Romeo and Juliet has been adapted more than thirty times for film and television, in many languages and with varying degrees of faithfulness to the original text. Three English-language versions that use Shakespeare’s text are widely available:
Romeo and Juliet, 1936
Director: George Cukor
Notable cast: Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard
Despite receiving four Academy Award nominations, critics and audiences had a mixed response to this film. Many filmgoers praised the adaptation for its lavish production value, and others celebrated the faithful treatment of the original text, despite the fact that Cukor cut nearly half of Shakespeare’s text. Others, however, found the film overlong and lacking imagination. More recently the film scholar Stephen Orgel has pointed out that the lead actors are too old for their roles.
Romeo and Juliet, 1968
Director: Franco Zeffirelli
Notable cast: Olivia Hussey, Leonard Whiting
Zeffirelli cut nearly two-thirds of Shakespeare’s lines, but many critics felt this film was a sensitive adaptation of the text. The film won two Academy Awards and was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director. With its very young leads, and Whiting’s long hairstyle, the movie was seen in its time as a Romeo and Juliet for the teenage set. That said, the film has aged well, and some still regard it as the best film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.
Romeo + Juliet, 1996
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Notable cast: Claire Danes, Leonardo di Caprio
Unlike Cukor and Zeffirelli, who both set their adaptations in medieval Italy, Luhrmann moved the action of Shakespeare’s play to America in the twentieth century. Verona therefore becomes “Verona Beach,” home to warring gangs and a police chief called “Prince.” Luhrmann’s adaptation is probably the most faithful of the three, in the sense that it retains more of the original language than either Cukor’s or Zeffirelli’s versions. Romeo + Juliet was nominated for an Academy Award and won several other major awards. It is highly regarded by film critics and students of Shakespeare’s plays alike.