As both a high school drama kid and a college English major, I have been exposed to a fair amount of Shakespeare. William Shakespeare wrote 38 plays during his time, according to The Royal Shakespeare Company, and while some are much harder to get through than others (like what is “Cymbeline” about, really?), most prove to be compelling and absurdist insights into humanity.

We also lean upon Shakespeare in many modern works today. A few Shakespearean tropes have been played to death (how many times must we rewatch a story about two star-crossed lovers?), but some are used to add nuance and depth to new stories.

But oftentimes, nothing compares to the original. Some of William Shakespeare’s works best shine on stage; others are just as impactful on screen.

For those who haven’t seen the Bard’s work performed live, here are the top 10 Shakespeare film adaptations — plus a few honorable mentions.

Honorable mentions

While these films aren’t Shakespeare adaptations per se, they are all heavily inspired by tropes and plot points in specific Shakespearean plays.

‘Kiss Me Kate’ (1953)

Out of the dozens and dozens of Howard Keel’s movie musicals — yes, including “Showboat,” “Annie Get Your Gun” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” — “Kiss Me Kate” is by far my favorite. Two Broadway stars, Lilli (Kathryn Grayson) and Fred (Keel), agree to star in a musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew.”

As is expected for a 1950s musical rom-com, hijinks, interspersed with wonderful musical numbers, ensue.

‘Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead’ (1990)

Based on the play of the same name, “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” follows two tiny, practically inconsequential characters from “Hamlet”: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Once childhood friends of Hamlet, they fall under the influence of the king and plot against their childhood friend.

In the film, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are transported to the world of “Hamlet” after conversing with a troupe of actors. Finding themselves as key players, the two bumble their way through the plot of “Hamlet” before coming to their unavoidable demise.

‘Warm Bodies’ (2013)

“Romeo and Juliet” meets ... zombies? If that sounds preposterous, then you haven’t given “Warm Bodies” a watch. In a loose retelling of “Romeo and Juliet,” the film follows R (Nicholas Hoult), a freely-thinking zombie in the midst of the zombie apocalypse.

R spends his time shuffling around, nonsensically moaning and, of course, eating brains, until he meets Julie — a living woman who gets his dead heart beating.

‘Gnomeo & Juliet’ (2011)

If you’re looking for a family-friendly movie with just a touch of Shakespeare, look no further than “Gnomeo & Juliet.” The film follows the titular characters, both garden gnomes belonging to feuding neighbors, Miss Montague and Mr. Capulet. Gnomeo (James MacAvoy) belongs to the blue gnomes and Juliet (Emily Blunt) belongs to the red gnomes.

The film is both cute and surprisingly clever, taking heavy inspiration from its source material, “Romeo and Juliet.” William Shakespeare, voiced by Patrick Stewart, even makes a brief appearance in statue form.

The 10 best Shakespeare adaptations

10. ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (1999)

Upon reading “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in my eighth grade language arts class, I was so enamored with the play that I named my gerbil Demetrius. All these years later, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” still delights — and the 1999 film version is equally delightful.

The film is a lovely, enchanted adaptation of the play. It follows the tangled lovers’ web faithfully, orchestrated by Puck’s (Stanley Tucci) carelessness: Titiania (Michelle Pfeiffer) falls for Bottom (Kevin Kline); Hermia (Anna Friel), promised to Demetrius (Christian Bale), loves Lysander (Dominic West); Demetrius, once Helena’s (Calista Flockhart) lover, loves Hermia; but both Lysander and Demetrius, once under the effect of a love potion, fall in love with Helena.

It’s a muddled mess that is quickly and easily resolved. But watching it all unfold is good fun.

9. ‘The Lion King’ (1994)

While not a direct, faithful adaptation, “The Lion King” gets quite a lot of its source material from “Hamlet.” This beloved Disney classic follows the play’s basic premise: Simba’s father, Mufasa, is killed by his brother, Scar. Scar takes over the kingdom. Simba meets up with Timon and Pumbaa, the film’s answer for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

This time around, this Disney-fied version of “Hamlet” is (unsurprisingly) sans death. Instead, the film opts for iconic music, much of which is written by Elton John. It won the Oscar for best music for a reason.

8. ‘Hamlet’ (2009)

“Hamlet” is Shakespeare’s most-filmed play, reaching over 50 film adaptations in 2013, according to With so many actors taking on interpretations of the title character, David Tennant’s portrayal of Hamlet in 2009 might be the most accurate.

Originally on the stage and later adapted to film, 2009’s “Hamlet” might be a small-budget, made-for-TV film, but it’s powerful nonetheless. The film includes Patrick Stewart as Claudius, one of the many foils to Tennant’s charismatic and witty Hamlet.

Many portrayals lean into Hamlet’s mournfulness; Tennant embraces him as charismatic and clever. Both eventually become masks for despair, which turns to melancholy, which turns to madness. Tennant plays Hamlet as particularly manic — it begins as calculating, but in the end, we question whether it is authentic.

Shakespeare actor alumni Stewart is unsurprisingly imposing and calculating as Claudius. The two are surrounded by an impressive and talented cast, making this version a compelling adaptation.

7. ‘She’s the Man’ (2006)

“Twelfth Night” meets high school meets soccer in this witty and slapstick teen comedy. Think it won’t work? Think again. Since its release in 2006, “She’s the Man” has created a cult-like following among teens and adults alike.

The movie follows Viola (Amanda Bynes), a devoted soccer player on her high school’s girls soccer team. When the team gets cut — and when Viola gets antagonized by her ex-boyfriend when he says that girls aren’t as good at sports as boys — she takes matters into her own hands.

Posing as her twin brother Sebastian, she takes his place at a boarding school, intent on making the boys soccer team. There she rooms with Duke (Channing Tatum), the school’s soccer team captain, and works to prove herself.

This modern take on “Twelfth Night” works particularly well, especially as a teen comedy. Bynes’ often over-the-top, comedic delivery of her lines have cemented the film into cult status.

6. ‘Macbeth’ (2010)

When I was in my early 20s, on a study abroad trip to England, I saw “Macbeth” performed at the Globe Theatre. While it wasn’t my favorite, seeing it performed live quickly raised it among my personal ranks of favorite Shakespearean plays.

Many adaptations, all varying in bloodiness, have tackled the tale of the Scottish king. But 2010’s modernized version remains my favorite. As a daughter of two avid “Star Trek” fans, I have always held a deep appreciation for Patrick Stewart. Stewart plays a blood-soaked, militant Macbeth. Kate Fleetwood is a powerful Lady Macbeth.

Choosing to set “Macbeth” in what seems to be 1950s wartime is especially sinister. The three witches aren’t knobbly hags, but aproned war nurses. The sets are stark and sterile. It all culminates chillingly and it feels like the audience itself is being dragged down with Macbeth on his decent to madness.

5. ‘Coriolanus’ (2011)

Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in 2011’s “Coriolanus,” set in a modern-day Rome. The cast includes other heavy-hitters, such as Gerard Butler as Gullus Aufidus, Brian Cox as Menenius, Jessica Chastain as Virgilia and more.

This tragedy follows Roman leader Caius Marcius Coriolanus as he catapults himself to his disastrous end. Caius is fighting the Volscians, a nearby enemy of Rome, while juggling civil unrest, dwindling food supplies and more. In the midst of it all he leaves for Corioles, joining the fight against the enemy.

When he is victorious, he is honorarily called “Coriolanus” and returns home. Obviously, not all will end victorious for our hero, who is ironically fighting for a Rome full of citizens he can’t hide his contempt for.

The film is rated R for violence, gore and multiple war scenes.

4. ‘West Side Story’ (1961)

Based off the broadway musical of the same name, “West Side Story” is a modern “Romeo and Juliet” based in New York City in the ’50s. The film follows the Jets, native New Yorkers, and the Sharks, a group of Puerto Ricans. Tony (Richard Beymer), previously belonging to the Jets, meets Maria (Natalie Wood), the sister of the leader of the Sharks, at a dance. Fatal sparks fly.

“West Side Story,” besides having gorgeous musical numbers and dazzling dance sequences, adds additional layers to “Romeo and Juliet” that the original text didn’t have — the film touches on immigration, racism, police brutality and much more. It makes the story feel especially relevant: even set in the 1950s, it covers issues that are still prevalent today.

3. ‘10 Things I Hate About You’ (1999)

From the same screenwriting duo that created “She’s the Man” comes another Shakespearean adaptation packaged as an iconic and beloved teen flick. “10 Things I Hate About You” is a surprisingly faithful modernization of “The Taming of the Shrew,” now set in a 1990s Seattle high school.

The story follows two sisters, the shrewish Kat (Julia Stiles) and the popular Bianca (Larisa Oleynik). When new student Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) expresses interest in Bianca, his friend Michael (David Krumholtz) warns him that the sisters’ overprotective father has a rule: Bianca isn’t allowed to date until Kat does. Intent on winning Bianca over, the two enlist the dangerous and mysterious Patrick (Heath Ledger) to win Kat’s heart.

Unsurprisingly, Ledger is perfectly swoony as the curly-haired Patrick. Paired with Stiles’ sourness, it feels particularly rewarding when the two finally, warmly open up to each other.

2. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (2021)

Originally meant for the stage, 2021’s “Romeo & Juliet” was forced to film in the midst of the pandemic. The result is as intimate as it is powerful — cut down to 90 minutes (the original runs for roughly three hours), the play was filmed in 17 days and is entirely on a stripped down stage.

Everyone knows the story of “Romeo and Juliet” — a trope that has been played half to death. But a powerful and skilled cast, paired with stripped down scenery, gorgeous close ups and creative directing, breathes new life into the tale.

Leading the helm are Jessie Buckley as Juliet and Josh O’Connor as Romeo. Their love is fearful, passionate and completely entrancing. Both play their characters with intensity, forgoing the soap-opera-ness that can be easy to fall into. The two are young and in love and desperate to escape, but gravely — not melodramatically — so.

Shakespeare purists will find many faults with this adaptation — Lady Capulet (Tamsin Greig) is given many lines that were originally meant for her husband and some lines are cut out altogether — but this version injects fresh feeling into a well-worn story.

1. ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (1993)

“Much Ado About Nothing” is my personal favorite Shakespearean play — and the 1993 film is my favorite adaptation. This film has a star-studded cast: Kenneth Branagh as Benedick, Emma Thompson as Beatrice, as well as Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Michael Keaton, Robert Sean Leonard, Kate Beckinsale and much more.

“Much Ado About Nothing” centers around Benedick and Beatrice, two enemies sparring with witty words and clever quips. Their friends decide to play a trick on the both: to convince them that the other is in love with them. Meanwhile, trouble brews. Don John plots against Don Pedro, his half brother, and Claudio by stopping his wedding to Hero.

Thompson and Branagh have excellent chemistry — which makes sense, considering that they were married — and they both have practically perfect comedic timing.

Beyond being incredibly well-acted, the film is beautiful to watch. The actresses are in flowing white dresses, the actors in white military jackets. And the Italian countryside is as much on display as the cast — the cast of characters flounce around an Italian estate, surrounded by lush greenery.

It should be noted that “Much Ado About Nothing” is PG-13 for brief, nonsexual nudity and mild sexuality.