Shakespeare was the man when it came to writing compelling stories and characters that we truly care about. Over the years, there have been many screenwriters and directors that have adapted his plays into movies for the general public. In fact, some of the best or most popular movies are Shakespeare movie adaptations.
While some of the Shakespeare movie adaptations only allude to the plays that they’re based on and choose to focus on particular elements of the plays, others, like Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, very closely resembles the original material. Either way, The Bard’s plays make for pretty great films.
So, in celebration of Much Ado About Nothing‘s wider release this weekend, here’s a list of the top 10 best Shakespeare movie adaptations (so far).
As you’ll see as you keep perusing our list, the 90s were a great time for Shakespeare movie adaptations. About 20 years before Joss Whedon premiered his modern, black and white version of the comedy, critics and film-goers endlessly praised actor/director Kenneth Branagh (director of Thor) for his movie. Even though it’s not as flashy as Whedon’s, you’ll definitely want to check out this version. You’ll love seeing Keanu Reeves play the villain and Robert Sean Leonard (Dr. Wilson from House!) play the lovesick Claudio.
Laurence Fishburne plays a very tortured Othello in this adaptation of the famous play. His fits of madness are intense, not to mention gripping. Kenneth Branagh is in this film as well, playing the heinous villain Iago (no, not the red bird from Aladdin). The first half of the movie may drag a bit and you may get a little annoyed with all of the uproar over a handkerchief, but you really need to watch it all the way through to the end.
Ok, so Warm Bodies is one of the looser adaptations, but it’s still a great movie. The two come from dueling “families” so to speak and fall in love against all odds. Most of the characters have names and roles similar to characters in Romeo and Juliet (R, Julie, M, etc.) and there’s even a balcony scene. We especially like this film because it turns the whole teenage romance idea on its head and has a good time poking fun at it. Some people take the Romeo and Juliet-type romance too seriously, so this movie was like a breath of fresh air.
Not many people are aware that this smash hit is a Shakespeare movie adaptation, but that’s probably because the play it adapts, The Taming of the Shrew, is not one of The Bard’s more popular titles. Like Warm Bodies and She’s the Man (which you’ll see later on this list), he references the play through character names and places but isn’t completely married to the play’s plot. Above all though, Heath Ledger plays such a charming leading man that there was no way this movie wasn’t going to make this list.
Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet is so aesthetically beautiful that it sometimes takes our breath away. While we’re still kind of iffy about Luhrmann’s decision to set the classic story in modern day Verona Beach and give the characters guns instead of swords, there’s no denying that this is one of the most iconic Shakespeare movie adaptations that has ever been made. Shakespeare students and fans, as well as Leonardo DiCaprio lovers, will be watching and re-watching this movie for years to come.
On Page 2: Which Shakespeare movie adaptation took our #1 spot? (Hint: It’s definitely a Hypable reader-favorite!)
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