The Best Modern Shakespeare Adaptations | YTS YIFY

ytsfreeSeptember 21, 2022

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William Shakespeare is heavily regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and his works continue to be reinterpreted to this day. Having written 39 plays and 154 sonnets, the playwright primarily focused on comedies, tragedies and histories. His plays are performed more often than any playwright in history, with Hollywood also utilizing his mastery of storytelling for over a century.


Updated September 20, 2022: If you can’t get enough of ‘the bard,’ you’ll be happy to know we’ve updated this list with additional content and films from the legendary playwright.

Though many of his film adaptations have graced the silver screen, not all are the cream of the crop. Some have faded into obscurity while others have a staying power that can’t be ignored. The fact that director Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth has been receiving universal critical acclaim upon its release last year only reinforces the idea that Shakespeare’s influence in Hollywood is here to stay. Here are the best Shakespeare movie adaptations.

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10 Hamlet (2000)

Michael Almereyda’s innovative adaptation of the classic Hamlet updates the prince’s tale to modern-day New York, swapping Denmark for the Denmark Corporation and the king for a CEO. With a stacked cast (Ethan Hawke, Julia Stiles, Liev Schreiber, Kyle MacLachlan, Bill Murray, Steve Zahn and more) and excellent cinematography and music, this divisive but utterly unique adaptation transforms the Bard with modernized technology. The ghost of Hamlet’s father’s appearance on a closed-circuit television, Ophelia carries Polaroid pictures of flowers rather than the real thing, and Hawke’s Hamlet is a film student in this wildly original masterpiece.

9 My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Loosely based on Henry IV and its subsequent parts, My Own Private Idaho tells the story of two streetwise friends as they leave Portland, Oregon and embark on a journey of self-growth and discovery along the way. Starring Keanu Reeves and the late River Phoenix (in his greatest performance), the film has been deemed a cult classic and has garnered a large following among LGBTQ+ audiences. It achieved critical acclaim and moderate financial success, with the film and Phoenix earning numerous nominations and awards. Director Gus Van Sant beautifully modernized Shakespeare’s words and truly utilized his talented leads in this Henry IV adaptation.

Related: Was Shakespeare Stoned When He Wrote His Plays?

8 West Side Story (1961)

Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, 1961’s West Side Story is a big-screen adaption of the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name. The film stars Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer as star crossed lovers from feuding New York families and gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. The main component of West Side Story is the forbidden love element; Maria and Tony fall deeply in love with one another quickly, much like Romeo and Juliet. The film won 10 Academy Awards and was the highest grossing film of 1961, and is still heavily regarded as one of the greatest musicals of all time. An acclaimed remake by Steven Spielberg was released in 2021.

7 Macbeth (2015)

2015’s epic historical drama Macbeth features a talented A-list cast, including Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and Paddy Considine. The film follows Fassbender as Macbeth, a Scottish general who rises to power after discovering a prophecy which claims he will be king one day. Macbeth’s cinematography is stunning, and the bold battle scenes are intense and are true to the Shakespeare play. Both Fassbender and Cotillard deliver strong performances that truly stand out and impress. It premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and received praise for the script, cast, directing and overall visuals.

6 She’s The Man (2006)

Arguably the most light-hearted film adaptation of Shakespeare, She’s The Man is a modern day retelling of the romantic comedy Twelfth Night. It stars Amanda Bynes as teenager Viola Hastings, as she pretends to be a boy in order to play on the boys’ soccer team at a boarding school.

The film is true to its referenced material, with the characters’ names and premise and all the zany antics incorporated intact. The film introduced the Shakespeare play to a new generation and did so in a fun and entertaining way; it also helped introduce Channing Tatum to the world, thankfully. Though it may not be critically lauded, it is amusing nonetheless.

5 Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

Joss Whedon’s black and white romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing is a modern day retelling of the Shakespeare play of the same name. It is largely unchanged from the original (including the dialogue) and yet jarringly contemporary, also reuniting Angel alums Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as the famous Beatrice and Benedict.

The movie was filmed in Whedon’s home over the period of 12 days, and though more casual than the 1993 Kenneth Branagh version, it has almost more heart and magic in its storytelling, reaching viewers on an intimate and simple level. Much Ado About Nothing garnered praise and appreciation from critics, with many calling it a great contemporary Shakespeare film.

4 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

10 Things I Hate About You is an iconic romantic comedy with a cast of-then Hollywood up and comers including Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It is a modernization of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and is retold in a ’90s high-school setting. The premise follows new student Cameron as he crushes on “It” girl Bianca, who is only allowed to date if her temperamental older sister Kat does, too. He recruits bad-boy Patrick to woo Kat, therefore getting around their father’s strict dating rules. The film was a breakthrough role for Stiles, Ledger and Gordon-Levitt, and is a very clever, unique and crowd-pleasing take on the Shakespeare play.

Related:

Why Joseph Gordon-Levitt Tried Hard to Escape Doing 10 Things I Hate About You

3 The Tragedy of Macbeth

In the first solo film directed by a Coen brother without the involvement of the other, Joel Coen’s 2021 historical thriller The Tragedy of Macbeth enlisted a stellar ensemble cast led by Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, and Brendan Gleeson to bring to life a visually stunning retelling of the Shakespeare masterpiece. Washington powerfully portrays the eponymous character, earning a Golden Globe nomination for his role as the ill-fated Scottish lord on a crusade to be king.

Shot in black and white and completely on a sound stage in order to give the picture a look “untethered from reality”, the critically-lauded adaptation earned praise for its unique cinematography evocative of classic cinema, sharp direction and outstanding performances by its A-list cast.

2 Hamlet (1996)

Kenneth Branagh adapted, directed, and starred in several Shakespeare adaptations, including the excellent Hamlet, in which he portrayed the title role. With an impressive supporting cast including Kate Winslet, Billy Crystal, Charlton Heston, and Judi Dench, the film is the first unabridged theatrical film version of Hamlet, clocking in at a massive 242 minutes. Branagh’s version is heavily regarded as one of the best Shakespeare adaptations ever made despite not being a box office success (most likely due to its four-hour runtime).

He employs flashbacks to depict scenes that are either implied or described in Shakespeare’s texts, vividly bringing his words to life on the big screen. Hamlet received critical acclaim and earned four Academy Awards nominations, especially for its incredible set design and costumes.

1 Romeo + Juliet (1996)

One of the most divisive movies based on classic literature and acclaimed adaptations of Shakespeare, Romeo + Juliet stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the title roles as two teenagers who fall in love despite their feuding families. Many are familiar with Franco Zeffirelli’s famous 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet, which is a powerful depiction in its own right, but it’s the star power and high-octane direction of this adaptation which is arguably the most unique and spectacular.

Director Baz Luhrmann utilizes the power of music to elevate the scenes, mood and cinematography beautifully and the gorgeous imagery only heightens the experience for viewers. Romeo + Juliet is heavily regarded as one of the most influential Shakespeare film adaptations ever made and is recognized for its fresh and innovative storytelling; it’s as if Shakespeare had made the world’s most famous feature-length music video, propelling DiCaprio and Danes to stardom in the process.

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