The Best (& Worst) Romeo & Juliet Movies

Readers, Shakespeare totally rules. Of course, we all know that, but it is really interesting to think about the universal impact his collective works have had on storytelling. From archetypal figures who immediately describe personalities better than any adjectives — Falstaff, Viola, Hamlet — to the dozens of quotes that are now a part of the English language. And naturally, as soon as movies started being made, Shakespeare started being adapted...and hasn't stopped. In terms of lasting impact, Shakespeare is kind of a badass.
Yet, none of his works capture the imagination — especially of younger audiences — better than the Shakespeare 101 tragedy Romeo and Juliet. The intensity of the lust, the consuming nature of first love, the poetic language, the seemingly nonsensical circumstances; nothing so depicts the pleasurable pain of young desire better. Which is why Hollywood will never leave it alone: It still has so much potential, even though, its adaptations haven't always been hits.
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Next month, Hailee Steinfeld joins the ranks of Claire Danes, Aaliyah, and Emily Blunt as the next lady to tackle the role of Juliet, with Douglas Booth playing her man. While we haven't seen that flick yet, here are seven other Juliets (and her corresponding Romeos) that we have watched — some rather regrettably. Let's remember which ones would smell as sweet by any other name...and which one stunk.
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Photo: Touchstone Pictures
Gnomeo & Juliet, 2011
Not even James McAvoy and Emily Blunt could make this syrupy tale of backyard rivalry work out. The lust and violence that makes the original captivating is neutered in this PG version, which ends happily and has the fighting garden gnomes trading in their respective red and blue hats for purple ones. You know, to symbolize unity? Maybe?
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Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Romeo Must Die, 2000
Not to profane the holy house of Aaliyah, but this movie was just a typical action movie with racial undertones. The action and plot is so convoluted that it is hard to remember (though, honestly, we saw it in theaters 13 years ago). The fight scenes were pretty epic, but this is a loose interpretation at best. Sorry Baby Girl, but we prefer Queen Of The Damned.
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Photo: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Romeo and Juliet, 1936
The original adaptation is visually arresting and superbly acted, but 75 years after the fact, it doesn't have the electricity needed to sell the viewer on the romance. Perhaps it is because these two are the oldest star-crossed lovers, and while Norma Shearer's Juliet is lovely, the Shakespearian language feels stodgy with such a committed representation.
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Photo: Courtesy of Lionsgate
Warm Bodies, 2013
The Shakespeare connection is loose (his name is R, hers is Julie, and there is the fact that he is dead and kind of wanting to eat her that keeps them apart), but Warm Bodies is actually kind of charming. The film takes everything we love — zombies, teenage love, Nicholas Hoult — and mashes them together in an awkwardly heartwarming flick about a zombie who gets his heart to beat again.
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Photo: Courtesy of Troma Productions
Tromeo and Juliet, 1996
First off, this is the only movie on our list that actually shows the two young lovers, um, doing it. A lot. In fact, in true Lloyd Kaufman style, there is sex, gore, piercings, ooze, meat, and a lot of weird fluids. It's a gross movie. But arguably, it shocks the viewer in the same way the original would have shocked attendees at the Globe. Mercutio's hinted queerness is outright, Juliet's father is a lech, and Juliet herself — in true '90s New York style — is going through an experimental phase. The two don't end up dying, but suffering something worse than death to a punk New Yorker: Moving to Jersey.
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Photo: Courtesy of United Artists
West Side Story, 1961

West Side Story isn't just a great musical, but a great adaptation of a musical on film, too. The costumes, the choreography, and the gritty but nostalgic vision of New York all contribute to make this one of the least kitschy adaptations, against all odds. This version really proves how timeless and relevant the story still is in the modern world.
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Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Romeo + Juliet, 1996
Now, this is where we start to get into trouble. Nobody feels meh about Baz Luhrmann's over-the-top adaptation, you either love it and praise it with annual sacrifice, or you hate it and participate in an annual ritual burning of the videotape. But as far as we're concerned, the truth is that this is an incredible feat that marries two seemingly unconnected cultures and incorporates a textually faithful rendering into an entirely new setting. And yes, obviously, Leonardo DiCaprio's unbearable beauty is a huge factor, here.
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Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Romeo and Juliet, 1968
This is one of the few versions that actually uses age-appropriate actors. Both Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were in their late teens when they took on the monumental roles, and that really adds a level of believability to a love story that really only makes sense for the feverish, love-for-love's-sake type of romance enjoyed uniquely by high school kids. There is a freshness and a rawness to this film that makes it an unbeatable classic.
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