You love William Shakespeare, right? Regardless, you’re looking for the best movie adaptation of William Shgakespeare plays, but there are so many and you’re not sure which are the best to watch.

We’ve put together a list of the ten best William Shakespeare movie adaptations so you can not only learn more, but also appreciate how great filmmakers have turned his plays into cinematic achievements.

Shakespeare Plays

Quick List Preface

We set out to make a list for filmmakers who want to watch William Shakespeare adapted movies so they can learn how to apply the visual techniques used to elevate the material on a cinematic level. 

There is no doubt that Lawrence Olivier was one of the finest thespians of the modern age, but he was often so true to the source material that many of his films are better study for actors than filmmakers.

With that said, here is our list of the best William Shakespeare movies:

BEST SHAKESPEARE FILMS

10. Richard III (1995)

Richard III (1995) | Trailer

Director: Richard Loncraine

Richard III is another modern movie adaptation of Shakespeare that remains in the same location, England, but elects to portray the events in an alternative modern reality. Ian McKellen is great in the title role, and the cast includes Annette Benning and Robert Downey Jr. 

Many of the best Shakespeare plays follow an anti-hero, and Richard III might just have the greatest anti-hero that has ever been conceived. If you want to watch plots and schemes at their finest, check out this film.

IN CONCLUSION

Richard III

  • This movie lost its two Oscar nominations (Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design) to Restoration (1995), which also featured Sir Ian McKellen and Robert Downey Jr.
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
  • Where to watch

Much Ado About Nothing (1993) | Trailer

Director: Kenneth Branagh

This is one of the only Shakespeare comedies that made the list, and Kenneth Branagh understands how to play Benedict in a way that is charming, smarmy, and passionate. Branagh also uses the medium of film to make a fun movie that possesses some welcome energy.

This Shakespeare movie adaptation also makes great use of the casting choices which include Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, and Michael Keaton. Keanu Reeves in particular stands out because he seems out of place, but in fact is the perfect choice for the tone of the film.

IN CONCLUSION

Much Ado About Nothing

  • The cast includes two Oscar winners: Dame Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington; and three Oscar nominees: Michael Keaton, Imelda Staunton, and Sir Kenneth Branagh.
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
  • Where to watch

List of Shakespeare Movies

8. Macbeth (2015)

Macbeth (2015) | Trailer

Director: Justin Kurzel

Macbeth is easily the most beautiful of all the Shakespeare movie adaptations. The cinematography is awesome, and the film overall does a great job at setting the appropriate tone and mood found in the play. While this is one of the most recent Shakespeare adaptations, it isn’t technically a modern Shakespeare movies since it stays in the 11th century.

IN CONCLUSION

Macbeth

  • The black gambeson Macbeth wears in battle was re-purposed after production as the costume of the viking prince Björn Ironside in Vikings
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
  • Where to watch

Best Shakespeare Movies

7. Julius Caesar (1953)

Julius Caesar (1953) | Trailer

Directed: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Julius Caesar is one of the earliest William Shakespeare movies that really began to take advantage of the unique advantages of cinema. Marlon Brando steals the show as Marc Antony, and the movie represents one of the great portrayals of a Shakespeare play.

IN CONCLUSION

Julius Caesar

  • This movie was shot in just thirty-five days, using some of the sets from Quo Vadis (1951), which were dismantled, flown from Rome to Hollywood and then re-assembled for this film.
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
  • Where to watch

Recent Shakespeare Movies

6. Coriolanus (2011)

Coriolanus (2011) | Trailer

Director: Ralph Fiennes

Coriolanus really is one of the best Shakespeare adapted movies, and I place great emphasis on adapted. Ralph Fiennes does a wonderful job of making one of the best modern Shakespeare movies, and one that action fans would find much more compelling than the rest.

IN CONCLUSION

Coriolanus

  • The fierce fight scene between Gerard Butler and Ralph Fiennes took two days to shoot.
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
  • Where to watch

Best Shakespeare Movie Adaptations

5. Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Romeo + Juliet (1996) | Trailer

Director: Baz Lurman

Romeo + Juliet is one of the most distinct Shakespeare movies out there, and it is truly is one of the best movies based on Shakespeare. Baz Lurman shows you can make modern Shakespeare movies without changing the iambic pentameter prose that many other Shakespeare adaptations leave in the rearview mirror.

