The dour Dane gets redone
Movie makers can’t resist Shakespeare as a source for material, and Hamlet has been especially popular over the years. Maybe it’s the fact that the play evokes all of cinema’s favorite themes, including sex, violence, murder, madness, and adultery. To demonstrate the enduring popularity of Shakespeare’s own great Dane, here are ten films that evoke the Prince of Denmark’s dismal drama in different ways, including a few iconic adaptations of the play itself.
1. To Be or Not to Be (1942)
2. Hamlet (1948)
3. The Bad Sleep Well (1960)
4. Strange Brew (1983)
5. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1990)
6. The Lion King (1994)
7. A Midwinter’s Tale (1995)
8. Hamlet (2000)
9. Hamlet 2 (2008)
10. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead (2009)
The Headliner: Hamlet (1948)
Dir. Laurence Olivier
Olivier has long enjoyed fame as one of the greatest interpreters of Shakespeare on film, and his Hamlet represents one of his most enduring performances. The movie won four Oscars in 1949, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Olivier. Jean Simmons plays Ophelia to Olivier’s mad prince, and you’ll also find cult stars like Peter Cushing, Patrick Troughton, and Christopher Lee scattered throughout the cast. If you’re a fan of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, however, this isn’t the film for you, as neither character appears in this adaptation.
The Hidden Gem: The Bad Sleep Well (1960)
Dir. Akira Kurosawa
Hidden gem status is probably a toss-up between this stylish Japanese revision and the WWII comedy, To Be or Not to Be (1942), but Kurosawa’s version gets extra points for its sharp edged modernization. Viewers who only know Kurosawa for his samurai films might be surprised by this dark, modern tale, but Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune stars here as well as in better known works like Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), and Yojimbo (1961).
The Cult Classic: Strange Brew (1983)
Dir. Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas
While Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1990) also lays some claim to this title, Strange Brew is ultimately the weirder picture of the two, wallowing as it does in all its low-budget, Canadian glory. Moranis and Thomas play their SCTV characters, Bob and Doug McKenzie, as latter day versions of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, with a brewery business taking the place of the kingdom of Denmark. Their gender-swapped Hamlet, Pam Elsinore, must reclaim Elsinore Brewery from the clutches of her uncle and the evil Brewmeister, played by none other than the great Max von Sydow. It takes both a warped sense of humor and an appreciation for Hamlet to enjoy the movie thoroughly, but overly literate, beer-loving college students continue to find it hysterical.