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Jack and Rose. Aladdin and Jasmine. Buffy and Angel. Pop culture is chock-full of tales about star-crossed lovers, but no love story will likely ever be as well-known or widely loved as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In fact, it’s so beloved that yet another adaptation of the famous play is in the works.
According to ComingSoon.net, The Maze Runner’s Kaya Scodelario and The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson are set to star in the upcoming Die in a Gunfight, a Romeo and Juliet-inspired film about two lovers whose passion “leads to an all-out struggle for their love against a backdrop of corporate espionage, revenge, and a long-standing feud between their families.”
It sounds like Die in a Gunfight will appeal to those who appreciate the Bard’s epic battle sequences more than his sentimental love scenes. But that doesn’t mean we could ever forget about all the other Romeo and Juliet movie adaptations that have come before it. If you’re not the action movie type, keep reading to learn more about some other big-screen versions of Shakespeare’s epic love story and what makes each of them unique.
This one’s for the Shakespeare purists. Franco Zeffirelli’s film not only closely follows Shakespeare’s original text but also features two actual teens—17 year old Leonard Whiting and 15 year old Olivia Hussey—in the roles of Romeo and Juliet. Because Whiting and Hussey were both young and relatively unexperienced actors, all their lines are delivered with an adorable awkwardness that feels natural for two characters who are basically still children. Whiting’s also a dead ringer for Zac Efron, so you may or may not spend the whole movie wondering when he’ll break into a rendition of “Bet On It.”
This recent adaptation got lukewarm reviews when it was released, partially because director Carlo Carlei cut down and simplified a lot of Shakespeare’s dialogue. But Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth kill it as Juliet and Romeo and the film looks visually stunning. It also features a long-haired Ed Westwick as Tybalt, who may be even more intense than Chuck Bass.
Private Romeo takes a meta approach by telling the story of some all-male military school students who put on their own production of Romeo and Juliet. As you might expect, the students playing Romeo and Juliet, Sam and Glenn, end up falling for each other in real life. Above all, this movie is proof that Shakespeare’s work can always be tweaked and updated to explore modern-day issues.
It’s become fairly well-known that The Lion King bears a strong resemblance to Hamlet, but The Lion King 2 has Shakespearean roots as well. In The Lion King 2, Simba and Nala’s daughter, Kiara, falls for Kovu—a rebellious “bad boy” lion who also happens to be Scar’s successor. Come for Rafiki’s cute love song and stay for all the heartfelt scenes between Kiara and Simba, who initially gives his daughter some tough love but eventually agrees to give Kovu a chance.
Warm Bodies, a romantic comedy about a zombie (Nicholas Hoult) and a human (Teresa Palmer) who fall in love, is far from being a one-for-one Romeo and Juliet adaptation. Firstly, Shakespeare’s flowery dialogue is nowhere to be seen or heard (in part because one of the two main characters can’t even speak in full sentences). Secondly, Romeo (or “R,” in this case) is, you know, a zombie. But it’s still a story about how two lovers choose to ignore the wishes of their friends and family members so they can be together. It even has its own balcony scene!
Warm Bodies may be the only film in the list to feature zombies, but Tromeo and Juliet is more of a horror film than Warm Bodies will ever be. Like all of Troma Entertainment’s other projects, Tromeo and Juliet is full of violence, sexual content, and otherwise discomforting/disturbing subject matter. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth checking out for its campiness and ‘90s rock inspired soundtrack. Fun fact: the script was also co-written by a then-unknown filmmaker named James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Infinity War).
Rumbles! Catchy songs! Tough guys snapping! Instead of two warring families from Verona, West Side Story follows two rival New York gangs and the lovers who ultimately suffer the consequences of that rivalry, Tony and Maria. In addition to featuring some surprisingly deep lyrics (if “say it soft and it’s almost like praying” doesn’t sound like the opening line of an epic love poem, we don’t know what does), West Side Story also addresses a number of divisive societal issues in a fun and poignant way,
Featuring a pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio, a post-Clueless Paul Rudd, and Claire Danes at her My So-Called Life prime, the “hip” and modernized Romeo + Juliet contains all the Shakespearean language but none of the Shakespearean specifics. Verona, Italy becomes Verona Beach, swords become guns, and Tybalt becomes a hilariously over-the-top John Leguizamo. If you don’t watch this movie for young Leo, watch it for the gorgeous sets and the unexpectedly tragic ending (in which Juliet wakes up at the exact moment Romeo kills himself).