The 25 best Shakespeare-to-screen adaptations

To film, or not to film, that is the question. We rank the answers.

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  • ROMEO AND JULIET (1968)

  • HAMLET (1948)

  • RICHARD III (1955)

  • HENRY V (1989)

  • MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991)

ROMEO AND JULIET (1968)

10. ROMEO AND JULIET (1968)
Perhaps you had to watch it in high school, thanks to a lazy lit teacher. You could have done far worse: Franco Zeffirelli's vigorous, youthful version—starring teenagers Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey—infused the love story with passion and (controversially) a bit of nudity.—JR
 

9. HAMLET (1948)
Writer-director-star Laurence Olivier's atmospheric version of the Prince of Denmark tragedy takes some purist-baiting liberties (no Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, for example). But it hardly matters in light of the ethereal black-and-white visuals—heavily influenced by Citizen Kane—and Olivier's hypnotic lead performance. Oscar fell head over heels, awarding the film Best Picture and Actor.—KU

8. RICHARD III (1955)
Neither as immediately beloved as his Henry V nor as moody as Hamlet, Laurence Olivier's third effort directing the Bard left many viewers cold. Regardless, it's come to be seen (rightly) as the star's finest performance. Millions watched the movie's TV broadcast, including a future Johnny Rotten, cribbing notes for punk attitude.—JR

7. HENRY V (1989)
Kenneth Branagh's ballsy directorial debut was a metal-studded glove thrown down at the feet of Laurence Olivier's supremacy. Aiming for battlefield realism (mud, blood and moral chaos), Branagh found the sweet spot between British jingoism and imperialist critique that would have been unthinkable in Olivier's famed World War II--era treatment.—DC

6. MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991)
Gus Van Sant borrows elements from the Henry IV plays in this dreamy street-hustler drama, but shifts focus revealingly. His hero is not the slumming heir or the Falstaffian lecher, but a narcoleptic sidekick—played by the achingly vulnerable River Phoenix—doomed to a life of getting picked up and left behind.—AF

Users say

10 comments
Liz
Liz

I was expecting more Shakespeare, fewer adaptations. Either way, Ethan Hawke's "Hamlet" is an enormous misstep.

pratik mitra
pratik mitra

kozintesev should have been there in the list!

Travis
Travis

Do some proofreading. Keanu Reeves is Don John, not Don Pedro.

Andrew
Andrew

And what about Othello (1995) and As You Like It (2006)? You can't go wrong with Kenneth Branagh.

Albert
Albert

Although it's controversial, Olivier's 1965 "Othello" should have been included, and I would never have put Baz Luhrmann's desecration of "Romeo and Juliet" on the list. And what about the Orson Welles "Macbeth"?

Andrew
Andrew

Despite the negative reviews, I'm actually rather pleased with this list - so much so, in fact, that I've been using it as a reference as to which Shakespeare adaptations to watch. Yet I too am not without my reservations. That the 1996 Hamlet should below the 2000 version, and that the 1990 version should not be included, is inexcusable. Of all the films on this list, the one I think least worthy of being included is that adolescent schizophrenic cacophony of gaudy ostentation Romeo + Juliet (1996), although I understand why it is included (not why it ranks so highly, however). Still, there are some notable films that have been unduly neglected, some of which other users have previously mentioned: West Side Story (1961), 10 Things I Hate about You (1999), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999), and the grossly underrated The Tempest (2010). I have not seen Coriolanus (2011), though I'm sure it lives up to its hype.

richard brooks
richard brooks

A Shakespeare cinematic list that doesn't include Grigory Kozintsev's Hamlet (1964) and King Lear (1971) loses all validity.

Rebecca E
Rebecca E

The fact that Baz Luhrman's awful "Romeo and Juliet" and Ethan Hawke's dismal "Hamlet" are both on this list and Ralph Fiennes' superb Coriolanus, "West Side Story", and "10 Things I Hate About You" are not makes little to no sense. Also, Keanu Reeves was unwatchable in "Much Ado..."

Pete
Pete

I'm sorry, I can't trust a list that includes Forbidden Planet but not the BBC version of Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart. Or a list that ranks Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet below the 1968 version.