The 20 Best Shakespeare Movies Adapted From His Works

Shakespeare is best known for his dramatic plays, and many of them were adapted into (or inspired) movies worth watching.
The 20 Best Shakespeare Movies Adapted From His Works

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Yes, we all know of William Shakespeare, the great 16th century playwright who's continually referenced in literature, film, pop culture, and even just everyday conversations.

For many decades, his life and works have provided a goldmine of material for Britain and Hollywood to sink their teeth into, whether as film adaptations of his plays, spin-offs for side characters, or dramatized biopics with creative licenses taken.

Here are my picks for the best movies that are direct adaptations of his works or heavily influenced by them.

20. Coriolanus (2011)

Directed by Ralph Fiennes

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox

Drama, Thriller, War (2h 3m)

6.1 on IMDb92% on RT

Coriolanus doesn't recount the events of the decade-long Yugoslav Wars, but it does use them for context and inspiration. Plot-wise, Coriolanus is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's final tragic play, written circa 1607.

Ralph Fiennes has performed Shakespeare on stage a handful of times, including Macbeth and Richard III, but his on-screen attempt also happened to be his directorial debut!

Challenging himself to both star in and direct for the first time, Fiennes plays Caius Martius Coriolanus, who looks down on the citizens of Rome and is consequently kicked out of the city. His next move? To conquer it. Shakespeare's nothing without a good revenge plot!

19. Maqbool (2003)

Directed by Vishal Bhardwaj

Starring Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Pankaj Kapur

Crime, Drama, Thriller (2h 12m)

8.0 on IMDb100% on RT

Shakespeare is a symbol of British culture, but his works are surprisingly loved around the world, especially in places like Japan and India!

Scholars have been writing about "Indianizing the Bard" since the 1960s, and Indian cinema has long been tackling his plays with films like Veeram (which adapts Macbeth) and Omkara (which adapts Othello).

But then you have Maqbool, which is widely considered to be the finest Hindi-language Shakespeare adaptation ever made, directed by Vishal Bhardwaj (who also made Omkara).

Maqbool makes Mumbai the backdrop to the tragedy of Macbeth, featuring Irrfan Khan (who you might recognize from Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire) as the foolish anti-hero.

18. Bill (2015)

Directed by Richard Bracewell

Starring Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas

Comedy, Family, History (1h 34m)

6.5 on IMDb90% on RT

In 2015, the comedy troupe from Horrible Histories—an ensemble that includes Mathew Baynton, Jim Howick, Simon Farnaby, Ben Willbond, Laurence Rickard, and Martha Howe-Douglas—gave us the BBC comedy movie Bill.

Short for "William," Richard Bracewell's gag-riddled film is a fictional take on Shakespeare's "lost years" (played by Mathew Baynton). It's an excellent way to introduce kids to classic British heritage!

17. Twelfth Night (1996)

Directed by Trevor Nunn

Starring Helena Bonham Carter, Richard E. Grant, Nigel Hawthorne

Comedy, Drama, Romance (2h 14m)

7.1 on IMDb76% on RT

People have long speculated that the 1950s classic film Some Like It Hot was based on the Shakespeare play Twelfth Night, but the connection isn't direct enough to include on this list.

So, we're just going to include Twelfth Night itself! But given that Twelfth Night has been adapted to film over ten times, we'll have to clarify: we're talking about Trevor Nunn's 1996 version.

Theater director Trevor Nunn used comparisons to Some Like It Hot to draw in audiences for his 90s rom-com, but he probably didn't need to do that. The all-star cast of Helena Bonham Carter, Richard E. Grant, Ben Kingsley, and Imelda Staunton was enough to reel viewers in!

A simultaneously loose yet authentic rendition of one of Shakespeare's lighter plays, Twelfth Night is a gender-swapping, love-trapping roller coaster ride from start to finish.

16. O (2001)

Directed by Tim Blake Nelson

Starring Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles, Martin Sheen

Drama, Romance, Thriller (1h 35m)

6.1 on IMDb65% on RT

The 1990s saw a resurgence in all things Jane Austen and Shakespeare, especially when disguised as teen dramas, and that trend spilled into the new millennium. Julia Stiles loved to star in these adaptations, and one from her trifecta is based on Othello.

Set in a modern-day high school, Tim Blake Nelson uses the early 17th century play to bring forward timely issues of teen violence. Josh Hartnett stars alongside her as Hugo (O's contemporary version of Shakespeare's worst villain: Iago).

15. Ophelia (2018)

Directed by Claire McCarthy

Starring Daisy Ridley, Mia Quiney, Calum O'Rourke

Drama, Romance, Thriller (1h 46m)

6.5 on IMDb — N/A on RT

Ophelia is just one victim to Hamlet's actions (or inactions), who famously went mad and drowned herself after her father dies.

