances of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn.
It turns out the Robin Hood (Cary Elwes) from Robin Hood: Men in Tights is the most accurate. Three other Robin Hoods have 100% accuracy rates (Robin Hood – 1922, Robin Hood – 1973, Robin and Marian – 1976), but we’re giving the “most accurate” award to Elwes because he fired the most arrows of the four (11) and is the only person who can believably fire six arrows at once. That is nothing to (A)sneeze at.
Move over Legolas (94%), Robin Hood (93%), Katniss Everdeen (85%), and Clint Barton (84%), Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo character has an outstanding 96% success rate throughout Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985) and Rambo (2008). His lone “miss” wasn’t really a miss: In Rambo, he hits a guy in the leg and has to use another arrow to finish the job. Rambo is so accurate he fishes with arrows, which is something only a few characters like Merida from Brave and Lewis Medlock from Deliverance can claim.
Technically, Legolas’ 24-arrow hit spree in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the most impressive run of the iconic archers included in our data set. However, he is a 2,000-year-old Elf who has had a lot of time to practice his archery skills. Thus, we’re giving Matt Damon (and his ponytail) the award for the 18 perfectly placed arrows he shot in The Great Wall. Not only did Damon defeat many ancient monsters with impenetrable skin, he’s capable of wowing hundreds with his party tricks.
Hawkeye’s 84% accuracy rate is impressive, considering he had to fire arrows at aliens, robots, friends, and superheroes who move very quickly and give him next to nothing to aim at (in Captain America: Civil War, Vision literally becomes intangible). Let’s hope that Avengers 4 allows Hawkeye to get his accuracy rate above 90% so he can join the super cool archery crew of John Rambo, Legolas, and Robin Hood. Also, we’d love to see what he can do against Thanos.
Speaking of Thanos battling Hawkeye, it’s funny how cocky villains get when they’ve caught an arrow. We don’t understand why, because it always blows up in their faces (sometimes literally). In The Scorpion King, Blade: Trinity, and The Avengers, villains are foiled by their arrow-snatching skills. Most famously, in The Avengers, Loki is foiled by his own hubris when he catches an arrow shot by Hawkeye and smirks with joy, only to be caught off guard when the arrow explodes. We love this moment because it means Hawkeye knew exactly what would happen.
Throughout the four Hunger Games movies, Katniss Everdeen shoots 35 arrows and is accurate 85% of the time. Aside from surviving two deadly competitions, Katniss can claim she took down two enemy bombers with one arrow in Mockingjay: Part 1. This fact makes you forget that she only fired one arrow in the entire film.
Technically, Nicolas Cage’s character in The Weather Man is not an iconic archer. He is a weatherman who takes up archery as a hobby because it calms his nerves. However, the sight of Nicolas Cage strolling down a city street with a bow and arrow is awesome. The visual is so great we’re going to forgive him for using a crossbow in his latest gonzo masterpiece Mandy.
Do you know why actor Toshiro Mifune looked so scared during the famous arrow scene in the 98% Tomatometer rated Throne of Blood? Director Akira Kurosawa had professional archers shoot REAL arrows at the actor! That’s why Mifune’s reactions seem so primal and real. Sure, he had padding in case an arrow missed, but we don’t think anything like this will ever happen again.
The “100,000 arrows” scene in Hong Kong action master John Woo’s Red Cliff features 100,000 arrows doing zero tactical damage during a major battle. Normally, missing 100,000 arrows would be bad enough, but imagine if the opposing army retrieved the majority of those arrows and fired them back at you. Red Cliff should be applauded for the very inventive way it chose to recycle arrows.
Runner Up: 300 – Xerxes orders arrows to literally block out the sun. It looks cool, but does nothing.
We don’t condone using chickens in lieu of arrows. However, since Hot Shots: Part Deux is a spoof of Rambo, and we’re pretty sure the chicken lives, we had to give this scene some love. After dozens of movies in which archers used only arrows, it was a breath of fresh air to watch as Topper Harly (Charlie Sheen) misses six straight shots (longest missing streak in our data set, by the way) but manages to improvise beautifully when he realizes he’s spent all his arrows. Topper grabs an unsuspecting chicken, straightens it out, and fires it with his bow to vanquish one of his foes. He may be a terrible marksman (14% accuracy rate), but he comes through when it counts. Rambo would be proud. And confused.
Archery looks awesome, which is why movie posters almost always showcase archers whenever possible. It doesn’t matter if the main character only shoots one (Hanna), five (Tomb Raider – 2018) or 18 (The Great Wall) arrows, the character will be on the poster with a bow in hand. Take a look at the posters below and you’ll see why marketing departments love showcasing archery: