The Internet Movie Database credits Shakespeare as the writer on 1787 films, 42 of which have yet to be released.
First up is 1935’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, featuring Olivia de Havilland, Jimmy Cagney, Dick Powell, and, in the role of Puck, a 15-year-old Mickey Rooney, hailed by the New York Times as “one of the major delights” of the film, and Variety as “so intent on being cute that he becomes almost annoying.”
Tragedies dominate, with no fewer than six Hamlets, Shakespeare’s most filmed work, and “one of the most fascinating and most thankless tasks in show business” according to novelist and frequent film critic James Agee:
There can never be a definitive production of a play about which no two people in the world can agree. There can never be a thoroughly satisfying production of a play about which so many people feel so personally and so passionately. Very likely there will never be a production good enough to provoke less argument than praise.
MacBeth, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, and The Tempest – a comedy – are other crowd-pleasing workhorses, chewy assignments for actors and directors alike.
Those with a taste for deeper cuts will appreciate the inclusion of Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus (2011), Branagh’s Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000) and Titus, Julie Taymor’s 1999 adaptation of Shakespeare’s most shocking bloodbath.
Moviegoing connoisseurs of the Bard may feel moved to stump for films that didn’t make the playlist. If you can find a trailer for it, go for it! Lobby the Shakespeare Network on its behalf, or make your case in the comments.
We’ll throw our weight behind Michael Almereyda’s Cymbeline, featuring Ed Harris roaring down the porch steps of a dilapidated Brooklyn Victorian on a motorcycle, the bizarre Romeo.Juliet pairing A-list British vocal talent with an all-feline line-up of Capulets and Montagues, and Shakespeare Behind Bars, a 2005 documentary following twenty incarcerated men who spent nine months delving into The Tempest prior to a production for guards, fellow inmates, and invited guests.
Enjoy the complete playlist of Shakespeare film trailers below. They move from 1935 to 2021.
– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.