8 of the Best Hamlet Movie Adaptations, Ranked

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William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet lends itself perfectly to creative adaptations. The medieval Danish prince delivers eloquent soliloquies and ponders timeless moral questions. Between the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the castle of Elsinore, the murders, the sword fights and Hamlet’s play within a play, there are plenty of opportunities for actors and directors to give a new twist on this classic in the best Hamlet film adaptations.

Even playing the role of Hamlet is an iconic role for actors of all ages and genders. Legendary, 19e The French actress of the century Sarah Bernhardt played it on stage in 1899 and in 1900 at the cinema. Hamlet as a character is believed to be around 30 years old, although many people in their teens and early twenties either relate to him or play him younger. This may be because Hamlet has recently studied at a university, is notoriously unsure of what to do, or many people are reading this for the first time. Hamlet in high school or college. The cast also tends to be very white, but hopefully that will change in the future.

Each approach to the classic game has its pros and cons. And, when actors move from theater to film, they can either act brilliantly or be overly emotional and lose Shakespeare’s humor. The naturalistic style popular in later adaptations, beginning in the 1990s, may be too fast-paced or delivered with a flat inflection.

Hamlet has been adapted for the cinema more than 50 times. So what are the best Hamlet film adaptations? “That is the question.” (Sorry not sorry!)

Our totally subjective ranking of the best Hamlet movie adaptations, from best to worst

1. Hamlet (1996)

Lasting 4 hours, it is one of the only adaptations that uses the full text of Shakespeare’s play. It even dramatizes more scenes that aren’t shown in the play, so some viewers may find it excessive. It has a lavish production design, including a mirror-filled palace. This version stars Kenneth Branagh, also a director, as Hamlet, and Kate Winslet as Ophelia. It should be noted that Branagh’s Hamlet seems more violent towards Ophelia than the other versions.

Black and white photo of Laurence Olivier as Hamlet, holding Yorick's skull

2. Hamlet (1948)

Acclaimed Shakespearean stage and film actor Laurence Olivier starred in and directed this Oscar-winning adaptation. The prologue is moved later in the play. This black and white film uses a spooky gothic castle for Elsinore and eliminates the Fortinbras character.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead movie poster

3. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead

Tom Stoppard directed the 1990 film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, his own absurdist 1966 play. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet’s classmates from Wittenberg University, are spies for King Claudius, who asks them to deliver a letter that would have Hamlet murdered. . Stoppard’s comedy exaggerates certain aspects of Shakespeare’s play. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern may overlook the plot to assassinate Hamlet and are often considered interchangeable. Here they have no idea about everything, even confuse each other’s names.

cover of Ophelia with Daisy Ridley

4. Ophelia

This 2018 film was directed by Claire McCarth, stars Daisy Ridley in the title role, and has a haunting soundtrack by Steven Price. It was based on the 2008 novel Ophelia by Lisa M. Klein. As this BR 2020 article says, Ophelia has more agency in this reimagining. Ophelia’s lack of agency and sometimes underdeveloped story arc are frequent feminist critiques of other versions of the story.

Ethan Hawke on the Hamlet 2000 movie poster

5. Hamlet (2000)

Michael Almereyda wrote and directed this film, which stars Ethan Hawke as Hamlet – here, a film student from New York. Julia Stiles, who had recently starred in the Shakespeare-inspired romantic comedy 10 things i hate about you, plays Ophelia, and Bill Murray is Polonius. Only four years after Baz Luhrmann Romeo + Julietit also uses modern technology, styles and fast line readings.

1969 Richardson Hamlet film poster

6. Hamlet (1969)

Tony Richardson’s film adaptation is minimalist compared to other versions of the time. The castle ramparts are simple brick walls and a light represents the ghost. Anthony Hopkins plays Claudius in a lead role. Despite Hopkins’ great acting as always, I find the production a bit stuffy overall.

Hamlet 1990 movie poster

seven. Hamlet (1990)

Franco Zeffirelli was known for his traditional 1968 film about Romeo and Juliet. This seriously abridged version of Hamlet has an excellent cast, including Mel Gibson in the title role, Glenn Close as Queen Gertrude and Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia. Some critics believe this version plays a possible Oedipal subtext between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude. Putting the “to be or not to be” soliloquy in a crypt is a great choice. (Note: I considered excluding this version because Mel Gibson is so racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQIA.)

Hamlet movie poster 2011

8. Hamlet (2011)

This version, directed by Bruce Ramsay, was universally criticized. It has an aggregate score of 0% Rotten Tomatoes. The 1940s film noir style poster and decor is creative and looks cool. However, the piece, which can last more than 4 hours, is reduced to less than 90 minutes. It was shot in 3 days and premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival, with a theatrical release in 2014.

Learn more about Shakespeare and Hamlet:

Hamlet inspired many other movies and books, including Disney’s The Lion King and Maggie O’Farrell’s novel Hamnet. You want to know more ? Read Who Was Shakespeare?

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