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Milestones

THE B-LIST: Rob(in) from the rich to give to the poor

Robin Hood has popped up in some surprising places: Wales, fantasy landscapes, even post-apocalyptic wastelands (Paul Kane's "Hooded Man").

But he's usually hiding in Sherwood Forest during the reign of Richard the Lionheart — a king romanticized as fair and just, especially when compared to his conniving brother John.

In truth, Richard was an awful king. Enamored with the idea of fighting the "Saracen menace," he was constantly away embroiled in the Crusades. While this made him an able general and soldier, he severely neglected his duties back home as king.

Captured in the Holy Land several times, his country nearly went bankrupt to raise the required ransoms. In comparison, John — often painted as a venal coward, the proverbial "Phony King of England" — was instrumental in judicial reforms and a serious administrator.

But is it any wonder that John, known to be unpleasant, is so often cast in the role of villain while his warrior brother is painted as a noble hero?

A true underdog needs serious hurdles to overcome, and you can't jump much higher than rebelling against a slimy prince — as the following films prove:

5: "Robin Hood" (2010). Yes, this one stars Russell Crowe and is only nominally a Robin Hood film. It's more like four confusing historical epics smashed together. However, it's worth watching because:

1) Oscar Isaac is a supremely sexy and sinister John.

2) There's a fake married trope between an older-than-average couple: Crowe's Rob and Cate Blanchett's fierce Marian.

3) The Merry Men are great, especially Kevin Durand as Little John and Alan Doyle ("Great Big Sea") as minstrel Alan a Dale.

4: "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" (1991). Kevin Costner doesn't even attempt an English accent. But you don't watch this film for Costner; you watch it for Alan Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham, so hammy he should come on rye. The performance is wonderfully cartoony and quotable ("I'll cut yer heart out with a SPOON!"). With the beautiful costuming, rousing soundtrack and Morgan Freeman as Muslim warrior Azeem, this one's a rollicking adventure.

3: "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" (1993). The previous movie made intentionally hilarious by Mel Brooks. For many in my generation, this is the Robin Hood we remember best; dapper Cary Elwes is just as beloved for his turn here as for his heroics in "The Princess Bride." And, unlike Costner, he CAN speak in an English accent.

2: "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938). Errol Flynn is the prettiest, sauciest Robin in screendom. Olivia de Havilland is a feisty and dewy Maid Marian in historically inaccurate Technicolor gowns. Claude Rains is the pompous, foppish Prince John while Basil Rathbone chews the scenery flavorless as Sir Guy of Gisbourne. A true classic, complete with climactic sword fights.

1: Disney's "Robin Hood" (1973). A highly underrated film in the Disney vault, the anthropomorphized versions of the beloved characters are perfect (a wolf for the Sheriff and vultures for guards, while Robin is, naturally, a wily fox) and the songs are hallowed childhood favorites. And that voice cast!

Given the character's romantic historical trappings, it's no wonder Rob remains a go-to in fiction and film. Next year we'll even see a "gritty" take on the story with Taron Egerton ("Kingsman") as Robin, comedian Tim Minchin as Tuck, and (yes, really) Jamie Foxx as Little John.

Personally, I'm still holding out hope for a well done Lady Robin take.

• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers topics in pop culture, history and literature, contact her at angieb@mywebtimes.com.

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