Like many female characters of old, her role was pretty much cast away as just another damsel in distress. But Claire McCarthy decided to give Ophelia a proper voice in her 2018 romance drama, which elegantly retells her side of the story.

Daisy Ridley stars as the angelic yet rebellious free spirit, who falls in love with Prince Hamlet as the Queen of Denmark's lady-in-waiting. A haunting tale adorned with flowers, Ophelia is a long overdue inspection of Shakespeare's most misunderstood character.

14. Anonymous (2011)

Directed by Roland Emmerich

Starring Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis

Drama, Thriller (2h 10m)

6.8 on IMDb46% on RT

What if Shakespeare wasn't actually the man behind his bounty of plays? In Anonymous, director Roland Emmerich suggests it was really Edward de Vere who penned Shakespeare's canon.

An ingeniously thought-out storyline that reshapes the puzzle pieces of history, Anonymous is one movie that demands concentration while watching. No Twitter scrolling. No distractions.

Rhys Ifans plays the disgraced Earl of Oxford, who hides behind the name of "drunken oaf" actor William Shakespeare to present his tales to the world. A finely tuned drama of the highest caliber, Anonymous acts like an intricate tapestry of the Tudor era.

13. All Is True (2018)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen

Biography, Drama, History (1h 41m)

6.3 on IMDb72% on RT

We hope you like Kenneth Branagh, as you're about to see his name a heck of a lot on this list! Branagh is William Shakespeare's number one fan, and the established actor has built half his career on directing and starring in Shakespeare-inspired movies.

His latest Shakespearean film is All Is True, in which Branagh finally steps into the role of Shakespeare himself to fictionalize his visit home to Stratford after the Globe Theatre fire of 1613.

With him are some of the old Royal Shakespeare Company gang, including Judi Dench and Ian McKellen, who wander into a bittersweet meditation on Shakespeare's final days.

12. Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Keanu Reeves

Comedy, Drama, Romance (1h 51m)

7.3 on IMDb90% on RT

Alongside the teen movie adaptations of the 1990s, we got plenty of Kenneth Branagh's more authentic cinematic visions.

One of Shakespeare's more easy-going stories, Much Ado About Nothing, was included in his First Folio, which was translated with cotton-white sheen by Branagh and his contemporaries.

Set in Messina, two couples joke and argue their way through some misunderstandings—and, luckily, it all ends in marriages rather than death this time! The A-list ensemble cast includes Michael Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Emma Thompson, and Denzel Washington.

11. Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Directed by John Madden

Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush

Comedy, Drama, History (2h 3m)

7.1 on IMDb92% on RT

Shakespeare was always writing about love, but was he ever actually in love? Little is known about his marriage to Anne Hathaway (not the actress), but considering how much time he spent away working, there can't have been too much passion there.

John Madden ponders the idea of Shakespeare falling for wannabe actor and muse Viola (played by Gwyneth Paltrow), who's unfortunately betrothed to Lord Wessex.

The lighthearted period piece won three Academy Awards, as well as a stage play by Lee Hall in 2014 and a Japanese adaptation by Shigeki Motoiki and Sakurako Fukuyama. Now that's a crowd-pleaser!

10. The King (2019)

Directed by David Michôd

Starring Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson

Biography, Drama, History (2h 20m)

7.3 on IMDb71% on RT

The King is sort of based on the history of Henry V of England, mixed with content from Shakespeare's Henriad and a dash of artistic license.

The epic war movie, directed by David Michôd, stars Timothée Chalamet as a young king whose layabout lifestyle must come to an end when he's thrown into the responsibility of ruling.

Historical inaccuracies aside, The King is an astounding achievement—both visually and dramatically—that boasts first-rate performances from Chalamet and his co-stars Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson, and Lily-Rose Depp. The King makes great use of Shakespeare's histories.

9. Hamlet (1996)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Julie Christie, Billy Crystal

Drama (4h 2m)

7.7 on IMDb95% on RT

Circling back to Hamlet, the most accessible movie version of Shakespeare's infamous tragedy is—of course—by Kenneth Branagh, who stars as the troubled protagonist himself. (For something more intense, check out Laurence Olivier's 1948 version.)

Hamlet's fatal flaw of procrastination is what leads to his ultimate demise. Starring too many names to list here, Hamlet is a fabulously acted and authentic homage to the classic Shakespearean tragedy.

8. Macbeth (2015)

Directed by Justin Kurzel

Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jack Madigan

Drama, History, War (1h 53m)

6.6 on IMDb80% on RT

The two most visually stunning movies on this list both happen to be about Macbeth. First up is Justin Kurzel's smoky war drama, which takes place in the picturesque Scottish countryside. It's just a shame about all the murder and bloodshed!

Michael Fassbender is the tragic hero of this supernatural-infused play, whose ambition (or should we say, his wife's ambition, played by Marion Cotillard) gets the better of him.

