This month would have been William Shakespeare’s 456th birthday. His plays have been adapted hundreds of times by artists around the world, many of whose works have since wound up online. So whether you’re looking to celebrate his contributions to society — or just need a break from reality shows — here are 10 such films available to stream right now. (Note: Many great, older adaptations are available as rentals.)
‘10 Things I Hate About You’
(1999) Streaming on Disney Plus, “10 Things I Hate About You” is among the most beloved teen rom-com take on a Shakespeare play — in this case, “The Taming of the Shrew.” The modern-day retelling centers on Padua High School students Kat (Julia Stiles) and Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik), whose father won’t let Bianca date until Kat does. To get around this, Bianca’s wannabe suitor, Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), pays the school rebel, Patrick (Heath Ledger), to sweep the stubborn Kat off her feet. The film was career-changing for its young actors, particularly Gordon-Levitt, Ledger and Stiles.
(2019) Streaming on Netflix, “The King” is David Michôd’s dour take on Shakespeare’s “Henry” plays. While the overall film received mixed reviews, Michôd made a smart choice in casting the very watchable Timothée Chalamet in the lead role of Prince Hal. But the most memorable casting decision was Robert Pattinson as the Dauphin of France, who taunts his English rival in an over-the-top accent.
(2017) Streaming on Hulu, “Lady Macbeth” is a great choice for those who have come to love Florence Pugh after her Oscar-nominated role in “Little Women” (or, depending on who you ask, her Oscar-snubbed turn in “Midsommar”). The Shakespeare connection is distant, as “Lady Macbeth” is actually an adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novella, which itself was only inspired by the play. But Pugh’s cunning protagonist, who is trapped in a loveless marriage, recalls the Bard’s own creations.
‘The Lion King’
(1994) Streaming on Disney Plus, “The Lion King” is a timeless reimagining of “Hamlet.” We probably don’t need to say much more, other than to recommend you watch this version over last year’s live-action remake.
(2015) Streaming on Amazon, “Macbeth” thrives on the striking presences of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, who play the couple plagued by paranoia after usurping the Scottish throne. Fassbender seems an obvious choice for the role, Cotillard perhaps less so — which Variety critic Guy Lodge pointed to while praising her “exhilarating” performance, which he added “deserves to be viewed as near-definitive.”
‘The Merchant of Venice’
(2004) Streaming on HBO, Michael Radford’s film is one of few on-screen adaptations of “The Merchant of Venice.” It stars heavyweights Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino as the titular merchant, Antonio, and the Jewish moneylender Shylock, who states he is owed a pound of flesh if his loan is not repaid.
(1995) Streaming on Amazon, “Richard III” relocates to 1930s Britain, where Richard (Ian McKellan) is a fascist trying to usurp the throne after a fictional civil war ends with his older brother as king. The film was based on a stage production also starring McKellan and added several notable names to the on-screen cast, including Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey Jr., Kristin Scott Thomas and Maggie Smith.
‘Romeo + Juliet’
(1996) Streaming on Hulu’s Starz add-on, “Romeo + Juliet” joins Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 adaptation in still being a staple of high school classrooms across the country. While director Baz Luhrmann stuck to Shakespearean dialogue, the film takes place in contemporary society and replaces swords with guns. The Montagues and Capulets are rival mafia families, and the depicted romance between their children, Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Juliet (Claire Danes), did wonders for each actor’s burgeoning career.
‘Shakespeare in Love’
(1998) Streaming on Hulu’s Showtime add-on, “Shakespeare in Love” isn’t an adaptation but a fictionalized account of Shakespeare’s (Joseph Fiennes) life while writing “Romeo and Juliet” that alludes to many of his plays, whether through characters or specific lines. The film earned Gwyneth Paltrow an Oscar, which she won for playing Viola de Lesseps, a merchant’s daughter with whom Shakespeare has an affair.
‘Much Ado About Nothing’
(1993) Streaming on Vudu, Kenneth Branagh’s version of “Much Ado About Nothing” is said to be one of the most successful Shakespeare adaptations ever made — a lengthy list that includes several others also directed by and starring Branagh. This film benefits greatly from his chemistry with then-wife Emma Thompson, as well as the other talents involved: Robert Sean Leonard, Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves.