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All the modern adaptations of Shakespeare plays

Hailey Bachrach
Hailey Bachrach

Pretty much ever since Shakespeare’s plays first came out, people have remixed and reimagined them. In the 1700s, this often took the form of changing the sad endings into happy ones — and these days, it can mean anything from changing the setting, adding songs, or imagining the process of putting on one of the plays. Here’s a list of some of the best modern adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays.

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& Juliet

& Juliet remixes Romeo and Juliet with the pop hits of the ‘90s and 2000s to tell the story of what might have happened if Juliet had gone on a road trip journey of self-discovery instead of dying. I didn’t know I needed to hear Juliet sing “Oops… I Did It Again”… but now don’t you need it, too?

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Bollywood Queen

Another take on Romeo and Juliet, this 2003 film pairs up Geena (Priya Kalidas) and Jay (James McAvoy), who are kept apart by cultural differences between their Indian and British families. In true Bollywood fashion, our leads sing their hearts out as they dance through the streets of ‘00s East London. Pair it with the more famous Romeo + Juliet for a full turn-of-the-century flashback night.

Coriolanus

Though this 2011 adaptation uses Shakespeare’s original text, it’s very much set in the present, imagining Ralph Fiennes’s Coriolanus and Gerard Butler’s Aufidius as 21st-century soldiers. An excellent version of a rarely performed play, you’ll be grateful for the chance to check out this surprisingly topical story.

Fat Ham

Like Shakespeare before him, playwright James Ijames is destined for greatness, as his play Fat Ham won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize. This Hamlet adaptation flips Shakespeare’s text on its head — there’s still a young man tasked with avenging his father’s murder, but this time it’s a Black, queer college kid at a Southern barbecue who’s not too eager for violence. This version is also comedic, disco-infused, and filled with roasts, the verbal kind and the grilled kind.

Get Over It

This 2001 take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream follows the tangled love lives of a group of teenagers trying to put on a musical version of Shakespeare’s play. Way less well-known than Ten Things I Hate About You and She’s The Man, which came out around the same time, and it deserves to claim its place in the teen Shakespeare trifecta.

Kiss Me, Kate!

Both a stage musical and a film, Kiss Me, Kate! adapts The Taming of the Shrew on two levels, as a Kate-and-Petruchio-like couple squabble while attempting to put on a new version of The Taming of the Shrew. Full of backstage hijinks and some great numbers, it takes a bit of the sting out of this problematic play.

My Own Private Idaho

Starring a very young Keanu Reeves, this 1991 movie loosely reimagines Shakespeare’s Henry IV as the story of young hustlers in the Pacific Northwest. A queer cinema classic, this is a film you won’t want to miss, even if the Shakespearean content is more homage than adaptation.

O

This 2001 drama reimagines Othello as the story of a star high-school athlete, sticking pretty closely to the narrative of the original tragedy.

Return to the Forbidden Planet

Not only combining The Tempest and the sci-fi film Forbidden Planet… it’s also a jukebox musical of hits from the ‘50s and ’60s. A truly wacky but delightfully fun take on Shakespeare’s sombre final play.

Scotland, PA

A dark comedy set in a diner in Pennsylvania, this 2001 film imagines the murders and intrigues of Macbeth as the tale of a disgruntled restaurant manager. In 2019, it had its stage debut in musical form, in case you’d prefer to take it in through the medium of song.

She’s the Man

Twelfth Night becomes the story of a girl who disguises herself as her twin brother in order to stay on the school soccer team in this 2006 comedy.

Twelfth Night (Shaina Taub & Kwame Kwei-Armah)

This musical take on Twelfth Night updates the setting of Twelfth Night while retaining most of Shakespeare’s text, but adding a jazzy musical score, which you can find for free online. Taub is a rising star in the musical theatre scene, so you get the added bonus of being able to say you knew her work before she got big.

Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespeare trilogy

Maqbool (2003), Omkara (2006), and Haidar (2014) are adaptations of Macbeth, Othello, and Hamlet respectively. Set in recent and modern-day India, Bhardwaj’s films reimagine Shakespeare’s stories as crime dramas. Some of the most exciting and innovative takes on Shakespeare ever made aren’t in English, and this award-winning trilogy is a terrific starting place.

Were the World Mine

Released in 2008, this film adapts A Midsummer Night’s Dream into the story of a gay boy in a small town who uses magic to make the rest of his school see life through his eyes. Though ultimately light-hearted, it offers a more nuanced, contemporary take on some of the original play’s hazy questions about magic and consent.

West Side Story

One of the most famous takes on Shakespeare ever, a new film version of this musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet as a conflict between teen gangs in 1950s New York City came out in 2021. There are tons of versions of the soundtrack to listen to, but don’t miss the recording of the 2009 Broadway revival, which re-wrote the Puerto Rican gang the Sharks’ songs into Spanish — with lyrics provided by Hamilton superstar composer Lin-Manuel Miranda.

10 Things I Hate About You

Set to an awesome ‘90s indie-rock score, this 1999 teen comedy turns The Taming of the Shrew into a story of high school romance — and delivers the iconic scene of Heath Ledger belting “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” to Julia Stiles from the bleachers.

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