Adaptations of Romeo and Juliet: The Snubbed, the Underrated, and the Surprise


Shakespeare’s plays have endured centuries in the public mind. Theatre and film adaptations alike have retold Shakespearean tales to the point where they are sometimes unrecognizable to the untrained eye. Some people still gasp when they are told that The Lion King was based on Hamlet, that 10 Things I Hate About You was based on The Taming of the Shrew, that She’s the Man was a retelling of Twelfth Night, so on and so forth. Contrastingly, there are critics who recognize the Bard’s influence and hold movie adaptations up to the standard of West Side Story, or even higher. Finally, there’s me, a hopeless romantic in quarantine who just wants an enjoyable retelling of Romeo and Juliet. The following three movies are adaptations that either flew under the radar, are laughable until you give them a chance, or hid their similarities to the original so well that the reveal might surprise a viewer.


The Snubbed: Romeo & Juliet (2013)

This is the truest adaptation on the list. Romeo & Juliet received low ratings mostly because of a lack of heat and chemistry. The New York Times calls it an “old-fashioned adaptation that follows the play’s general outline without ever rising to the passionate intensity of its star-cross’d crazy kids.” Yet, there are many gems in this movie, one of them being its star-studded cast. Golden Globe Winner and Academy Award Nominee Paul Giamatti was cast as Friar Lawrence, and Ed Westwick – aka Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl – was cast as Tybalt. The film stars Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet and Douglas Booth as Romeo. During filming, the actors’ ages were a lot closer to the intended ages of their characters, unlike many other adaptations like Romeo + Juliet where they were both adults. Additionally, this live-action version of the classic tale is visually stunning and true to the time period in both art design and language. Most of the dialogue is taken directly from the play with little to no colloquialisms. The film was shot in Italy, switching between Mantua, Rome, and even Verona, where the play was originally set. The architecture of the old buildings makes for gorgeous backdrops, and the actors’ costumes and actions stand out in front of them.

Romeo & Juliet is free with ads on YouTube if you would like to give it a chance.

The Underrated: Gnomeo and Juliet (2011)

I picture this one as a My First Shakespeare kind of movie since it’s a fun, wildly entertaining version of the classic tale that you can watch with children. The story is retold through garden gnomes living in the backyards of feuding neighbors, Mr. Capulet and Miss Montague. Part of the amusement in this story – besides the lawnmower races and absolutely everything about Featherstone, the lawn flamingo – is the soundtrack, which features many of Elton John’s biggest hits. Due to its silliness, this movie is not taken very seriously and might cause some embarrassment for a fan. However, the amount of creativity that went into this movie and the cleverness behind the humor redeem it. For instance, the only other adaptation that incorporates Shakespeare himself – as a talking statue or otherwise – was Shakespeare in Love. Similarly, few adaptations decide to include the Nurse as a main character, sometimes removing her from the story altogether. Gnomeo and Juliet not only kept the character, but they made her a source of constant humor, which was one of her traits in the play. My favorite part of the movie is the beginning, where a gnome reads the actual prologue to Romeo and Juliet word for word, though he is rudely and comically interrupted.

The Surprise: The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (1998)

My best friend loves The Lion King but she was surprised to find out that it was based on Hamlet. Imagine her shock when I told her the sequel was yet another Shakespearean adaptation. For those of you who are not as familiar with the direct-to-video sequel, Simba’s Pride follows Kiara, Simba’s daughter, as she disobeys her father’s orders and ventures into the Outlands. There she meets another cub, Kovu. Unbeknownst to Kiara, Kovu’s mother plans to overthrow Simba and crown Kovu as king of Pride Rock. Against all odds, Kiara and Kovu fall in love. Their dueling families and the prejudice that each side has against the other mirrors Romeo and Juliet nicely. The movie climaxes during a gruesome battle between the Outsiders and Simba’s lionesses, only to be interrupted by the young protagonists and their love for one another.

Bonus: The Case of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)

I have admittedly dismissed this adaptation for overly modernizing and Americanizing the classic tale. This version twists the drama into a Hollywood action movie, with blazing guns and car chases. The strangest part is that despite all of the modernization, the characters still use old English. If the characters’ vocabulary had also been modernized to match the post-modern Californian setting, then the movie might have been less convoluted and easier to enjoy. Doing so would have rid the script of a lot of great poetry, though. In its defense, this adaptation was bold enough to attempt a drastic re-writing of the play in order to appeal to younger audiences. That drive to introduce Shakespeare to a different audience, regardless of the final product, is admirable.


Since this is such a narrow list, there are many more film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet that I have left out. Is there a fan favorite that deserves its own spot on here? Do you have a passionate argument in favor of Leo DiCaprio’s version? Even further, is there a film inspired by the Bard’s other works that you would like others to know about? Feel free to reach out to one of the ASLC’s social media accounts and let us know!

Written by: Isabella Massardi | Instagram

Art by: Amanda Rivera | Instagram | Twitter