Every Little Women TV and movie adaptation, ranked
The March sisters on screen
With the Christmas release of Greta Gerwig's new adaptation of of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, we find ourselves overcome with March sister madness — but this isn’t the first time the proto-feminist bildungsroman has hit the big or small screen. See our countdown to the greatest adaptation of the novel ahead.
This gallery was originally published May 13, 2018, and most recently updated Dec. 26, 2019.
DISQUALIFIED: Little Women (2018)
We have admittedly only seen clips of Clare Niederpruem’s 2018 adaptation, but we find the decision to take the tale out of its Civil War setting and place it in the present day utterly baffling. So, for undermining the integrity of the novel, denying us the pleasure of period costumes, and forcing in really awkward soldier-Skype scenes where there ought to have been lovely letter-readings, we hereby disqualify this recent entry into the Little Women cinematic tradition from being ranked.
6. Little Women (1978 miniseries)
We cannot even begin to describe why the 1978 miniseries ranks last, because there is not one thing about it that is not as wrong as can possibly be. There is nothing good to say about this adaptation. The costumes are ridiculous, the ’70s hair is outrageous, every single character is miscast (Professor Bhaer is played by, of all people, William Shatner), and the script is nightmarishly bad. Please, let’s just move on to the next one and try our best to forget about this.
5. Little Women (1949 movie)
Mervyn LeRoy’s 1949 version of the story lacks any of the specificity that makes Alcott’s novel compelling, particularly in its presentation of Jo (June Allyson) as an irritating cliché of a spitfire screwball heroine rather than a genuine original. The film’s saving grace, however, is Elizabeth Taylor as a perfect Amy.
4. Little Women (1933 movie)
Nobody would ever accuse Louisa May Alcott of producing a cold, hard book in Little Women, but George Cukor really laid on the schmaltz in this pre-Code take on the story (without any pre-Code sexiness), which stars four women clearly in their mid-20s as the teenaged March sisters (including a miscast Katharine Hepburn as Jo). However! The legendary director managed to inject a little more fun into it than Mervyn LeRoy did in his remake of this version 16 years later, and what’s Little Women without a little schmaltz?
3. Little Women (2018 miniseries)
The new miniseries, starring Maya Hawke (in her screen debut) as Jo, dutifully checks off the lengthy novel’s greatest hits: the burned manuscript, the ice, the limes, Meg’s solo trip to a fancy party and consequent unnecessary guilt — and looks beautiful. The heavy-handed script and overly theatrical performances, especially from the younger cast, prevent it from being a truly great adaptation, but it’s got charm and sweetness to spare.
2. Little Women (1994 movie)
It's a classic for a reason. Winona Ryder makes a wonderfully winsome Jo, Claire Danes an impossibly sweet Beth, and Christian Bale a perfectly charming Laurie in the beloved film which reigned as the unquestionable best for 25 years. Gillian Armstrong's faithful and straightforward adaptation captures much of the magic of the novel, from the authentic intimacy shared by these March sisters to the warmth of this incarnation of their beloved home. Amid a collection of big old drafty New England houses, this Little Women really is a castle in the sky.
1. Little Women (2019 movie)
In her second directorial effort, Greta Gerwig didn't just adapt the text of a novel, but the book in all its context, investigating the woman and the world that it came from. In doing so, she created the most inventive cinematic rendition yet — while also being more true to the essence of Little Women than a more straightforward retelling could ever be. The inspired casting of Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Timothée Chalamet as Laurie, and Meryl Streep as Aunt March certainly helped, and Florence Pugh, as the most layered and lovable Amy we've ever seen, practically steals the movie. Vital, romantic, and brilliantly modern, Gerwig's film brings Louisa May Alcott into the 21st century, which is clearly where she belonged all along.