From Lit To Lights: Classics Get Modern Makeovers

Fall is officially here which means school is back in session. We know from experience that some of the most time consuming homework can come from English class when hundreds of pages of classic literature are assigned. To make things easier for students, we decided to compile a list of movie adaptations to help you get through some of the more difficult plays and novels you might face in high school. So if you are back in class or just feeling nostalgic for “pencils, books and teachers’ dirty looks” we hope that this list puts a smile on your face and several movies in your Netflix queue.


Literature: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Movie Adaptation: Romeo + Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes

The Story: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl watch as their two families kill each other in a deadly feud. Boy and girl die for love.

The Twist: Fireworks — literally. Get ready for some shiny costumes, disco balls and over-the-top religious iconography that blends together to make a totally modern (or is that post-modern?) setting for this couple’s tragic tale.

Lesson Learned: Since director Baz Luhrmann opted to keep Shakespeare’s language for the film, movie viewers will get a comprehensive language lesson. And let us tell you how much easier it is to get through those ‘thous’ and ‘whereforevers’ while staring into the eyes of the dreamy Leo.


Literature: Emma by Jane Austen

Movie Adaptation: Clueless starring Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd

The Story: In a tale of matchmaking gone horribly wrong, the sorta mean girl must learn to mind her own business.

The Twist: Before penning Emma, Jane Austen wrote, "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." And good to her word, the author created heroine, Emma, as a spoiled-little-rich girl living in Highbury, England. The smart talking, bad driving Cher Horowitz in Clueless is just as spoiled, however, this Southern California belle of the ball, played by Alicia Silverstone is just too cute to dislike. And that is before she transforms her soul by donating clothing, food and sporting equipment to the Pismo Beach Disaster Relief Fund.

Lesson Learned: To be honest, there isn’t a whole lot that you will learn by watching Clueless, that is, unless you are looking to talk like a valley girl circa mid-90s. However, despite the total lack of educational content, no teen girl should miss Cher’s transformation from privileged Beverly Hills princess to the still privileged, but now thoughtful, princess.


Literature: Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand

Movie Adaptation: Roxanne starring Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah

The Story: An unattractive man with the soul of a poet romances a lady for a friend.

The Twist: With the part of Cyrano played by Steve Martin, viewers can expect high comedy. And the comedian more than lives up to his Saturday Night Live roots. The scene in the bar where Martin, as C.D. Bales, roasts himself is pure comic gold. And with sidekicks Shelley Duvall, Fred Willard and Michael Pollard the laughs just keep coming — so much so that the giant prosthetic nose that Martin dons for the part is almost forgotten.

Lesson Learned: While we guess the lesson of movie is that true love is blind, but with the perky, blond Daryl Hannah strutting around, the message is a bit lost. 


Literature: Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

Movie Adaptation: 10 Things I Hate About You starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles

The Story: A man-hating, stubborn woman falls in love. However, the man she thinks is meant for her actually originally approached her with an ulterior motive.

The Twist: Set in a high school in the northwest, viewers will get the same witty banter as the original play, but with a whole lot more grunge music and teen angst.

Lesson Learned: First, we are taught never mess with Kat because she will have no problem wrecking your car which is not totally unlike Shakespeare’s Katherina (you know, if there were cars back in the day). Second, we learn that Heath Ledger could sing.


Literature: Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

Movie Adaptation: Pretty Woman starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere

The Story: A down on her luck street urchin takes lessons at being a lady from a wise older man who teaches her all about high society.

The Twist: He’s no professor and she’s certainly no flower seller, but if it rags to riches story you are looking for, then can’t do much better than Julia Roberts getting schooled by Richard Gene on how to be a lady who lunches at polo matches.

Lesson Learned: While you won’t be getting any speech lessons about the rain in Spain, this movie does provide insights on how to go about shopping with a limitless budget on Rodeo Drive — and that is truly priceless.

What's your favorite classic literature movie adaptation? Let us know in the comments! You can find more film adaptation news in our From Page to Screen column, and check out the December issue of RT for a list of 13 movies in the pipeline for 2013!