The 10 best modern Shakespeare movie adaptations, ranked

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The 10 best modern Shakespeare movie adaptations, ranked
  • There have been countless big-screen adaptations of William Shakespeare's work.
  • Below, Insider ranks the best modern Shakespeare adaptations in ascending order.
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10. 'Macbeth' (2015)

10. 'Macbeth' (2015)
Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender in "Macbeth."StudioCanal

In Justin Kurzel's stylish and faithful adaptation, the titular Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Ravenously consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife (Marion Cotillard), Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.

9. 'Hamlet' (2000)

9. 'Hamlet' (2000)
Ethan Hawke in "Hamlet."Miramax Films

Indie filmmaker Michael Almereyda's distinctive version of "Hamlet" retains Shakespeare's language but transports the story to New York at the turn of the century. Here, the ghost of the dead CEO of the "Denmark Corporation" appears to his son, Hamlet, a film student played by Ethan Hawke, and tells him that his death was, in fact, murder and identifies the killer as Claudius, the new head of Denmark, Hamlet's uncle and now step-father.

Hamlet sets on an unwieldy trip to discover whether the ghost is truly his father and whether Claudius killed him.

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8. 'The King' (2019)

8. 'The King' (2019)
Timothée Chalamet stars in "The King."Netflix

Netflix's historical drama "The King" is an unusual project. The film is based on characters and stories from Shakespeare's famous "Henriad" series of plays – Henry IV pt 1, Henry IV pt 2, Henry V — and tracks the life of a young prince named Hal (Timothée Chalamet) as he inherits the throne of England from his deceased father.

After receiving a warning from his sister about possible betrayals from his advisers, Hal turns to his friend, an aging alcoholic knight (played by Joel Edgerton who also acted as a writer and producer) for advice.

Things quickly escalate when Hal decides to attack France — and comes face-to-face with the French ruler, played by Robert Pattinson.

7. 'Much Ado About Nothing' (1993)

7. 'Much Ado About Nothing' (1993)
The film was based on a Shakespearean play.Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

In Kenneth Branagh's playful, star-studded version of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing," young lovers (Kate Beckinsale) and Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) are to be married in one week.

To pass the time, they hatch a matchmaking scheme with Don Pedro (Denzel Washington). Their targets are sharp-witted, arrogant Benedick (Branagh) and Beatrice (Emma Thompson)

Meanwhile, meddling Don John (Keanu Reeves) plots to ruin the wedding.

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6. 'Ran' (1985)

6. 'Ran' (1985)
"Ran" was directed and co-written by Akira Kurosawa.Rialto Pictures

In 1957, Akira Kurosawa — the godfather of Japanese cinema — directed "Throne of Blood," an adaptation of "Macbeth." In 1960, Kurosawa made "The Bad Sleep Well," his take on "Hamlet." 20 years later, in his last decade of filmmaking, Kurosawa directed his most enduring and well-known Shakespeare adaptation: "Ran," an adaptation of "King Lear."

The film, which is set in medieval Japan, follows an elderly warlord who decides to retire and hand his empire over to his three sons. However, he does not anticipate how newfound power will corrupt his sons and cause them to turn on each other as well as him.

5. 'My Own Private Idaho' (1991)

5. 'My Own Private Idaho' (1991)
River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in "My Own Private Idaho."Fine Line Features/New Line Cinema

Released in 1991, "My Own Private Idaho" was the third feature film by Gus Van Sant and remains his most ambitious. The film — which is loosely based on Shakespeare's "Henry IV" — follows the expedition of two young hustlers: Michael Waters (River Phoenix), a narcoleptic roamer desperate for stability, and Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves), the son of a city mayor waiting to access his inheritance.

Part arthouse cinema, part unconventional road-trip movie, "My Own Private Idaho" is a landmark film in New Queer Cinema, an early 1990s movement in queer-themed independent filmmaking.

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4. '10 Things I Hate About You' (1999)

4. '10 Things I Hate About You' (1999)
Heath Ledger in "10 Things I Hate About You."Buena Vista Pictures

"10 Things I Hate About You" is a modernization of William Shakespeare's late-16th-century comedy "The Taming of the Shrew," retold amongst the students of a late-1990s American high school.

In the film, Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), starts at a new school and he is instantly smitten with Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) and, in order to get around her father's strict rules on dating, attempts to get the school rebel Patrick (Heath Ledger) to date Bianca's stubborn and quick-witted sister Kat (Julia Stiles).

3. 'She's the Man' (2006)

3. 'She's the Man' (2006)
Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum in "She's The Man."DreamWorks

2006's "She's the Man" — a reworking of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" — is one of the big screen's most interesting Shakespearian adaptations thanks to its inventive plot.

The film — which was panned as juvenile fodder at the time of its release but has recently enjoyed a positive reexamining — stars Amanda Bynes as Viola Hastings — a high school soccer player with a twin brother named Sebastian. When funding for her soccer team is cut and Sebastian ditches school to join a band in London, Viola decides to pose as her twin brother and join the rival high school's soccer team.

While wearing her disguise, Viola falls in love with her roommate Duke. But Duke (played by Channing Tatum) is already in love with Olivia, who in turn is crushing on "Sebastian" (who is really Viola).

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2. 'The Tragedy of Macbeth' (2021)

2. 'The Tragedy of Macbeth' (2021)
Denzel Washington in "The Tragedy of Macbeth."A24.

It is very difficult to "crack" Shakespeare — that is, untangle and illuminate the meaning of his plays — on-screen because the answer to the moral ambiguities and internal conflicts in many of Shakespeare's productions sit within the poetry of his words. Cinema is, of course, a visual medium. As such, you can't just plonk an actor in front of the camera reciting lines. A director must create a visual world that can carry and convey an intensity that equals or surpasses the stage.

In contemporary cinema, there has been no better example of this than Joel Coen's beguiling adaptation of "Macbeth." In his first directorial effort without his brother and collaborator Ethan, Joel Coen drafted in renowned Shakespearian performers Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

Washington and McDormand are masterful on-screen and Coen's surreal monochrome images create an experience that is succinct and powerful.

1. 'Romeo + Juliet' (1996)

1. 'Romeo + Juliet' (1996)
Claire Dane and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Romeo + Juliet."Disney.

The Montagues and the Capulets are rival mafia families in contemporary California, and the tragedy's titular love-struck kids are depicted by a pair of bright-eyed young actors named Leonardo DiCaprio (pre-"Titanic") and Claire Danes in Baz Luhrmann's edgy, baroque adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare's most famous play.

Luhrmann famously made several contemporary additions such as guns and sports cars to the story of Romeo and Juliet yet, his film keeps, quite religiously, to Shakespeare's text, including the Elizabethan dialogue, which, 25 years later, allows the playful film to move audiences with the same intensity as any traditional production of the tragedy on the stage.

Luhrmann and his team also crafted one of the best pop soundtracks in cinematic history.

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