Shrek, the jolly green ogre made famous by Mike Myers, may be the most popular movie ogre, but he’s not the only one.
As the “lovable lug who showed that you don’t have to change your undies to change the world” brings Shrek Forever After to the big screen this weekend, he joins the ranks of ogres seduced by the glamour of the movies.
The Shrek series plays the ogre card for laughs — “I used to be an ogre but now I’m a jolly green joke,” he complains — but movies generally haven’t strayed from the hideous humanoid stereotype —not counting Revenge of the Nerds’s Fred “Ogre” Palowakski, of course.
So horrifying is the classic ogre portrait that in France it’s thought to be based on notorious serial killer Gilles de Rais, who allegedly murdered 200 children.
Occasionally, ogres are given a light-hearted treatment, like Mr and Mrs. Ogre in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, who, when they scoop up the band of bandits in their fishing net, squeal, “Aren’t they lovely? We can have them for breakfast,” but usually they are portrayed as terrifying creatures, like the lead in the appropriately named Sci-Fi Channel B-movie Ogre.
Set in Ellensworth, Pa., 150 years after the town’s citizens made a deal with a shaman to rid their village of a deadly disease by changing the plague into the physical manifestation of an ogre — best described as the offspring of the Yeti and Zippy the Pinhead — the movie shows what happens when the beast gets hungry and gets loose.
With the tagline “No Donkey. No Fairy Tale. Just TERROR,” you know this is the anti-Shrek.
The first film ogre was featured in the 1902 silent version of Jack and the Beanstalk. That ogre is little more than a tall man with a spiked club, but the film has some cool rudimentary special effects.
Trippier than that is the ogre in a 1974 Japanese anime retelling of the classic tale.
In that version the ogre, named Tulip, is the son of a witch who lives in a psychedelic world atop the beanstalk. What’s in those magic beans?
Shrek Forever After may (or may not) be the last Shrek film — “The door may not be locked but it’s definitely latched,” says Myers on the never-say-never Hollywood rule of sequels — but even if it is, there is no shortage of other movie ogres with stories to tell.
Robin Hood comes in all shapes and sizes. According to the International Association for Robin Hood Studies (yes, there is such a thing), the 700-year-old hero of Sherwood Forest has been the subject of one of the earliest Legoland building systems, the inspiration for the DC Comics superhero Green Arrow and a flour company spokesman.
On film, the notorious archer and outlaw’s depictions are just as diverse. The first American Robin Hood film was a surreal 1912 silent featuring the Palisades of New Jersey standing in for Sherwood Forest and Hood’s inner personality portrayed by animal imagery superimposed over his face.
Less strange, but still rather odd, was the Canadian cartoon television series Rocket Robin Hood. It’s most notable for its crazy theme song—“For now,” they sing, “with our Robin, we live on a star”—and cut-rate, herky-jerky animation.
In live action he’s been played by everyone from John Cleese in the time-travelling comedy Time Bandits to Frank Sinatra as Robbo in Robin and the 7 Hoods, a musical that transplanted the Robin Hood fable to 1930s gangland Chicago. This weekend, Russell Crowe takes on the role in a more traditional telling of the story from director Ridley Scott.
The most famous version of the “rob from the rich and give to the poor” legend is 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn. Although it’s his best known role, Flynn has said he found playing the outlaw boring, but audiences loved him and the movie’s sense of spectacle.
At the time of its release, it was Warner‘s most expensive and action packed film, costing more than $2 million and holding the record for the largest number of stuntmen ever used on any one movie. These days, the movie may have faded from the collective’s memory, but know it or not, you are probably familiar with the sound of Robin’s arrow as it flies through the air. That sound effect is a favorite Ben Burtt who has recycled it in almost all of the Star Wars films.
Also well known, but not as well regarded, is Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, featuring Kevin Costner in the lead role. Not only did it feature Costner’s atrocious English accent but it pushed another, far superior, telling of the tale—1991’s Robin Hood with Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman—off the big screen to a direct to video release.