Shakespeare’s plays have made their way to the screen for years, and it doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon. However, they don’t always involve British accents and doublets.
Among those modern adaptations are the ever-classic teen movies like She’s the Man and 10 Things I Hate About You and the childhood favorite of many, The Lion King. And that got us thinking, which non-traditional Shakespeare-inspired movies are actually any good?
Also, there might be spoilers if you haven’t seen these movies yet. If you’ve somehow never seen The Lion King, consider yourself warned!
The Lion King (1994)
Did you know that The Lion King is loosely based on Hamlet? Of course, the Disney flick has a much lower body count; in the original play, pretty much everyone ends up dead at the end. Disney reportedly considered sticking closer to the mega-dark source material, but in the end, they decided that only Mufasa and Scar would be killed.
Good call, Disney. Seeing Mufasa die was traumatic enough.
Many of Shakespeare’s characters have counterparts in The Lion King. Even Timon and Pumbaa are inspired by two characters from the original play: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Frankly, I like them better as a meerkat and a warthog.
And although Hamlet is obviously a classic in every sense of the word, The Lion King has music by Sir Elton John. Can Shakespeare say that? No, no he can’t. Score one more point for Disney! “Hakuna Matata” is still one of my favorite songs.
Verdict: 10/10, will watch over and over again.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
This modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes was the ultimate 90s Shakespeare adaptation. The creative editing, the soundtrack featuring modern pop and rock, and a cast featuring some of the biggest stars of the day–yeah, this movie made Shakespeare cool for a whole generation.
The dialogue is as Shakespeare wrote it, but there were a few changes. For one thing, the setting changes from Renaissance Verona, Italy, to 90s Verona Beach, California. The Montagues and Capulets were no longer feuding families but warring mafia empires, and the swordfights were changed to gunfights.
This movie gets bonus points for an early sighting of the immortal Paul Rudd, who plays Juliet’s intended fiance, Paris. Honestly, she should have gone with the dorky but sweet Paris–but Romeo and Juliet without the bummer ending is just a rom-com without any conflict.
Verdict: 10/10 for Peak Leo, 8/10 for style.
Warm Bodies (2013)
This movie was based on a book by Isaac Marion, who revealed it was inspired by Romeo and Juliet. Fifteen years ago, we were all weirdly obsessed with inserting zombies, vampires, and werewolves into classic literature. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter… it was a strange time. Warm Bodies might be one of the best of the bunch, though.
Unlike the original story, the couple doesn’t end up dead. In fact–and here’s a spoiler if you haven’t seen it yet–one of them comes back to life.
Each character’s name has callbacks to their counterparts. R is Romeo, Julie is Juliet, and R’s friend M is Mercutio. Pretty straightforward, right? Julie is played by Teresa Palmer, who’d go on to star in the hit series A Discovery of Witches. Nicholas Hoult took on the role of R in between filming installments of X-Men movies.
The movie turned out to be a cute rom-com-style zombie flick that I could watch time and time again. Is it the world’s greatest movie? No, but I’ll still watch it if it pops up as a recommendation.
She’s the Man (2006)
Hang on, what? I knew She’s The Man was a classic, but somehow I never realized that it was also based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
In hindsight, it’s totally obvious. All of the characters either have the same name as their Shakespearean counterparts or something similar. The school, Illyria, was even named after the island the play takes place on.
The most significant difference, besides the updating of the language and setting, was the ending. Shakespeare’s play ended with a marriage proposal, while the movie ended with the gender reveal of Viola.
Verdict: 8/10, mostly for nostalgia. And Channing Tatum.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Based on The Taming of the Shrew, this movie is loyal to the play but updated so well, it seems totally believable as a late 90s teen movie, too. It explores modern-day teen issues while staying true to the original text.
Of course, the main event here is pre-Joker Heath Ledger, being utterly charming as the bad boy with a heart of gold. It’s impossible not to fall for him right along with Julia Styles’ character. A baby-faced Joseph Gordon Levitt and Larissa “Alex Mack” Oleynik are adorable in their own romance plot.
A smart, funny teen movie that has aged surprisingly well (except for that one scene where Kat flashes her gym teacher), 10 Things I Hate About You, is a favorite movie of many. I am begging Hollywood to not remake it like so many other 90s classics.
Verdict: 10/10. Please don’t mess with perfection, Hollywood!