Last week, I did my list of school movies and was chastised (rightly so) for my failure to include a couple of all-time favorites. I would say that doing so was a deliberate choice on my part to save them for this list, but I would be lying. A long-time friend and fan of this site suggested that I include those on a list of modernized film adaptations of classic literature. This made sense, of course, since the films in question are, in fact, adaptations of earlier works. So, that’s what I’m doing. Are you ready for this?
11. Scotland, PA (2001)
Scotland, PA is a fun, odd movie. It’s an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth starring James Le Gros and Maura Tierney. It also features the ever-weird Christopher Walken. It’s all about the attempts to build a fast food empire in 1970’s Pennsylvania. Just roll with it. There’s murder, mayhem, and loads of dark humor. What else could one ask for?
10. She’s the Man (2006)
Shakespeare’s work is ridiculously popular when it comes to adaptations. She’s the Man is a blatant adaptation of the bard’s Twelfth Night. It tells the story of Viola (Amanda Bynes), a girl who just wants to play soccer at a school who’s just cut the girl’s soccer team. So, she does what anyone would do: dress in drag and impersonate her sibling in order to get a spot on his school’s soccer team. Of course, that puts her into contact with the handsome Duke (Channing Tatum). All sorts of shenanigans happen from then on out using the tropes of love and mistaken identities. I think Shakespeare would have been amused by what they did with his work.
9. Cruel Intentions (1998)
Cruel Intentions is an adaptation of Les Liaisons dangereuses, an 18th century novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. While it is no stranger to the screen, I doubt anyone could have foreseen it being adapted into a tale of love, sex, and betrayal among a bunch of bored prep school students. Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her step-brother, Sebastian (Ryan Philippe), take it upon themselves to toy with and manipulate the fellow students in their circle. The results are mixed and some of the consequences are definitely unintended. It was an edgy movie for its time and quite a good adaptation of its source material.
8. Rent (2005)
I was in theater in high school. Back then, Rent was almost seen as the be-all, end-all of musical theater productions. It spoke to some disaffected part of our teenaged experience. That said, it’s an adaptation of Puccini’s opera, La Bohème. There’s love, there’s singing, there’s arguing, there’s the not paying of rent. While the movie did generate some controversy and doesn’t really hold up well compared to its stage production, the fact that they were able to get most of the original Broadway cast involved is kind of amazing. Love it or hate it, you’ve got to admit that some of the songs are ridiculously catchy.
7. Scrooged (1988)
Well, it’s no secret that Scrooged is an adaptation of the great Christmas classic by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. That story has seen so many adaptations over the years, live-action and animated. Heck, even Disney’s direct-to-DVD Springtime With Roo is an adaptation of that work. Now, back to Scrooged. It’s about a heartless TV executive played wonderfully by Bill Murray and the attempts of various figures to change his mind about the holiday. It features some fantastic comic performances and will warm your heart by the end.
6. West Side Story (1961)
And we’ve come back to Shakespearean adaptations with West Side Story. You can say that a lot of romances are built upon a foundation of Romeo and Juliet. One of my more recent favorites is Warm Bodies, but West Side Story was the movie and musical that blazed the trail that all others could follow. Taking the story out of Italy and putting it on the streets of New York with rival gangs and cultural differences makes so much sense. While it still ends sadly, I’d argue that it’s happier than the original. So, there’s that.
5. Clueless (1995)
There is only one other author whose works are adapted almost as frequently as Shakespeare’s and that is Jane Austen. Clueless is an adaptation of her novel, Emma. This movie is so very 90’s but somehow a timeless tale of the well-meaning Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and her efforts to improve the lives of those nearest and dearest to her. As I said, she means well but sometimes things just don’t turn out the way she expects. That’s half of the fun, really. As if.
4. “Frankenstein, M.D.” (2014 – )
What, what? Tegan! You can’t include an on-going web series on your lists? This is madness! Well, madness is one of the neat underlying themes in this collaboration between Pemberly Digital and PBS Digital. “Frankenstein, M.D.” is a fantastic adaptation and update of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. Victoria Frankenstein (Anna Lore) is a driven young scientist seeking knowledge and trying to prove herself in her male-dominated field. There may also be that thing with the bringing people back from the dead. I love how they’ve handled everything so far and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here. They’re only 17 episodes in right now. They’re short episodes. Have you started watching them yet? Go watch them. Now.
3. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Bridget Jones’s Diary is a clear adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The main hero is named Darcy and he happens to be played by the man who really got heartbeats a-flutter as Darcy in 1995’s TV adaptation of the same work, Colin Firth. Genius casting, right? It’s a great movie all about Bridget’s (Renee Zellweger) quest to find love and happiness. It’s all documented in her humorous diary.
2. “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” (2012 – 2013?)
Another web series? Really? Yes. Really. I want to say that “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” was really what showed the depth and versatility of the web series. It’s, of course, another adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Lizzie (Ashley Clements) is a grad student who lives at home with her two sisters and occasionally clueless parents. Throughout the 100+ episodes, we get to watch as the Bennet sisters and their friends find their paths in life and, in some cases, find love as well. It’s a landmark web series that you can still watch on YouTube. You should do yourself a favor and check it out.
1. 10 Things I Hate About You
This is why I have this list. I had a bit of a revolt on my hands for not including 10 Things I Hate About You on my last list. To be honest, I’m kind of ashamed that it wasn’t there myself because this is, hands-down, one of my most favorite high school movies of all time. A brilliant, witty adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, it features great comedic performances from actors who’d go on to do some pretty amazing things. This movie gave us Heath Ledger singing on high school bleachers. It gave us Joseph Gordon-Levitt mangling French. It gave us David Krumholtz getting a dick drawn on his face. It also gave us some fantastic quotes and great laugh out loud moments. Watch it. Now.