Shakespeare Movie Adaptations: Five Smart Spins on The Bard

These five films took William Shakespeare's classic stories and masterfully reinvented them for the big screen.

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Loosely based on ‘Henry IV’, ‘My Own Private Idaho’ showcases Gus Van Sant’s remarkable ability to capture the complex hearts and minds of young people. Rising Hollywood heartthrobs River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves both shine as two young hustlers in roles that were viewed as risky by some at the time due to the movie’s homosexual themes. But this heartbreaking, breathtaking film — and the plaudits and awards that followed — proved it to be a career highlight for all involved.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

A smart script reimagines Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ as a 1990s High School romcom. It’s quirky, imaginative, and a cut above most typical screwball teen comedies — using Shakespeare as a jumping off point to explore both the intense heartache and unbridled fun of our teenage years. Brilliantly cast, ’10 Things I Hate About You’ is also remembered for introducing Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Julia Stiles to many movie fans.

Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Baz Luhrmann’s masterpiece puts an edgy, frenetic spin on ‘Romeo and Juliet’ while sticking religiously to the original text. The Montagues and Capulets are depicted here as rival mafia families in contemporary California, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the star-crossed lovers — capturing both of these generational talents as their careers took flight. It also features one of the greatest pop soundtracks in movie history, which helped to seize the attention of a new generation.

Ran (1985)

This epic take on ‘King Lear’ by Akira Kurosawa — the godfather of Japanese cinema — features jaw-dropping bloody battle scenes against the feudal backdrop of medieval Japan. Kurosawa had already directed Shakespeare adaptations in the form of ‘Throne of Blood’, his 1957 take on ‘Macbeth’, and the ‘Hamlet’-inspired ‘The Bad Sleep Well’ in 1960. But ‘Ran’ — released in 1985 when the director was 75 years old — is his defining work, and widely regarded as one of the greatest big screen adaptations of The Bard’s work.

West Side Story (1961, 2021)

Another famous reimagining of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, this time the tragic love story gets the musical treatment to devastatingly beautiful effect. The 1957 theater production, 1961 film, and the recent Steven Spielberg adaptation all contribute their own magic to this iconic story of love and loss. And the music, composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, features some of the most emotive, captivating songs to ever be performed on stage or screen.

1 Comment

  1. Fun article! Another spin is The Forbidden Planet (1956), which is supposed to be (very loosely) based on the Tempest.

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