August 27, 1990 12:00 PM

In merry Hollywood in the season of summer, there toiled several bands of competing movie moguls whose merry thoughts turned to making megabucks by producing a new movie (at least the 15th) about a famous outlaw named Robin Hood. No Batman he, the 12th-century man among men was nonetheless a superhero capable of generating greenbacks galore as he cavorted in the glades of Sherwood Forest.

Whilst they penned their scripts, the executives pondered how to make their merry band of Middle Age men attractive to today’s audiences. First, they reasoned, give the story a 1990s twist by updating the dialogue (plenty of comedy to go with the adventure). Next, sign a superstar who is as jolly and cunning as the swashbuckling legend. Among the Hollywood knights whose names were bandied about: Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin, Patrick Swayze and Kevin Kline. The arrow of Morgan Creek Productions flew straightest and truest: On Sept. 6, its $30 to $40 million Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner, begins filming in England for release next spring.

Like Robin himself, Costner, 35, strikes fear in the hearts of his rivals. After he signed with Morgan Creek, Twentieth Century Fox downgraded its planned remake of The Adventures of Robin Hood to a television movie, and Tri-Star tabled its project. Still in the match is Touchdown Productions, a London film company currently negotiating with Jason Connery, 27, who portrayed Robin’s son in a British television series.

Costner may have his toughest joust with the audience’s memory of Errol Flynn’s classic ’30s performance. “Flynn gave it, my God, such tongue-in-cheek bravado,” says John Derek, who did the tights thing as Robin the younger in 1950’s Rogues of Sherwood Forest. “Everybody else, including myself, looked pretty stupid.” That’s one problem, says Morgan Creek honcho Gary Barber, that Costner may not have. Declares he: “I’ve never known anyone to worry about putting Kevin Costner in a movie.”

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