Top 5 Shakespeare Adaptations

Even though his heyday was almost three centuries before the first moving picture was shown in theaters, Shakespeare is one of the most important things to happen to the medium of film. Already a staple of literature and the stage, it was only natural that the extremely human tales written by the Bard of Avon would find their way to film adaptations - and boy have they ever.

The number of Shakespeare adaptations in film definitely outnumber the number of plays that Shakespeare wrote and then some. So, in case you're looking for a little culture next time you break out the inflatable movie screen, but don't know where to begin, we came up with a list of favorite Shakespeare films here at Open Air Cinema. Whether you're in the mood for a tragedy, a comedy, or even one of the histories, any one of these films is perfect for a night of outdoor cinema.


(Laurence Olivier, 1948)

For an expertly-directed vision of Shakespeare done the traditional way, look no further than Sir Laurence Olivier, who shines as both the director of this movie and its lead actor. In the spotlight, Olivier seethes furiously and looms low as the maddened Danish prince. As a director, he frames his pictures beautifully, creating tableaus that look like great romantic era murals. 1948's Hamlet is traditional in almost every aspect, but that definitely does not mean it's stuffy by any means.

Henry V

(Kenneth Branagh, 1989)

Kenneth Branagh's thorough interpretation of the Shakespearian canon has always been of high quality. But he really earns his place as the heir to Olivier in his gritty, mud-soaked adaptation of Henry V. Although Branagh left much to tradition in this film, he takes risks and liberties in all the right places - avoiding stylized sets for something closer to historical realism; never shying away from the gore that must come with a battle scene; and even doing something as simple as taking the slapstick out of the comedy scenes. All in all, Henry V not only stands as a fine adaptation of Shakespeare, but also a fine example of the endless variety one can employ in interpreting Shakespeare.


(Roman Polanski, 1971)

There is nothing about Polanski's take on the Scottish Play that is for the faint of heart. The landscape is bleak to the point of being almost complete nothingness. The actors look appropriately weathered and dirty, even the King and his Queen. The violence is stark and realistically bloody and the camera offers nothing merciful in its view. Ultimately, Polanski's adaptation is memorable because he treats the text less like a pseudo-historical tragedy and more like a psychological thriller. So it should be for the Shakespeare play which many believe to be the absolute most unforgiving in its portrayal of man's dark side.

Much Ado About Nothing

(Joss Whedon, 2012)

Many directors opt to place Shakespeare's words in modern settings. Most of the time, these movies get a little bit lazy, relying on the novelty of juxtaposition to substitute for solid filmmaking. But Whedon's film succeeds where others fail for one simple reason: he keeps it simple. The setting is just a nice house. The costumes are exactly what any of the actors would have in their closets anyway. The camerawork doesn't attempt anything particularly flashy. And, finally, Whedon chose something relatively simple, instead of trying to recreate Julius Caesar on the moon. The result is a simple romantic comedy that takes its greatest pleasure in the beautiful rhythms of Shakespeare's words.

Romeo + Juliet

(Baz Luhrmann, 1996)

This film is the force that single-handedly generated a resurgence of Shakespeare interest amongst teenagers in the 90's. Baz Luhrmann's ecstatic vision of a fair Verona that looks more like sunny Venice Beach inspired the trend to modernize Shakespeare's settings and set the bar so high that it still can't be beat. The cast is just about perfect, delivering memorable performances all around.But it's Luhrmann's use of modern pop music and his surrealistic sensibility that really make this film stand out.

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1 comment

  • Hi administrator, Thanks for the great post!

    Pablo Potts

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