From Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) to Braveheart (1995) to even modern epics such as The Avengers (2012), archery has been making its way into cinema since the golden age. Whether its the hard work in which the headline stars or the plethora of extras train with professionals for weeks before shooting a scene, or the attention paid in animated tales, films have been hitting the target with how accurately they depict archery on screen, as well as how often they miss.
When you think about archers scoring the perfect shot, why would not you consider the eponymous legend of the outlaw from Nottingham? Robin Hood’s story is one that has been adapted to film dozens of times, each one taking a turn in retelling the story from a musical number to gods and monsters. The Earl of Lockley’s feat is so infamous that repeating the shot is known as “A Robin Hood”.
But it does not excuse how blatantly obvious it is to a toxophilite such as myself that many of these have never held a bow in their life. Okay, if this is Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) you could argue that it’s for comedic effect, but do the others have an excuse? I think not! Compare this to the months of training Jennifer Lawrence undertook in order to portray Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (2012), or Orlando Bloom as Legolas in Lord of the Rings, both of whom were praised by their coaches for a technique that shows both characters’ years of training onscreen.
Perhaps the only left-handed archer on this list, Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) grounded the Avengers with his singular bow, even whilst fighting aliens and dealing with the Time Heist in Endgame (2019). As a left-handed archer myself he deserves bonus points for it (sorry but I don’t make the rules). Generally, Renner’s archery is okay; sometimes the draw is exaggerated and the arrows are CGI, but I could believe he was actually using the bow in a combat situation.
And it’s not merely live-action films that get in on the fun. Pixar’s first animated princess film stars Merida (Kelly MacDonald) wields a bow and definitely knows how to use it. It is not afraid to, being shown wielding it at competition targets and mystical angry bears alike.
Despite the “Robin Hood” split of the arrow not being as viable as you might think, there is an astonishing amount of detail that goes into the animation for Brave: the slow motion shot of an arrow perfectly encapsulating the way the wood twists and turns in flight; the draw of the bow holding a correct form; and not ducking an elbow as some incorrectly fall into the habit of doing. In short, the 2012 animated film shows up multiple live-action stories with its focus on the beauty in the small moments of holding a bow that a live-action tale might not be able to display.
But you might be thinking that historical accuracy increases as time moves on? In many cases you might be right, but there are films from the earlier decades of cinema that show that archery is attended to and at the forethought of the creator’s mind.
While not everyone’s first choice, some of Ivanhoe‘s (1952) cast include professional archers. Though only a background role (and equally more accurate to real work, Jack Churchill (who had starred in films such as The Thief of Baghdad (1940)) was more well-known for attending international archery competitions and (in several instances) taking a longbow into battle during World War Two. Who else would you cast for a background role when you want to highlight the talent of a longbow?