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The Worst Shakespeare film adaptations

The Worst Shakespeare film adaptations
1/Emerging Pictures

The Worst Shakespeare film adaptations

All the world may be a stage in Shakespeare’s world, but all the world is definitely not a movie theater when it comes to film adaptations of Shakespeare’s best work. While some adaptations of Shakespearean classics go fairly well (Kenneth Branagh seems to have figured the adaptation game out), there are many more that don’t deserve the right to be affiliated with The Bard. For every “10 Things I Hate About You” (based on Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew”), there are ten like “Tromeo and Juliet” which made this list. As Shakespeare wrote in “Henry IV, Part 2,” “a man can die but once,” but apparently his reputation can be muddled by filmmakers many times after his death.

In honor of William Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616, Stacker has compiled a list of all of the cinematic flops created in the name of the greatest playwright history has ever known. Using IMDb user ratings from most respected to most reviled, this list tracks all sorts of Shakespeare-inspired films from a Western version of King Lear starring Patrick Stewart, to an animated retelling of Romeo and Juliet where the lead characters are… seals? Click through to see all the ways Shakespeare’s masterpieces have been remade in the name of the box office.

#50. Macbeth
2/British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

#50. Macbeth

Year: 1983

IMDb rating: 6.8

This “Scottish Play” follows a man’s ruthless ambition in his quest for power and the result is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved works. The 1983 BBC TV adaptation is a mostly faithful straightforward recreation of the source material, although director Jack Gold cut out the Hecate scenes and the English doctor’s report to Malcolm.

#49. Hamlet
3/Canal+

#49. Hamlet

Year: 1990

IMDb rating: 6.8

Mel Gibson teamed up with legendary Shakespearean film director Franco Zeffirelli for this dark production of Shakespeare’s classic tale of political conspiracy and supernatural vengeance. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars, but the only Academy Award nominations it received were for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

#48. Romeo + Juliet
4/Bazmark Films

#48. Romeo + Juliet

Year: 1996

IMDb rating: 6.8

Perhaps the most well-known story in Shakespeare’s canon, “Romeo and Juliet” tells the story of star-crossed lovers from warring families in Verona. In “Romeo + Juliet,” Australian director Baz Luhrmann takes two major stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, and places them in the title roles of this modern gangster-themed adaptation while still using the original dialogue of the play.

 

#47. Julius Caesar
5/Avon Productions (II)

#47. Julius Caesar

Year: 1950

IMDb rating: 6.7

This low-budget 1950 production of Roman Emperor Julius Caesar’s rise and fall was essentially a glorified student film starring Charlton Heston as Mark Antony. Shot in and around Chicago, the budget was a paltry $15,000 and the response paled in comparison to the 1953 adaptation starring Marlon Brando.

#46. Romeo and Juliet
6/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

#46. Romeo and Juliet

Year: 1936

IMDb rating: 6.7

The New York Times liked this version of forbidden love so much, it included the production in their “Guide to the Best 1000 Movies Ever Made,” along with the 1968 version as well.

#45. Macbeth
7/See-Saw Films

#45. Macbeth

Year: 2015

IMDb rating: 6.7

This recent adaptation of Macbeth stars Michael Fassbender as the Scottish general and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. While the film competed for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, it didn’t enjoy much commercial success, earning just over $16 million worldwide.

#44. Romanoff and Juliet
8/Pavla

#44. Romanoff and Juliet

Year: 1961

IMDb rating: 6.6

“Romanoff and Juliet” was actually a play first that transformed the traditional Romeo and Juliet story into a Cold War-inspired fable of two children of ambassadors (one Russian, one American) who fall in love. The film version of the play starred Sandra Dee of “Gidget” fame as the American girl.

#43. The Tempest
9/Boyd's Company

#43. The Tempest

Year: 1979

IMDb rating: 6.6

Shakespeare’s island play of a shipwreck and the mysterious forces of magic at work got the Derek Jarman film treatment with costumes of various eras and a recent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

#42. Tempest
10/Columbia Pictures Corporation

#42. Tempest

Year: 1982

IMDb rating: 6.5

This adaptation came only 3 years after the 1979 production, but opted to set the story in the present with a New York City architect as the lead character who travels to the Greek isles as part of a midlife crisis. “Tempest” holds the delightful distinction of being Molly Ringwald’s feature film debut.

#41. A Midsummer Night's Dream
11/Fox Searchlight Pictures

#41. A Midsummer Night's Dream

Year: 1999

IMDb rating: 6.5

One of Shakespeare’s most-adapted works, this film takes the story of misguided love between two couples and their journey into an enchanted forest and uproots it to 19th Century Italy with a cast of Hollywood heavyweights like Christian Bale, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Stanley Tucci.

