Hollywood's Most Unconventional Shakespeare Adaptations
As influential as the works of Shakespeare are, it should come as no surprise that many movies have adapted the Bard's plays. But sometimes these movies offer a new spin on an old formula. Sometimes it's hard to tell you're even watching a Shakespeare film. With the release of Lucasfilm's ‘Strange Magic,’ and its loose take on 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' here are some notable Shakespeare adaptations that went outside the box.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
This revolutionary science fiction film took plenty of storytelling cues from 'The Tempest.' The remote island of the play was replaced by a distant planet, while Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter (Anne Francis) were stand-ins for Prospero and Miranda.
Chimes at Midnight (1966)
Leave it to Orson Welles to set the gold standard when it comes to unconventional Shakespeare movies. Welles directed and starred in this film, which focused on recurring Shakespeare character Falstaff (Welles) and his relationship with Prince Hal (Keith Baxter) and combined elements from several plays.
'Ran' was hardly the first Shakespeare adaptation from director Akira Kurosawa, but it remains his most memorable. Kurosawa tackled 'King Lear' in what would be his final epic, translating the tale of a king abdicating his throne into a tale set during Japan's chaotic Sengoku period.
Men of Respect (1990)
Converting the bloody events of 'Macbeth' into a mafia drama is so appropriate, we're surprised no one thought of it sooner. John Turturro starred as Mike Battaglia, a hitman who climbs his way to the top of the D'Amico crime family by murdering his boss.
My Own Private Idaho (1991)
Perhaps no film has offered such a dramatically different take on Shakespeare's work as ‘My Own Private Idaho.’ Writer/director Gus Van Sant combined elements of ‘Henry IV Part I and II’ and ‘Henry V’ into a tale of two young street hustlers (Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix) on a fateful road trip.
The Lion King (1994)
The script for this classic animated Disney film draws inspiration from several sources, but the most obvious is Shakespeare's 'Hamlet.' The nefarious, throne-usurping lion Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons) is a clear analogue for King Claudius, while Pumba and Timon are the film's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. At least this take had a much happier ending.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Director Baz Luhrmann managed to make Shakespeare cool again and launch the career of Leonardo DiCaprio with this lavish interpretation of the classic play. While the setting was updated to a contemporary (and very flamboyant) place called "Verona Beach," the play's original dialogue remained largely unchanged.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Shakespeare's work also helped launch the careers of several other teen heartthrobs in this contemporary re-imagining of 'The Taming of the Shrew.' Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt starred as high schoolers caught up in romantic drama. This film also inspired a short-lived TV series on ABC Family.
This film followed the basic example of 'Romeo + Juliet,' retaining the dialogue of the original play but updating the setting to contemporary America. Ethan Hawke starred as Hamlet (now an aspiring filmmaker), while Kyle MacLachlan's Uncle Claudius was re-imagined as CEO of The Denmark Corporation. '10 Things' star Julia Stiles also appeared as Ophelia.
Get Over It (2001)
Shakespeare's work was again the fodder for high school romantic drama in this contemporary update of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' Ben Foster starred as a jilted lover who joins the school's production of said play in order to win back his ex-girlfriend (Kirsten Dunst).
Julia Stiles added yet another modernized Shakespeare film to her resume with this adaptation of 'Othello.' Stiles played the Desdemona role, while Mekhi Phifer was Othello and Josh Hartnett was Iago.
Scotland, PA (2001)
Apparently Shakespeare was all the rage in 2001. Writer/director Billy Morrisette offered his own darkly comedic spin on 'Macbeth,’ with a setting that shifted to 1975 and a small-town Pennsylvania diner. James LeGros and Maura Tierney starred as Joe and Pat McBeth, while the inimitable Christopher Walken played Lt. Ernie McDuff.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (2013)
Director Joss Whedon's follow-up to 'The Avengers' could scarcely have been a more different film. Whedon gathered a group of close friends and collaborators (including Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, and Nathan Fillion) and filmed this black-and-white adaptation in his own home. Despite the modern look and humorous approach, the script was largely faithful to the original text.