SHAKESPEARE MOVIES RANKED

There are lots more Shakespeare movies but these are the ones I've seen recently enough to comment on.
  1. 1.
    The Hollow Crown from the BBC (All four plays in the first henriad)
    Loki from Avengers plays an impeccable Henry V along with the always-awesome Jeremy Irons as Henry IV. I'm partial to the first in the series, Richard II but all four are fantastic. Very high quality and beautiful production. Weakest link: Falstaff, which is a shame because obviously he's a big deal. He's not bad. He's just not great and this movie deserves a great Falstaff.
  2. 2.
    Hamlet directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh
    A contentious choice but for my money one of the best. It is beautifully set and wonderfully acted especially by Branagh himself as Hamlet, Derek Jacobi as Claudius and Julie Christie as Gertrude. Weakest link: Cheesy effects during the ghost scenes. Happiest surprise: Charlton Heston's Player King and his transcendent recitation of the Priam Death scene.
  3. 3.
    Romeo + Juliet directed by Baz Luhrman
    The most effective modernization on the list. I think this movie is a near-perfect adaptation. It is atmospherically beautiful and well-acted all around. Standout performance: Harold Perrineau as Mercutio (who is also a standout character in the play). Favorite scene: the fish tank leading up to "palm to palm is palmer's holy kiss." Ahhh, so beautiful.
  4. 4.
    Twelfth Night directed by Trevor Nunn
    I love this play and this movie is wonderful. A little unsteady in parts but it has it all where it counts. Wonderful performances by Helena Bonham Carter and Imogen Stubbs. Happiest surprise: Ben Kingsley as Feste.
  5. 5.
    Much Ado About Nothing directed by Joss Whedon
    The story behind making this movie is as delightful as the film itself. Despite casual pronunciation and a modern setting it totally works, and Whedon fans will love seeing his favorite actors all around. Standout moments include Alexis Denishoff's physical comedy as Benedick, and a subtle but hilarious acknowledgment of one of Shakespeare's racist moments. Weakest link: Hero, but she's a weak character in the play anyway so it doesn't hurt much.
  6. 6.
    Much Ado About Nothing directed by Kenneth Branagh
    A much more traditional take on the play than Whedon's version, and equally good. Emma Thompson's Beatrice is one of my favorite Shakespeare performances, and the movie has several memorable scenes. Weakest link: Michael Keaton whose performance is too over the top even for the over the top Dogberry.
  7. 7.
    Hamlet starring Mel Gibson
    By 1990 Zeffirelli seems to have lost his penchant for overacting. This version of Hamlet is quite good. It would probably be higher on my list if I didn't have Branagh's to compare. Standout performance: Helena Bonham Carter as a better Ophelia than Kate Winslet and Glenn Close as a wonderfully wicked Gertrude.
  8. 8.
    Coriolanus starring Ralph Fiennes
    Not Shakespeare's strongest play but a worthy one, and this modern film adaptation is wonderful. Standout performances: Ralph Fiennes as Coriolanus and Vanessa Redgrave as his terrifying mother.
  9. 9.
    Julius Caesar starring Marlon Brando
    The only thing wrong with this film is the less-technically-capable era it comes from. Brando is perfect, as is James Mason as Brutus. Weakest link: Female characters who all look like they were yanked from a '50s sitcom and dropped in Ancient Rome. Funniest moment: When Brutus' prop sword falls apart while he brandishes it and he just powers ahead like it's a stage production or something. I guess film was expensive back then.
  10. 10.
    A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)
    It's hard to look past 1935 production values but this is probably my favorite version of this play. The acting is solid, it is true to the source, and it is fascinating as a piece of film history. Standout performance: A very young (child) Mickey Rooney as the Puck.
  11. 11.
    A Midsummer Night's Dream BBC version
    This is a filmed live stage production which always undermines the feel a bit, but it isn't bad. Some great performances and some at least interesting whimsical settings. It's hard to make this beautiful play unenjoyable.
  12. 12.
    Macbeth directed by Roman Polanski
    This is a decent version as far as 1970s versions go. The effects are obviously below today's standards but it isn't distracting. Performances are all quite good although I find Francesca Annis' Lady Macbeth too sweet and delicate. Weakest link: Polanski's weird obsession with excessive nudity and the unfortunate decision to render Macbeth's dagger hallucinations on screen.
  13. 13.
    Romeo and Juliet directed by Zeffirelli
    This film suffers from the same bizarre exaggerated movements and terribly choreographed fight scenes that seem to infect all Zeffirelli's Shakespeare adaptations. These plus the lousy old school costumes and sets make it hard for me to take it seriously. Romeo is also poorly acted. But Juliet (ignoring the possible child pornography) is wonderful. Perhaps the best onscreen Juliet of all.
  14. 14.
    The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons
    Harold Bloom astutely calls this play unplayable to a modern audience. If you make Shylock a monster (as he was probably intended) it is antisemitic. And if you make him sympathetic then the play celebrates cruelty. This movie takes the latter approach with the expected result. That said, the acting is wonderful all around and the production is gorgeous. It is like two hours of beautiful cinema that leaves you empty in the end.
  15. 15.
    A Midsummer Night's Dream starring Kevin Kline and Calista Flockheart
    I don't love this movie as much as critics seem to. It is worth watching, but for some reason to me it lacks the emotional punch that the play should have. Kevin Kline makes a great Bottom though, and Calista Flockheart is wonderful as well. Weakest link: plays loose with the source material in places.
  16. 16.
    Titus starring Anthony Hopkins (Titus Andronicus)
    I'll let the academics decide if this play is worthy of interest. But this movie does as much as can be done with the source material. The adaptation is bizarre in places but in a good way. Standout performance: Jessica Lange as Tamora. Weakest link: It is hard to find. There's a terrible version on YouTube. Otherwise look for a DVD.
  17. 17.
    Taming of the Shrew directed by Zeffirelli
    I don't love this movie. It feels over acted. The costumes are weird. Elizabeth Taylor screeches and never convinces me of her intelligence or her apparent suppressed love for Petruchio. Richard Burton is better but not great.
  18. 18.
    Romeo & Juliet starring Hailee Steinfeld
    I'm probably bitter because I wish we'd put this budget into a great Antony and Cleopatra but the world did not need yet another Romeo and Juliet. You could have said the same thing in 1996 but Baz Luhrmann's was innovative. This movie on the other hand is an unoriginal rehash with new faces. I was excited about Steinfeld because she was so amazing in True Grit but she speaks Shakespeare like she's leaving a voicemail. And nobody else was much better.
  19. 19.
    Antony and Cleopatra directed by Charlton Heston
    It is a tragedy of modern film that this play, which to me is arguably Shakespeare's greatest work, has no decent film version. This is the only movie on this list that I'll say this about: it is unwatchably terrible. The central conceit of the story is the overwhelming attraction between the two lovers and Heston and Neil have negative chemistry. If I had Bill Gates money I would pay whatever it takes for a quality film of this play.