#40. Twelfth Night, or What You Will
12/Projector Productions

#40. Twelfth Night, or What You Will

Year: 2003

IMDb rating: 6.4

“Twelfth Night” is a tale of gender-swapping shipwrecked love and this all-star British version is set in late 19th Century Europe with elements of England and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. New York Times film critic Stephen Holden lauded the film, writing “this 'Twelfth Night' is deeper than most in the way it confronts the psychological forces seething behind the conventional facades of masculine and feminine.”

#39. Joe MacBeth
13/Columbia Pictures Corporation

#39. Joe MacBeth

Year: 1955

IMDb rating: 6.4

The familiar Scottish story travels to 1930s Chicago in this mobster-inspired update with modern dialogue. The British director, Ken Hughes, was perhaps best known for the kid’s film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

#38. King of Texas
14/Milk & Honey Pictures

#38. King of Texas

Year: 2002

IMDb rating: 6.4

It’s the 1800s in the Republic of Texas and “Star Trek” alum Patrick Stewart is cattle baron John Lear in this retelling of “King Lear,” Shakespeare’s meditation on legacy, madness, and jealousy that power bestows upon the powerful.

#37. Tower of London
15/Edward Small Productions

#37. Tower of London

Year: 1962

IMDb rating: 6.4

Shakespeare’s “Richard III” is one of his most famous histories and depicts the short-lived power-hungry hunchback who rose to the height of power before a spectacular downfall. “Tower of London” takes the story and spins it into a Roger Corman-directed horror movie starring Vincent Price.

#36. She's the Man
16/DreamWorks

#36. She's the Man

Year: 2006

IMDb rating: 6.4

“She’s the Man” has the rare honor of being a remake of a remake. In this case, “Twelfth Night” became 1985’s “Just One of the Guys,” which turned into this teen comedy about a girl who pretends to be a boy in order to play high school soccer.

#35. Macbeth
17/Channel Four Films (FIND IMAGE)

#35. Macbeth

Year: 1998

IMDb rating: 6.3

This little-seen British television remake of Macbeth transported the Scottish clans of the original to modern times with a pseudo post-apocalyptic setting and some class warfare thrown in for good measure.

#34. As You Like It
18/BBC Films

#34. As You Like It

Year: 2006

IMDb rating: 6.3

The theme of gender-switching can be found in many of Shakespeare’s comedies and “As You Like It” tells the story of Rosalind, the daughter of a duke, who is banished to a forest where she finds love. The film adaptation reworks the storyline into late 19th Century Japan, although the dialogue is still authentically Shakespearean.

#33. Romeo and Juliet
19/Universalcine

#33. Romeo and Juliet

Year: 1954

IMDb rating: 6.2

One of the most famous “Romeo and Juliet” films, this straightforward Italian adaptation won the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival in 1954. Director Renato Castellani also won Best Director that year from the National Board of Review in the United States.

 

#32. The Face of Love
20/Wikimedia Commons

#32. The Face of Love

Year: 1954

IMDb rating: 6.2

In 1954, the BBC aired this adaptation of a relatively obscure Shakespeare play, the tragedy “Troilus and Cressida,” a play about the Trojan War which, ironically, is an adaptation of Homer’s “Iliad.”

#31. Tromeo and Juliet
21/Troma Entertainment

#31. Tromeo and Juliet

Year: 1996

IMDb rating: 6.2

Troma Studios had a reputation for low-budget horror movies and they didn’t disappoint in this spoof of “Romeo and Juliet,” which followed the main storyline of the source material but added in “body-piercing, kinky sex, and car crashes.”

 

#30. O
22/Chickie the Cop

#30. O

Year: 2001

IMDb rating: 6.2

“Othello” is Shakespeare’s tragic tale of race relations, blind ambition, and backstabbing in 17th Century Venice. “O” is a gritty high school movie that loosely follows the plot progression of “Othello” with way more sex, murder, and basketball starring Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, and Julia Stiles.

#29. Coriolanus
23/Hermetof Pictures

#29. Coriolanus

Year: 2012

IMDb rating: 6.2

One of Shakespeare’s last tragedies was “Coriolanus,” about the 5th Century Roman general of the same name. “Coriolanus” the film updates the play to a modern Eastern European setting (despite calling the city “Rome”) where Ralph Fiennes steps into the shoes of the war monger.

#28. David & Fatima
24/Karim Movies

#28. David & Fatima

Year: 2008

IMDb rating: 6.1

The forbidden love of “Romeo and Juliet” gets a political jolt in this Arab/Israeli rendition where an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim try to prove that love triumphs over cultural differences. While the film didn’t change the world, L.A. Times film critic Gary Goldstein wrote that the film was an earnest, reasonably absorbing drama.”

