There have been many teen movies based on classic novels and Shakespeare’s legendary plays, but it looks like this year’s ‘Easy A’, a modern, comedic version of ‘The Scarlet Letter’ set in high school, will definitely be one of the wackiest. So in honor of this attempt at turning a classic upside down, here’s a look back at the most memorable teen movies that have reenacted classic novels and Shakespeare’s plays in high school:
10 Things I Hate About You – Heath Ledger starred in one of the most popular movies based on one of Shakespeare’s plays when I was growing up, a retelling of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. The premise is rather silly: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character longs to date his popular and perfect dream girl, but she’s not allowed to go out with anyone until her older, abrasive sister starts dating. And so he hires Heath Ledger’s bad boy character to try and “tame the shrew”. It’s not perfect, but I still can’t help but enjoy it as one of the teen movies me and my friends enjoyed watching when I was in high school.
Cruel Intentions – When it comes to teen movies based on classic novels, they don’t get much darker than this one, starring manipulative, wealthy teens reenacting ‘Dangerous Liaisons’. Like many teen movies, this one involves a bet, as two teens (Ryan Phillippe’s redeemable character and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s truly twisted one) put sex and a car at stake in a wager involving one girl’s virginity. It’s one of the more sordid and tragic teen movies on this list, but it’s an interesting retelling of one of literature’s best classic novels about corruption, seduction, and revenge.
She’s the Man – And here’s another of the high school movies on this list that takes a Shakespeare tale and gives it a modern twist. ‘She’s the Man’ is a modern retelling of ‘Twelfth Night’, starring Amanda Bynes as Viola, a high school girl who wants so badly to play soccer that she poses as her twin brother to play at his school when the girls’ soccer program is cut from her own. Of course hilarity ensues when her male alter ego is spied carrying feminine products around and shows no response to being kicked in the groin. It’s only a matter of time before Viola falls for a boy on the team, and things get very complicated when her twin brother that she’s been impersonating shows up (he had snuck away to London for a rock band competition and didn’t know of his sister’s plan). Of course we’ve seen something like this before in 80’s flick ‘Just One of the Guys’, but this one is much closer to the Shakespeare story (with soccer).
Clueless – Jane Austen continues to be one of teen girls’ favorite authors, so it’s only fitting that one of her classic novels, ‘Emma’, was drastically adapted into one of the most popular teen movies of all time. Alicia Silverstone stars as the movie’s “Emma”, a rich and spoiled wannabe matchmaker named Cher whose meddling in other peoples’ lives often backfires. The novel’s characters are recast as the daughter of a successful attorney; her worldly stepbrother (Paul Rudd); a “tragically unhip” new girl; a James Dean-esque gay guy; skater boys; and fashionistas. I don’t know how Jane Austen would feel about this adaptation of her novel, which was responsible for making knee socks, plaid miniskirts, and terms like “as if!” tres trendy, but the intentions of ‘Clueless’ are good, and it’s hard not to like the teentastic romantic tale.
Romeo + Juliet – Take one of Shakespeare’s most beloved tales; add Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes; put it in a modern setting; and you’ve got an absolute disaster. This mess is one of the teen movies here that hardest to watch, and even Paul Rudd as Paris can’t redeem it. We’re supposed to be distraught to see Romeo and Juliet’s love story end so tragically, but here you might just be glad when it’s all over (stick with the classic teen retelling of the tale, ‘West Side Story’, instead).
She’s All That – And here’s one of the many movies based on the Pygmalion myth about a sculptor who falls in love with a statue he carves. The myth was later adapted into George Bernard Shaw’s play, which, in turn, was adapted into the wildly popular classic movie, ‘My Fair Lady’. ‘She’s All That’ is basically a retelling of ‘My Fair Lady’ set in high school, with a popular guy (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) making a bet that he can transform a geeky oddball (Rachael Leigh Cook) into the school’s prom queen, unbeknownst to her. While it’s pretty obvious how the movie will end, that didn’t stop it from becoming one of the most popular teen movies of the 90’s, as well as the basis for silly spoof ‘Not Another Teen Movie’.
O – This is definitely one of the most tragic teen movies based on one of Shakepeare’s works, as his play Othello is recast with high school kids whose jealously leads to tragedy. Mekhi Phifer stars as Odin, his high school’s basketball star, while Josh Hartnett plays the basketball coach’s jealous son, who will do whatever it takes to bring Odin down. When he convinces Odin that his girlfriend (Julia Stiles) might be cheating on him, all the players eventually clash in a fateful climax. It’s one of the darkest teen movies on this list (it’s actually rated R), full of drugs, sex, and violence, so if you’re looking for lighthearted teen movies based on classics, say “No” to ‘O’.
So will ‘Easy A’ be one of the teen movies based on classic novels that becomes a big hit, a la ‘Clueless’, or will it tragically fail like the movie based on Shakespeare’s most beloved tragedy? While you’re waiting to find out, enjoy some of the teen movies based on classic novels and Shakespeare’s works here (just don’t expect to use any of them to write a book report on the classic tales).