IN CONCLUSION

Romeo + Juliet

  • Cinematographer Donald McAlpine was faced with a real problem with the meet-cute scene between Romeo and Juliet at the fish tank - the reflections of the water and the glass of the tank were almost impossible to light without causing all sorts of untoward reflections. McAlpine solved the problem by inserting a couple of fluorescent tubes into the tank out of the camera's eyeline. These were the sole source of light in the scene.
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
  • Where to watch

William Shakespeare Movies

4. Hamlet (1996)

Hamlet (1996) | Trailer

IN CONCLUSION

Hamlet

  • Writer and director Sir Kenneth Branagh's decision to shoot in 65mm was largely inspired by a film format seminar conducted by visual consultant Rob Hummel. Hummel convinced him to use the format because of high-resolution and certain shots could only be achieved in 65mm. Also, Branagh once said that the intention was to give a sweeping feel to the play, hearkening back to the 1960s epics like Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
  • Where to watch

Movies Based on Shakespeare

3. Chimes at Midnight (1965)

Chimes at Midnight (1965) | Trailer

Director: Orson Welles 

Chimes at Midnight is based on Henry IV as well as a few other plays and characters from William Shakespeare plays, most notably Sir John Fallstaff. This is said to be Orson Welles’ personal favorite of his films, and perhaps that’s due to his admiration of William Shakespeare’s work.

This is one of the best Shakespeare movies adaptations because Welles was a lover of Shakespeare’s characters, specifically Falstaff, but also Shakespeare’s return to the loss of innocence. 

Orson Welles is also one of the best visual directors, and because of this he takes what was already great about the plays and characters and clarifies them on the silver screen.

IN CONCLUSION

Chimes at Midnight

Modern Shakespeare Movies

2. Titus (1999)

Titus (1999) | Trailer

Director: Julie Taymor

Of all the Shakespeare movies on this list, this is the most haunting. Julie Taymor is not only one of the greatest stage directors of all time, but she is one of the finest film directors of all time.

She is a true auteurist director who seamlessly combines various artistic disciplines into one cohesive vision. Taymor finds a way to display the themes and prose from Titus Andronicus into a modern Shakespeare movie that, at times, plays like a 90’s music video while at others resembles a stage musical. 

Titus is one of the best William Shakespeare movies that really works on a cinematic level and shows why the play is so memorable. This truly is one of the best movies based on Shakespeare, and it features a cast that has only gotten better with age, with both Matthew Rhys and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the villainous Goth brothers.

IN CONCLUSION

Titus

  • None of the characters wear green at any point during this movie. Julie Taymor felt that green suggests safety and comfort, and told Costume Designer Milena Canonero that costumes could only be colored metallic, red, blue, gray, black, or white.
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
  • Where to watch

Best Shakespeare Films

1. Ran (1985)

Ran (1985) | Trailer

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Ran is Akira Kurosawa’s film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s King Lear. At the time, it was the most expensive Japanese movie ever produced with a production budget of $11 million.

This isn’t just one of the best Shakespeare movies of all time, it is flat out one of the greatest movies of all time. To truly make a great Shakespeare film you have to take the concepts from the original plays and turn them into spectacles that couldn’t be achieved in the space of a stage, and this is where Kurosawa shines.

IN CONCLUSION

Ran

  • Akira Kurosawa referred to his previous film, Kagemusha (1980), as a "dress rehearsal" for this film. He spent ten years storyboarding every shot in the film as paintings. The resulting collection of images was published with the screenplay.
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
  • Where to watch

Up Next

Every James Bond Movie Ranked

You’ve seen our list for the best William Shakespeare adapted movies, so why not stay in England and read our list of every James Bond movie ranked so you can go from watching sex, violence, and pithy word play to… well I guess some more sex, violence, and pithy wordplay!

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