#27. Julius Caesar
25/Commonwealth United Entertainment

#27. Julius Caesar

Year: 1970

IMDb rating: 6.1

Twenty years after his first film version of “Julius Caesar,” Charlton Heston reprised his role as Mark Antony in this independent British production featuring legendary names like Jason Robards, John Gielgud, and Richard Chamberlain. The critics were not pleased.

#26. China Girl
26/Great American Films Limited Partnership

#26. China Girl

Year: 1987

IMDb rating: 6.1

“West Side Story” is one of the most famous adaptations of “Romeo and Juliet,” which makes “China Girl” an adaptation of an adaptation. This 1987 film follows a guy from Manhattan’s Little Italy and a girl from Chinatown as they pursue their hearts’ desires amidst a gang war between their brothers.

#25. Love's Labour's Lost
27/Pathé Pictures International

#25. Love's Labour's Lost

Year: 2000

IMDb rating: 6.1

Director Kenneth Branagh took massive creative liberties in his big-budget Hollywood musical version of Shakespeare’s comedy about a king and his pals who try to swear off women for three years. Characters were added and the setting was changed to late ‘30s Europe, but the film was a massive commercial failure.

 

#24. Deliver Us from Eva
28/Baltimore Spring Creek Productions

#24. Deliver Us from Eva

Year: 2003

IMDb rating: 6.1

This version of “Taming of the Shrew” has L.L. Cool J playing the part of the tamer who is paid to date Gabrielle Union as the shrew. The leading ladies want to see their friend fall in love so that she will stop meddling in everyone else's lives. 

#23. Romeo Must Die
29/Warner Bros.

#23. Romeo Must Die

Year: 2000

IMDb rating: 6.1

Not only is this “Romeo and Juliet” as an action movie, it’s also the film that made Jet Li a star in the U.S. market. Catch Aaliyah in her first film role at the center of this family feud.

#22. As You Like It
30/Inter-Allied

#22. As You Like It

Year: 1936

IMDb rating: 6

The 1936 production of Shakespeare’s love story about a duke’s banished daughter stars Shakespeare savant Laurence Olivier in his first filmed Shakespeare performance

 

#21. A Thousand Acres
31/Touchstone Pictures

#21. A Thousand Acres

Year: 1997

IMDb rating: 6

This Jessica Lange/Michelle Pfeiffer/Jennifer Jason Leigh film is a reworking of a novel based on “King Lear” that takes the story of a failing patriarch dividing his kingdom and transplants it to rural Iowa where the kingdom is a farm. 

#20. Hamlet
32/Double A Films

#20. Hamlet

Year: 2000

IMDb rating: 6

In this modern adaptation of “Hamlet,” technology and corporate greed play a starring role in this story of succession with the Denmark Corporation taking the place of Denmark itself, although the dialogue is still from the Shakespeare play.

#19. Gnomeo & Juliet
33/Touchstone Pictures

#19. Gnomeo & Juliet

Year: 2011

IMDb rating: 6

The immortal story of “Romeo and Juliet” gets a CGI makeover in this version where the opposing factions are--what else?--garden gnomes. The film was a total box office success.

#18. Antony and Cleopatra
34/Folio Films

#18. Antony and Cleopatra

Year: 1972

IMDb rating: 5.9

Charlton Heston returns to the role of Mark Antony yet again (he twice played the part in “Julius Caesar”). This time, he appears in Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” the timeless retelling of love and war in the last days of the Roman Empire.  

#17. Private Romeo
35/Agathe David-Weill

#17. Private Romeo

Year: 2011

IMDb rating: 5.8

This movie swaps out Verona from “Romeo and Juliet” for McKinley Military Academy, where two male star-crossed lovers at an all-boys school. The New York Times called it “earnest experiment in don’t-ask-don’t-tell drama” and named it a Critic’s Pick in 2011.

#16. Strange Magic
36/Filmbox

#16. Strange Magic

Year: 2015

IMDb rating: 5.8

“Strange Magic” is a computer-animated fairy tale that’s loosely based on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with a lack of humans and a strong emphasis on the colorful creatures of the forest. “Star Wars” director George Lucas hatched the original idea for the film 15 years before its eventual release, claiming that he wanted to make Star Wars for 12-year-old girls.

#15. Romeo & Juliet
37/Amber Entertainment

#15. Romeo & Juliet

Year: 2013

IMDb rating: 5.8

A mostly traditional portrayal of the original play, this version of “Romeo and Juliet” from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes earned no love from the professional critics.

 

#14. Get Over It
38/Miramax

#14. Get Over It

Year: 2001

IMDb rating: 5.8

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” gets the teen movie treatment in this play-within-a-movie where distraught ex-lovers have to perform in their school’s musical version of Shakespeare’s classic which is its own adaptation called “A Midsummer Night’s Rockin’ Eve.” As an added bonus, Sisqó of “Thong Song” fame co-stars.

