Four hundred years after his death, we are still performing, interpreting, and recreating Shakespeare’s work. It’s no surprise he’s considered one of (if not the) best playwright in history. But beyond corsets, and “thees”, and lavish royal settings, many of his plays have been adapted to a modern setting, or been completely reinterpreted for today. Now it’s guns, and gangs, and martinis by the pool. Here are the best ones:
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West Side Story
Based on: Romeo and Juliet
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Romeo and Juliet is arguably Shakespeare’s best known play, and the one that has been revisited the most. But few are as beloved, memorable, and timeless as the stage-musical-turned-film-classic West Side Story. Here the star-crossed lovers take the form of Tony and Maria, two people in the opposite sides of a racial gang feud in New York. The songs are fantastic, the choreography mind-blowing, and the story tragic as ever.
10 Things I Hate About You
Based on: The Taming of the Shrew
The movie that first introduced us to baby Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is based on Shakespeare’s classic comedy of suitor competition. In the 1999 film, Kat (Julia Stiles) is framed into a relationship with Patrick (Ledger) so her sister can pursue her own romance. But, as romances go, they are doomed (or destined?) to fall in love. It’s teen comedy at its peak.
The Lion King
Based on: Hamlet
This may not be as evident, but the tale of a fallen king, his usurper brother, and the rightful son is the plot of both Shakespeare’s tragedy, and Disney’s beloved animated musical. But whereas the play analyzes the power play of a noble family in Denmark, Disney takes us to the African savannah with singing lions, meerkats and hyenas. Mufasa’s death is still the hardest to swallow, though.
Much Ado About Nothing
This is one of the entries in the list where the text of the play remained intact, but the setting and characters was completely updated. Joss Whedon (using this film as a passion project in 2013 after The Avengers) takes the Elizabethan characters to his own mansion in Santa Monica California. It’s a charming, minimalist, black-and-white interpretation of the play, with an amazing ensemble cast. And the most gorgeous soundtrack.
She’s the Man
Based on: Twelfth Night
Cross-dressing and mistaken identities are a constant in Shakespeare’s plays, and this 2006 teen rom com elevates those tropes into (yet another) teen comedy. Amanda Bynes stars as Viola, a girl who poses as her own twin brother in boarding school and (surprise) ends up falling for his roommate. This film is prime mid-2000s, prime Amanda Bynes, prime Shakespearean dramas.
Were the World Mine
Based on: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
This 2009 rom com/ teen/ gay musical comedy (seriously, it hits so many niche spots) tells the story of Timothy (Tanner Cohen), a gay student who uses a love potion to turn his close-minded classmates into homosexuals. Using the plot of Shakespeare’s classic comedy of misfortunes and loves unrequited, the film is a charming statement on empowerment, and has some really outrageous numbers, in the best way.
Romeo + Juliet
Another one of the entries where the original play was left as is, but in a modern-day world, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet truly did it best. Breathtaking visuals, smart interpretations of the characters, and the formal introduction of Leo and Claire Danes to the world. With all its pop culture and neon, the romance is somehow intensified.
Who said Prospero had to be a man? In this adaptation/ reinterpretation of the story of a sorceress who gets revenge on the men who banished her, Helen Mirren takes the lead role that is traditionally played by a man. And she kills it, of course. Julie Taymor (of Frida, Across the Universe, and The Lion King Broadway musical fame) directs, so it’s also a visual delight.