10 Best Shakespeare Movies - Featured - StudioBinder

You love William Shakespeare, right? Regardless, you’re looking for the best movie adaptation of William Shakespeare 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 10 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 Laurence 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%
  • Watch Now

BEST SHAKESPEARE FILMS

9. Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

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%
  • Watch Now

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 a modern Shakespeare movie, per se, since it is set in the 11th century.

There are some great battle sequences in this Shakespeare adaptation as well as some really strong performances from Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as the always entertaining Lady Macbeth.

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%
  • Watch Now

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 Hollywood’s great epic portrayals of a Shakespeare play.

William Shakespeare's plays get better with age. As you grow older you find more and more to connect within the prose, the characters, the plots that perhaps you hadn’t noticed in earlier years. This William Shakespeare adaptation is a great representation of that phenomenon.

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%
  • Watch Now

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.

The emphasis on action is a great advantage this Shakespeare movie has going for it, but that isn’t so say it’s the only advantage. There are some really great performances, and outstanding visuals as well.

IN CONCLUSION

Coriolanus

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

Best Shakespeare Movie Adaptations

5. Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Romeo + Juliet (1996) | Trailer

Director: Baz Luhrmann

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 Luhrmann shows you can make modern Shakespeare movies without changing the iambic pentameter prose that many other Shakespeare adaptations leave in the rearview mirror.

Romeo + Juliet is also one of those William Shakespeare movies that really work on a cinematic level. This film uses music in a way that most Shakespeare movie adaptations completely ignore.

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%
  • Watch Now

William Shakespeare Movies

4. ​Hamlet (1996)

Hamlet (1996) | Trailer

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Hamlet is often considered to be Shakespeare’s best play, and this movie adaptation decided not to leave that value on the table. When William Shakespeare movies work, they work really well, and they take advantage not only of the opportunities unique to filmmaking but also each and every one of the various production departments.

I love the costume design in this Shakespeare film. I love the set design, I love the casting choices — everything is there to serve the source material while adding a bit of a modern spin on the stage play.


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%
  • Watch Now

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 Falstaff. 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.

Chimes at Midnight is one of the best Shakespeare movie 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.

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

  • Orson Welles' favorite of his own movies.
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
  • Watch Now

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 work 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%
  • Watch Now

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.

Ran has influenced every period epic since it graced the screen, and is considered one of Kurosawa’s best. When you pair one of the greatest writers of all time with one of the greatest filmmakers, you’re bound to get something pretty entertaining. Luckily, each delivers on their hype.

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%
  • Watch Now

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 wordplay to… well, I guess some more sex, violence, and pithy wordplay!

Up Next: 007 Movies Ranked →
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