When three witches prophesize that Macbeth is to be King of Scotland, he does all he can to bring this to fruition. A visceral cinematic experience that's true to the play, Shakespeare himself would be proud.

7. Julius Caesar (1953)

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Starring Marlon Brando, James Mason, John Gielgud

Drama, History (2h)

7.2 on IMDb96% on RT

Advertised quite literally as William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in the 1950s, this sophisticated MGM picture was nominated for five Oscars and won Best Art Direction (in the black-and-white category).

The famous on-set diva Marlon Brando had just made a name for himself in A Streetcar Named Desire two years prior, only to prove his versatility by starring as the Roman politician Mark Antony in this one.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz's grayscale vision is pretty much an exact replica of Shakespeare's turn-of-the-century play, following the titular Roman general's impending fall from grace.

6. Throne of Blood (1957)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Starring Toshirō Mifune, Minoru Chiaki, Isuzu Yamada

Drama (1h 50m)

8.1 on IMDb96% on RT

Akira Kurosawa isn't just a huge name in Japan, but in the annals of cinema as a whole. The Japanese director employed a bold and dazzling aesthetic that influenced generations of filmmakers to come, and he also had an affinity for Shakespeare.

Delaying production after the release of Orson Welles's 1948 version, Throne of Blood is now considered one of the greatest adaptations of Macbeth. Kurosawa really had nothing to worry about!

Throne of Blood transports the medieval Scottish tale over to Japan five centuries later. Here, Toshirō Mifune and Isuzu Yamada star as Lord and Lady Washizu/Macbeth, and evil spirits stand in for the fortune-telling witches who promise blood-stained glory to the couple.

5. Henry V (1989)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Simon Shepherd

Biography, Drama, History (2h 17m)

7.5 on IMDb98% on RT

Kenneth Branagh's first stab at Shakespearean cinema was a resounding success, which triggered his next seven inspired projects. Henry V is considered the best movie about King Henry ever made, reaching worldwide acclaim upon release.

Branagh plays the lead role alongside his usual writer/director duties, boosting his soldiers' morale with endless impassioned speeches.

A determined hero desperate to lay claim to France, Henry will stop at nothing to win his land and his Queen (played by Emma Thompson). This one is a gritty Oscar-winning must-see for any Shakespeare fan.

4. The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

Directed by Joel Coen

Starring Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Alex Hassell

Drama, Mystery, Thriller (1h 45m)

7.1 on IMDb92% on RT

Here we have the most cinematic Shakespeare film ever made, which sizzles with polished monochromatic imagery. Stripping down the dialogue to something more digestible, Joel Coen's first solo venture is just as taut as the Coen brothers' usual works.

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand headline as Lord and Lady Macbeth, who commit regicide in keeping with the witches' prophecy.

Beyond the shadowy visuals that scream German Expressionism, The Tragedy of Macbeth is a finely acted movie that puts a unique spin on the well-known play with its unforgettable aesthetic.

3. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

Directed by Gil Junger

Starring Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Comedy, Drama, Romance (1h 37m)

7.3 on IMDb71% on RT

10 Things I Hate About You was one of the most popular romantic comedies of the 1990s, but not everyone knows it was inspired by Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew despite using some of the same character names. (Well, nicknames, at least.)

Kat (i.e., Katherine from the play) is a feisty, loud-mouthed "shrew" and it comes down to the pretty Australian bad boy Patrick (i.e., Petruccio) to try and tame her. Even though he only does this because he's paid to, they end up falling in love.

A fresh-faced Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star in Andrew Lazar's iconic high school flick.

2. Ran (1985)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu

Action, Drama, War (2h 42m)

8.2 on IMDb96% on RT

At first glance, Ran doesn't look particularly Shakespearean. I mean, it's an epic Japanese war drama after all. But for all its samurai swords and Japanese mountains, you might be surprised to learn that Ran is actually based on the 1606 tragedy King Lear.

Infused with the legends of Mōri Motonari, Akira Kurosawa's third Shakespearean movie was the most expensive Japanese movie ever made at the time—and it definitely shows!

The sweeping panoramas, powerful use of color, and countless extras make Ran a striking cinematic achievement.

1. Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Directed by Baz Luhrmann

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, John Leguizamo

Drama, Romance (2h)

6.7 on IMDb73% on RT

The thing that makes Romeo + Juliet stand out is Baz Luhrmann's contrast between the film's modern-day setting and its use of Ye Olde English dialogue. Sticking firmly to the original 16th century play, the characters' words are mismatched with their Hawaiian shirts and bling watches.

What could have easily been a jarring mistake turned out to be an artistic gem that breathed new life into Shakespeare's most famous play, Romeo and Juliet. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes star as the young lovestruck couple caught between two rival business empires.

Drugs, parties, and guns aren't exactly classic Shakespeare, yet Romeo + Juliet ironically remains one of the most accurate adaptations!