Today marks what would have been Shakespeare's 456th birthday, that is if people lived that long and if he didn't meet a tragic fate like so many of his characters. And while many people associate the works of Willy Shakes with required reading, high school plays, and iambic pentameter, the truth is, there is a slew of movies that take his classic works and spin them into more digestible, relatable, and (dare we say it) fun forms of entertainment.
On top of that, the Shakespeare adaptations that came out in the '90s and '00s happened to star some of the biggest stars of the time, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Stiles, and Mekhi Phifer (not to mention some maybe-forgotten names, like Andrew Keegan — who starred in two movies — and Larisa Oleynik). Here's how you can get a dose of nostalgia and celebrate the Bard of Avon today.
Romeo + Juliet
This 1996 flick may just be the movie that launched a thousand crushes on Leonardo DiCaprio (who'd go on to cement that status in '97's Titanic). Almost everything about this movie became a touchstone for a generation, from the soundtrack to the costuming. Many probably got the chance to see it in theaters for extra credit and an entire generation probably got to see it on a day the English teacher was out and a substitute teacher's plan was to waste an entire period with gunslinging prose and a balcony scene that takes place in a pool.Available on Hulu.
10 Things I Hate About You
1999 was the exact year Shakespeare got cool, thanks to a combination of Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. Director Gil Junger's flick transported the Taming of the Shrew from a dusty old play to a high school romantic comedy, so while die-hard Shakespeare fans knew that it was an adaptation, people could enjoy the hijinks and glossy SoCal vibes without knowing any better. Andrew Keegan, a mainstay of '90s Tiger Beat mags, featured in this flick, too. Available on Disney+.
Deliver Us from Eva
Another take on Taming of the Shrew, this version involves the Los Angeles Health Department, a headstrong Gabrielle Union, and just as many quick one-liners and zings as you'd expect from an updated Shakespearean comedy. Heavy on the romance and comedy, it's a sleeper hit and worth a watch if you're looking for a fresh take on the material without any overt references to English Lit 101. Available to rent on Amazon Prime.
This darker teen flick reunited Julia Stiles with the work of the Bard, giving lit nerds everywhere a crush and (most likely) Stiles one more reason to be typecast away from full-fledged rom-coms. This is the second Keegan flick on the list, too, though he was probably not hoping to make a Kenneth Branagh-style career out of these movies. An adaptation of Othello, this wasn't a cheery, sunny spin on anything, and pit Mekhi Phifer against Josh Hartnett, forcing teenagers everywhere to take sides. Available on Hulu.
This 2000 take on Hamlet takes everything into the corporate world and, yes, it also stars Julia Stiles. Forgettable? Yes. But it gets props for giving Stiles one more Shakesperean credit to her name. Available to rent on Amazon Prime.
The Lion King
In a move nobody was expecting, Disney adapted Shakespeare's Hamlet into an animated film with music by Elton John and a farting warthog. You've all seen it, you all know the word to "Circle of Life," even though it's in Swahili, and everyone's attempted to hold a cat up to the sky like Rafiki.Available on Disney+.
She’s the Man
A comedy about soccer and high school crushes that stars Amanda Bynes's ability to pass as a boy? That's what this Twelfth Night spin is and though it's far from what anyone would call a "good" movie, it's fun, it also stars Channing Tatum, and it's something that is actually "good" after some Chardonnay. Available on Hulu.
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