6 Shakespeare-inspired teen movies, ranked
All high school’s a stage…
…and all the jocks and mean girls merely players. From the same school of filmmaking that brought us Clueless and Cruel Intentions, we picked out six high school movies that take their plots straight out of English class — but this time, all from Shakespeare. So, to see, or not to see? If that is the question, check out our ranking of the best and worst Bard-based high school flicks.
6. Just One of the Guys (1985)
If the near-identical titles didn’t tip you off, Just One of the Guys shares its inspiration with She’s the Man. It lacks the later film’s charm, however, and if not for the basic premise of a girl passing for a boy, would bear almost no resemblance to Twelfth Night whatsoever.
Joyce Hyser stars as Terry (originally Viola), an aspiring journalist who believes her male teachers don’t take her seriously because she’s so attractive. So she enrolls in another school, disguised as a boy, in order to be taken seriously, as one does. Terry falls for her new male best friend, just like Viola, but the romantic conflict is diluted when Just One of the Guys splits the third point of the love triangle into two different characters. As a high school rom-com, it’s perfectly sufficient, if fairly bland and unconvincing (and very, very ‘80s); as a Shakespeare adaptation, it cuts all the clever devices and makes no reference, however subtle, to the source material.
5. Get Over It (2001)
The course of high school never did run smooth, so this reimagining of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which a love-crossed group of teenagers star in a musical production of — what else? — A Midsummer Night’s Dream, seems, at least, like a good idea. The let’s-put-on-a-show plot cleverly combines the play’s group of young lovers with its theatrically inclined mechanicals, but for the most part, Get Over It falls as flat as the wall through which Pyramus and Thisbe whisper.
As for the fairies, the final piece of Midsummer’s three-part cast, you might say that the Bard himself stands in for the mischievous Puck: Though he goes unseen, it is his brilliant magic that puts everyone under a spell. This is shallowly expressed, however; Get Over It invokes its source material in only the most basic, literal way, and the sharp wit and sense of wonder that make Midsummer one of Shakespeare’s most charming comedies are largely absent. We find ourselves saying, for all the wrong reasons, lord — what fools these mortals be!
4. O (2001)
It might have been jealousy that did Othello in, but this adaptation of his tragic tale shares its fatal flaw with Macbeth: O, a heavy teen drama which recasts Othello as a basketball star at a conservative prep school, is an overly ambitious but well-intentioned attempt to examine violence, racial tensions, and the pressure to succeed among high school students (while also bringing the classics to teenagers!).
Where some of the comedies on this list only breezily allude to the plays on which they’re based, O transposes the tragedy of the Moor of Venice perhaps too literally, shoehorning the Shakespeare plot into the contemporary setting. Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, and Julia Stiles are compelling as the high-school analogues of Othello, Iago, and Desdemona, respectively, but as Othello (called Odin here) spirals out of control, the contrivances become too much to ignore. As the story rockets toward its tragic conclusion, Odin's fury is lazily justified with drug use as a device to keep O faithful to its inspiration. It undermines the genius of Othello, however, for the hero to break under the influence of anything more than Iago’s manipulation — and the green-eyed monster.
3. She's the Man (2006)
If soccer be the sport of love, play on: She’s the Man takes Twelfth Night to a fancy prep school, where Amanda Bynes plays a girl passing as a boy in order to play soccer and prove that she’s good enough to defeat her ex-boyfriend’s chauvinistic team. It’s completely ridiculous, unbelievable, and shallow, but Bynes, affecting a ridiculous, unbelievable, and shallow brand of masculinity, carries it off with impressive grace.
She’s the Man takes almost all of its locations’ and character’s names directly from Twelfth Night, but just one of Shakespeare’s immortal lines: naturally, the oft-quoted “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them,” worked in somewhat awkwardly as a pre-soccer pep talk. Twelfth Night was born great; She’s the Man, sticking faithfully to the hilariously convoluted intrigues of the original play, almost has some of that greatness thrust upon it.
2. Romeo + Juliet (1996)
True, Romeo and Juliet is already about teenagers, and Baz Luhrmann’s colorful 1996 version uses the play’s original language, making it the most straightforward adaptation on this list. Luhrmann’s MTV take on Shakespeare’s most famous romantic tragedy, however — not to mention the casting of mid-‘90s heartthrob du jour Leonardo DiCaprio — firmly places the film in the teen movie pantheon. (But what’s in a genre? That which we call a rom-com by any other name would smell as sweet…)
This hyper-stylized Romeo + Juliet moves at hyper-speed, its breakneck pace sweeping the audience up into the play’s heady romance and shocking violence in a whirlwind of jump cuts. Gorgeous as the movie is to look at, however, the effect can be dizzying. It is DiCaprio and his Juliet, Claire Danes, that carry the movie more than the bold music-video aesthetic does, and it’s in one of their quietest moments that R + J makes its greatest, most devastating contribution to the Bard’s beloved tragedy: Juliet wakes from her false death just in time to see Romeo swallow his poison, and the lovers both register what’s happened — and what they’ve lost — before the true apothecary’s drugs prove quick. Never was a story of more woe.
1. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
The best teen movie to borrow from Shakespeare takes its plot from The Taming of the Shrew — arguably one of his lesser works, and with some of the most questionable gender politics from a playwright whose portrayal of women was typically so far ahead of his time. But the marriage of lowbrow genre and relatively weak (but hey, it’s still Shakespeare) source material is inspired: The former’s tropes and the latter’s wit both fill in where the other half of the equation lacks.
The “curst shrew” Katherine gets a feminist update in Julia Stiles’ “heinous bitch” Kat; Katherine’s infamous “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper” speech, proof of her “taming,” is replaced by Kat’s now-iconic “I hate the way you talk to me” poem, a sincere expression of feeling rather than confirmation of conformity. Between the movie’s sneaky Shakespeare references and literary heroine, its pitch-perfect late-‘90s alternative soundtrack, and a young Heath Ledger, never more charming (especially when he serenades Stiles from the stands of a football stadium with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”), there are way more than 10 things we love about 10 Things I Hate About You.