Happy Shakespeare Day: Five Big-Screen Bard Gems

On this day way back in 1564, William Shakespeare was born… or not, because apparently his exact birth date isn’t known. But today’s the day we celebrate the man!.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Bard, here’s the briefest of introductions: Ol’ Will gave us a lot of pretty poetry as well as some fine plays that are the inspiration for countless TV and movie adaptations. If you’re like me, you may have supplemented your high school English class reading assignments with a few of those filmed adaptations (notice I wrote “supplemented” and not “replaced.” I never did that).

So to celebrate the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth (and death, which was definitely on April 23rd), here are my five favorite films based on or inspired by works of the Bard.

1. “West Side Story” (1961)
One of the greatest movie musicals ever made, “Story” placed the “Romeo and Juliet” saga in the gang-controlled streets of New York City. The Jets and the Sharks danced and rumbled their way into film history.

2. “Romeo + Juliet” (1996)
This was not director Baz Luhrmann’s first film, but it certainly brought him to the attention of the masses. Luhrmann kept the original Shakepearean dialogue but made a movie that was modern, sexy, and very MTV. Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes had just the right amount of youth, beauty and intensity for the lead roles.

3. “Atomic Shakespeare” episode, “Moonlighting” (1986)
Watch a young, wig-wearing Bruce Willis struggle with iambic pentameter in this classic TV episode adapted from “The Taming of the Shrew.” At the time, it was reportedly the most expensive hour of series television ever made. T’was worth every farthing.

4. “10 Things I Hate About You” (1999)
Much like “Clueless” did for Jane Austen, “10 Things” brought the Bard (“The Taming of the Shrew” again) to high school. The cast was filled with talented, good-looking Hollywood up-and-comers: Heath Ledger, Andrew Keegan, Julia Stiles, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

5. “Much Ado About Nothing” (????)
Yes, I know, this movie isn’t even close to being released yet. But given the fact that it’s Joss Whedon directing Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Reed Diamond, Sean Maher and so many more Whedon vets, this will undoubtedly be my future favorite.