Few and far between are the film adaptations of William Shakespeare’s plays that work effectively on the big screen.
Shakespeare’s influence on the development of modern English is undeniable, yet it’s tough to convey his unique charm to film. This may be due to a lack of spontaneity and spontaneity between actors and audience in a live performance, or it may simply be because film brings with it expectations and aesthetic considerations that don’t mesh with the bard’s language. These 10 Shakespeare adaptations are among the best, and we hope you enjoy them as much as the actors did in creating them.
1. Ran (1985)
Lord Hidetora Ichimonji, portrayed by Tatsuya Nakadai, abdicates his throne and divides his nation among his three sons, resulting in a war that eventually eats his sanity and his life.
Akira Kurosawa’s late-life masterwork, Ran (which translates as “chaos” or “turmoil”), is widely recognized as one of the best films ever made. As an epic of human evil, Ran is one of the most artistically magnificent and existentially horrific films ever seen on the big screen.
2. My Own Private Idaho (1991)
River Phoenix plays a narcoleptic gay sex worker in Gus Van Sant’s loose-but-extreme rendition of Henry IV. Upon meeting a rebellious politician’s son (Keanu Reeves), the two go on a voyage of trick-turning and self-discovery, traveling from Portland through Idaho and ending up in Rome. As Van Sant’s reinterpretation of Bard’s poetry and the two leads are at their most beautiful, the result is a lush and sensual road movie.
3. Hamlet (1996)
Kenneth Branagh directed and performed in this film adaptation of Hamlet, which presented Shakespeare’s script unabridged. This was either an act of tremendous folly or genius. However, it contains an impressive cast of some of the greatest actors ever assembled for a project, including Derek Jacobi (Julie Christie), Charlton Heston (Judi Dench), Gérard Depardieu (John Gielgud), and a teenage Kate Winslet (Derek Jacobi).
You have to admire Branagh’s ambition, and Hamlet is considerably more thrilling and engaging than a four-hour speech-a-thon has any right to be.
4. Romeo and Juliet (1968)
Even though Baz Luhrmann’s wacky modern take on Romeo and Juliet has a lot to recommend it, the late Franco Zeffirelli’s period-correct portrayal is the most accurate. Featuring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey as the tragic lovers, this Italian production is the last Shakespeare film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars..
5. Titus (1999)
Prior to her disastrous Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Julie Taymor had risen to fame and reputation with her innovative stage version of Disney’s The Lion King and produced this highly inventive film of Shakespeare’s nastiest and least-loved tragedy, Titus Andronicus.
Taymor cast Anthony Hopkins as the Roman general and Jessica Lange as the barbarian queen who opposes him in an epic tragedy replete with terrible bloodshed and caustic humor. Titus is unlike any other Shakespeare adaptation on film, even if Taymor is accused of over-stylizing and complicating the piece.
6. Chimes at Midnight (1966)
Chimes at Midnight is arguably Orson Welles’ greatest contribution to Shakespeare.
It all begins when Henry IV (John Gielgud) assumes the throne of England, and he and his men clash with the defiant Hotspur (Norman Rodway). King Henry VIII’s son, Prince Hal (Keith Baxter), is an irresponsible slacker who prefers to party with his street urchin pals to rule, the most powerful of whom is his father figure, Falstaff (Welles).
With its sprawling, elegiac and beguiling tone, Chimes at Midnight is one of Shakespeare’s greatest adaptations in any medium.
7. Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
While Kenneth Branagh’s rendition of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedy, Romeo and Juliet, has long been considered the best, Joss Whedon’s popular take on the play reminds us that Shakespeare is for everyone.
Whedon’s Much Ado, a film based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado, isn’t for everyone, but it’s a lovely, heartfelt treatment of the material that brings the poetry back to the average viewer.
8. Macbeth (2015)
This Macbeth retelling, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, is the most recent film adaption to make it to the big screen without surrendering its unique visual poetry. Heavily influenced by Fassbender, Justin Kurzel’s film benefits greatly from Fassbender’s performance in the picture.
9. Throne of Blood (1957)
In comparison to his masterpiece Ran, Kurosawa’s first attempt at a Shakespeare adaptation is nonetheless a gorgeously somber and effective film. Washizu (Toshirô Mifune) is a newcomer to the samurai ranks who is inspired to commit murder when a spirit foretells what will happen to him in the future by his power-hungry wife, Asaji (Isuzu Yamada).
10. Coriolanus (2011)
Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut, based on one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known pieces, is a remarkable and pertinent update of the material that is still underestimated.
Coriolanus, a pompous and violent Roman general played by Fiennes, is urged by his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) to run for Consul by his father (Rodrigo Santoro). He starts a riot and is exiled from Rome because of his unsuitability for public service. Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) is Coriolanus’ biggest foe and he enlists him to help him destroy the city he once served in order to avenge his death.
Fiennes’ Coriolanus is a must-see for modern audiences because of its power and cultural significance.