2016 is the year that marks four hundred years since the death of our well known and widely beloved William Shakespeare. And as I was thinking about that, you know what came to my mind? I think it’s absolutely mind blowing that almost half of millennia drained, but the memory of and the appreciation towards the English play writer’s work is still as strong as ever. More than that, fear not, since I’m sure that even in the next centuries to come, people will find a way to incorporate his creations into whatever kind of entertainment humanity will come up with in the distant future (it can’t get any worse than laughing at the word “egg”). I mean, I know we definitely did that. This is how we came to be blessed (or cursed, depending on the value of the production) with many, many movies that either closely follow Shakespeare’s scripts, either find a way to leave them in the area of symbolism and twist everything around. Did you know Lion King is a very loose adaptation of Hamlet? I know, right. Either way, to honor mister Shakespeare’s longevity and the tribute we offered him by turning his ideas into movies, we made a list with Top 10 Best Shakespeare Movie Adaptations. Lion King is unfortunately not among them.
1. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)
This movie had everything: creativity, a necessary pinch of strangeness, young Leonardo DiCaprio, a genius mix of Shakespear’s original text with the setting of modern day Verona Beach, guns named after swords, young Leonardo DiCaprio… Laz Lurhmann managed to pull off one of the best Shakespeare movie adaptations, by taking the risk of keeping the movie somewhere between the original story and a modern take. I mean, how awesome and strange is to hear people in the 21st century speak in rhymes and Old English slang?
2. Throne Of Blood (1957)
This movie is built on the foundation of the play Macbeth, as translated into the times of feudal Japan. It tells the story of a samurai who learns of a prophecy that tells him he will become the lord of Spider Web’s Castle. Constantly pressured and aided by his ambitious wife, Toshiru Mifune pursues his goal and throws himself in a downward spiral towards vengeance and self destruction.
3. Henry V (1944)
There have been countless adaptions and representations of the famous tale centered on the English monarch, but Laurence Olivier managed to deliver one of the most memorable ones. It provided a unique style, by constantly shifting the action between a stage play and the movie production, and it also benefited from being a World War II production that aimed to burn brighter the fires of patriotism.
4. Hamlet (1996)
A Shakespearean play that’s been adapted and re-adapted an endless number of times is Hamlet. While any pick for the best movie adaption should be taken with a dose of doubt, Kenneth Branagh’s take is at the very least at the top of the list. It excels by keeping the original dialogue intact, by staying true to the complicated psychological depths of the play, and by managing to look superb and eye catching while doing it too.
5. West Side Story (1961)
Another movie in the ocean of Romeo And Juliet adaptations, West Side Story manages to distance itself from the others by transforming the famous tragedy into a modern day musical. However, many argue that this very nature of the movie, along with the questionable alternate ending, remove the whole point of the story, painted as a clearly sober tragedy with a finality that leaves us all with a dry throat.
6. Coriolanus (2011)
This 2011 production manages to stand out from the crown of Shakespeare movie adaptations, by turning one of his plays into an exhibit of violence, bloodshed and revenge. Coriolanus, a famed hero of Rome, gets banished from the city, falling victim to a web of plots from higher-ups, politicians and his own mother. He teams up with an old rival, deciding to take revenge on the people of Rome, something that leads him to a path of self destruction.
7. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Perhaps one of the few cases where the movie is more popular than the play itself, this 1999 film is an adaption of the lesser known play The Taming Of The Shrew. It tells the story of a proud (and slightly terrifying) girl who is charmed by Heath Ledger’s character, as result of a bet that he can, indeed, woo her. Part of the big success of the movie, though, comes from the splendid parts played by the two lead actors.
8. Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
With so many adaptations whose settings have been shifted to modern times, it’s refreshing to see a movie that actually takes us on a trip back in time. Yet another Kenneth Branagh movie, Much Ado About Nothing is a nicely executed representation of the play with the same name, and it manages to stand out through the sheer number of big names in its casting alone: Keanu Reeves, Denzel Washington, Kate Beckinsale, Emma Thompson and Michael Keaton being only some of them.
9. Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
Uh oh, here’s that modern adaptation that I was talking about. Made by the same man who brought us The Avengers, this movie was an attempt at artistry that left us with too many question marks, rather than in awe. Shot entirely in black and white from Joss Whedon’s house, the movie is well executed and it brings a refreshingly humorous take to Shakespearean plays.
10. Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000)
The last entry comes with a dose of, yet again, Kenneth Branagh, who starred in a not so excellent adaptation, but still a charming one nonetheless. It’s an interesting take on an original tale, mixed with various songs from the likes of George Gershwin and Cole Porter. While not perfect by any means, it has its great moments, and the bad moments don’t really bother us that much.
With the conclusion of this list, we wish Sir William Shakespeare a, uh… do you wish for anything on someone’s death anniversary? I don’t know, I wish him to be honored with many, many Top 10 Best Shakespeare Movie Adaptations lists that get updated periodically. May we have tops like these centuries from now on.