With over 400 feature-length film adaptations of his plays released, William Shakespeare holds the Guinness World Record for the most filmed author ever in any given language. After all, it’s hard to argue with a great script!
1. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) based on The Taming of the Shrew
This modern take on the play within a play tells the tale of Bianca Stratford, one of the most popular girls in school, but forbidden to date by her father until her older sister, Kat (played by Julia Stiles) starts dating. The only problem is Kat is known by her peers as a “heinous b****”; much more colourful than a shrew, no? It’s up to Cameron, who has a crush on Bianca, to find someone willing to date Kat and tame her wild ways, so he can ask her sister to prom. It’s doubtful Shakespeare had this in mind when he wrote the original play, but they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
2. She’s the Man (2006) based on Twelfth Night
OK, so Duke has a crush on Olivia, who likes Sebastian, who doesn’t know it’s really Viola dressed up as her twin brother. But when Olivia starts flirting with Duke to make the cross-dressing Viola/Sebastian jealous, it’s Viola who ends up falling for Duke—who thinks she’s a boy! Need a breath? This noggin-scratcher sticks to the themes of sexual tension, cross-dressing confusion and male-female dynamics, which makes the original just as funny as this update.
3. The Lion King (1994) based on Hamlet and Richard III
Who would’ve thought even Disney would borrow from Shakespeare? We can all see the parallels between this cartoon and Hamlet: The evil brother murders his brother, the king, and usurps the throne, only to have his nephew try and set things right.
4. Romeo + Juliet (1996) based on Romeo and Juliet
A blend of the modern with the classical, Baz Luhrmann’s spin on the Bard’s famous love story sets the stage in a fictitious, urban Verona Beach, where everyone speaks Elizabethan English—a disarming contrast to characters dressed in drag and loud Hawaiian shirts. But it’s always worth to see any version of the greatest forbidden love story ever written.
5. O (2001) based on Othello
Julia Stiles makes her second appearance on the list starring as Desi the love of Odin “O” James, the only black student in an otherwise all-white boarding school. This modern update on the classic Shakespearean play swaps a warring Moor in Venice with a basketball star in an American high school. The jealous Hugo (Iago), son of the coach, makes it his mission to see the school’s star athletes, O and Michael Cassio, fall by planting the seeds of deceit.
6. Were the World Mine (2008) based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream
A story where a love potion goes awry, this take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream tells the tale of Timothy who, while cast as Puck in the Shakespearean school play, stumbles upon a recipe that makes the victim fall in love with the first person they see. While Timothy only plans to use it on the boy he has a crush on, things immediately spin out of control when he forces half the town to fall in love with members of the same sex.
7. West Side Story (1961) based on Romeo and Juliet
“When you’re a Montague, you’re a Montague all the way!” Hmm, doesn’t have the same ring to it, but this film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet has been heralded by critics as the most iconic in pop culture. The American Jets versus the Puerto Rican-American Sharks—a bitter rivalry that places Tony and Maria’s forbidden love right in the crossfire. The only difference here? Maria survives to mourn the loss of her lover.
8. Scotland, PA (2001) based on Macbeth
Swap a Scottish castle with a restaurant in Pennsylvania and you have a witty revision of Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy. Joe “Mac” and his wife Pat McBeth work for Norm Duncan owner of a fast food restaurant. Believing they could do a better job running the joint, Pat convinces Joe to give Duncan the ol’ heave-ho—and with Christopher Walken playing Lieutenant McDuff, in charge of investigating Duncan’s murder, this film definitely puts a comedic spin on the dark play.
9. Ran (1985) based on King Lear
This remake is directed by acclaimed Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa. Shifting the setting from medieval Britain to the turbulent, Sengoku-era Japan, the aging warlord (played by Tatsuya Nakadai) is splitting up his kingdom amongst his three children—but this time they’re the king’s sons, not daughters. The youngest son is banished for telling his father the truth about his brothers who only flatter their dear old dad to squeeze more land out of him.
10. The Merchant of Venice (2004)
Love, money, deception and pounds of flesh—this more dramatic take on the original comedy has it all. Not only does it star Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes (who plays the Bard himself in Shakespeare in Love), but add in Al Pacino and you have a surefire hit. This flick stays true to the original play telling the story of Bassanio (Fiennes), who seeks out a large chunk of change from the moneylender Shylock (Pacino) in order to wed the winsome Portia.
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