#13. King Lear
39/Cannon Group, The

#13. King Lear

Year: 1987

IMDb rating: 5.7

For those hoping to see “King Lear” in the style of French New Wave cinema, this Jean-Luc Godard adaptation is for you. While the inscrutable film doesn’t come anywhere close to resembling the play, it still has its devoted fans.

#12. The Tempest
40/Miramax

#12. The Tempest

Year: 2010

IMDb rating: 5.4

Julie Taymor, one of Shakespeare’s most frequent interpreters, directed this mostly faithful adaptation with one major twist: Prospero is a woman and Helen Mirren cast in the part. For the island setting, Taymor shot mainly in Hawaii.

#11. Men of Respect
41/Arthur Goldblatt Productions

#11. Men of Respect

Year: 1990

IMDb rating: 5.3

John Turturro plays Mike Battaglia in this version of “MacBeth” via the American mafia. If the plot of “Men of Respect” sounds familiar, it’s because a very similar adaptation was done 35 years prior in “Joe MacBeth” (#39 on this list).

#10. Let the Devil Wear Black
42/New Moon Productions

#10. Let the Devil Wear Black

Year: 1999

IMDb rating: 5.1

You would never know it by the title, but this film tells the story of “Hamlet” as a modern-day allegory set in Los Angeles with a mentally ill graduate student as the lead. It has the dubious distinction of starring and being co-written by Jonathan Penner of “Survivor” fame.

 

#9. Love Is All There Is
43/Cinema 7

#9. Love Is All There Is

Year: 1996

IMDb rating: 5.1

She’s the daughter of a high-end Italian restaurateur family in New York. He’s the son of Sicilian caterers in the Bronx. They fall in love but their parents don’t want them to be together. Sound familiar? This “Romeo and Juliet” romantic comedy features a 21-year-old Angelina Jolie before she made it big.

#8. Macbeth
44/Cromwell Productions Ltd.

#8. Macbeth

Year: 1997

IMDb rating: 5

Another TV movie version, this adaptation of Macbeth hit British television in the late ‘90s with an updated look that took the warring clans of Scotland and reimagined them as high-class criminals in a downtrodden industrial city.

#7. King John
45/British Mutoscope & Biograph Company

#7. King John

Year: 1899

IMDb rating: 5

This is the earliest known film of Shakespeare’s works and one of the most obscure as it chronicles the reign of King John, who ruled England from 1199-1216. The film included none of Shakespeare’s original dialogue because cinema technology of 1899 wasn’t advanced enough to include sound.

#6. A Midsummer Night's Rave
46/10 Cates Pictures

#6. A Midsummer Night's Rave

Year: 2002

IMDb rating: 5

The major changes in this version of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream:” teens and drugs. Set in the rave subculture of the late ‘90s/early 2000s, the film failed to impress the critics at Variety, who claim the movie goes for cheap laughs by encouraging actors to chew on the scenery.”

#5. Bollywood Queen
47/Dream Fish Productions

#5. Bollywood Queen

Year: 2003

IMDb rating: 4.7

This British-Indian hybrid version of “Romeo and Juliet” stars award-winning actor James McAvoy as a young British rocker, and British soap opera star Preeya Kalidas as a Bollywood-obsessed Indian girl. Their love is forbidden at first but they wind up together in true Hollywood/Bollywood/Shakespeare fashion because all’s well that ends well.

#4. The Tempest
48/Bonnie Raskin Productions

#4. The Tempest

Year: 1998

IMDb rating: 4.6

The made-for-TV version of “The Tempest” tries to find a fresh angle on the plot by setting it in the bayous of Mississippi during the Civil War. Based on its low IMDb user rating, it’s fairly clear that the location and time change didn’t help all that much.

#3. Rome & Jewel
49/Emerging Pictures

#3. Rome & Jewel

Year: 2006

IMDb rating: 4.4

If you ever longed for a version of “Romeo and Juliet” as an interracial hip-hop musical set in Los Angeles, this is your new favorite movie. Unfortunately, it earned only $470 at the box office.

#2. Cymbeline
50/Benaroya Pictures

#2. Cymbeline

Year: 2014

IMDb rating: 3.8

Based on Shakespeare’s lesser-known history of the same name about palace intrigue surrounding the King of Britain, this movie starred Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris and Milla Jovovich in a yarn about biker gangs, bad cops, and a drug lord.

#1. Romeo & Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss
51/Phil Nibbelink Productions

#1. Romeo & Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss

Year: 2006

IMDb rating: 3.7

It’s “Romeo and Juliet,” but instead of people, they’re seals. That’s the whole movie. Seriously.

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