When Good Scripts Go Bad

So, Ridley’s Scott’s new mega-budget ‘Robin Hood’ movie has been released, received a drubbing from critics, and underperformed at the box office. I doubt many people (aside from those involved in the production) are too terribly disappointed by this, or frankly even care. Honestly, was anyone excited to see this movie?

Sadly, this is just the latest example of the Hollywood production mill’s tendency to take an intriguing story idea, grind it into pulp, and spit out a middling product. What’s so intriguing about ‘Robin Hood’, you ask? Hasn’t this story been told a hundred times on film already? True enough, but clever writers can find ways to put an interesting spin on old material. And that’s apparently what happened here… at first. But then studio interference, an egotistical director, and the requirements of audience pandering took their toll.

In his personal blog, Hollywood screenwriter William Martell (who did not write ‘Robin Hood’, but has actively followed its development over the years), tells the tale of how one good script went bad.

Some of our readers may have vague memories of this project starting life under the title ‘Nottingham’. Initially, Russell Crowe was attached to star as the Sheriff of Nottingham, in a revisionist retelling of the Robin Hood legend which posited that Robin was just an ordinary petty criminal, and the Sheriff was the hero of the story. That sounds like a clever idea. According to Martell, the original screenplay by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris was pretty good. Unfortunately, next to nothing of that first draft remains in the final product.

Not long after the project was greenlit, rumors started circulating that Crowe would play both Robin Hood and the Sheriff, in a movie with some sort of ‘Fight Club‘-like metaphysical twist. That doesn’t sound anything like the original pitch, and was reportedly Russell Crowe’s concept. Then Ridley Scott came aboard, and started imposing his own changes on the material, largely to do with a heavy focus on archery. And then the studio decided that all these highfalutin crazy ideas would just confuse the audience, who would never accept anything other than a traditional Robin Hood origin story. Naturally, if Ridley Scott was going to direct, it should also be as much of a carbon copy of ‘Gladiator‘ as possible. Thus, many uncredited script doctors were brought in to water down the material and make the final result as bland and audience-safe as possible.

And what of Voris and Reiff’s idea for a revisionist version of Robin Hood? Well, officially, that script has been produced, even if barely a single word of it made it to screen. If another filmmaker wanted to run with the original concept, the script is now off the market, and any attempt to develop a similar idea would be sued for plagiarism.

This is the way that Hollywood works, folks. See Martell’s blog for the full story. (A warning: the white text on black background is a bit hard on the eyes.)

Thanks to Michael for the tip.


  1. Charles O

    Ugh. This movie wasn’t even bad. And there have already been hundreds of articles and blog postings about how the script was changed a hundred billion times. We get it.

    And honestly, this movie wasn’t bad. At all. People and critics didn’t get the “running through the forest” and “stealing from the rich” Robin Hood they wanted or expected, so they just give it bad reviews. An origin story IS different and unique with Robin Hood. But nope, that means its a terrible movie.

    • Yes, but why go into a bidding war for a script that retells the story from the POV of the Sheriff of Nottingham, than rewrite the whole thing to be about Robin Hood again?

      • Charles O

        That was stupid, no doubt. But the final script isn’t bad, as this post says. It just got changed a bunch, it didn’t get any worse. Would the original script have been an even more interesting story than the one we have? Yeah probably. But the final product/script isn’t any worse, contrary to what this post would have you think. It’s just different.

        Again, the whole thing with the scripts changing is pretty stupid…. but seriously, that doesn’t make it a bad movie.

  2. Motorheadache

    I actually liked the movie, maybe because of all the negative hype dragging down my expectations so low. I thought it was pretty unique and interesting as a Robin Hood story, though the tone was very similar to Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. The original “Nottingham” concept sounded interesting though, and if the script really was great then its really too bad that the movie cannot be made because of stupid Hollywood legal crap.

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