Some of Our Favorite Shakespeare Movies

Celebrate Shakespeare's birthday this weekend by screening a great cinematic adaptation or two.

Celebrate Shakespeare's birthday this weekend by screening a great cinematic adaptation or two.


Prospero becomes Prospera, brilliantly acted by Helen Mirren, in this otherwise classical and faithful adaptation.

Also worth seeing: Derek Jarman’s punk rock (and definitely preview-screening-required) 1979 retelling


By William Shakespeare

Christopher Eccleston is the frustrated and scheming Iago to the city’s first black police force commissioner in this version of the play transposed to modern London. 

Also worth watching: 2001’s set-in-high-school O


Marlon Brando’s polished diction as Mark Anthony in this nicely executed history will make you wonder how he ever earned his nickname “the mumbler.” He took Shakespearean acting tips from costar John Gielgud, who plays lean and hungry Cassius.


Technically not a proper adaptation, Orson Welles’ anthology of Falstaff scenes from four different plays (Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Henry V) is the kind of brilliant, thoughtful mash-up that surprises and delights.


Joss Whedon’s inspired adaptation uses Shakespeare’s original language and themes of romantic love versus real commitment but moves the action to modern-day California.


Michael Fassbender’s balance of mad ambition and human fallibility makes this classical adaptation (complete with action-packed battle sequences).

Also worth seeing: Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood


What it lacks in iambic pentameter, this adaptation—set in a U.S. high school and starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles—more than makes up for in spirit and charm.


King Lear
By William Shakespeare

Merging Lear with legends of an historic Japanese warlord, Akira Kurosawa slowly strips away his characters’ humanity, until only honor and brutality remain. 

Also worth seeing: Peter Brook’s RSC adaptation starring Orson Welles


Kenneth Branagh directed and starred in this faithful, haunted adaptation of the troubled prince of Denmark.

Also worth seeing: 2000’s Hamlet set in present-day New York City


Baz Luhrmann’s non-stop adaptation brings this tragic love story to gritty, adrenaline-fueled, dazzlingly visual life without sacrificing Shakespeare’s original language.


This list is adapted from the spring 2016 issue of HSL.