If you’re a film buff like me and an enthusiast of your teenage decade (like most people are), what do you do on a rainy weekend? Do you pull out a Shakespeare classic for a light read or do you dust off that old DVD from your collection for an afternoon on the couch with some snacks? If you went with the latter, you’re probably part of the 85% (totally made this percentage up, but seems about right) who would do the same. Here’s your perfect excuse (if you needed one) for some guilty-pleasure teen movie watching: films inspired by literature classics. This is a great way to get the best of both worlds. I took the liberty to expand a bit and included not only films from the 90’s - my decade - but some other gems that spilled out into the early 2000’s. Enjoy!
1. “Cruel Intentions” (Roger Kumble, 1999)
Inspired by: Dangerous Liaisons, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
By far, my favorite film in this list. Sarah Michelle Gellar – a.k.a. “Buffy” (to me, at least), stars in this adaptation of the French classic alongside Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Phillippe (swoon) and Selma Blair. The plot of the movie revolves around two stepsiblings who get a kick out of manipulating people and toying with their feelings. In the original piece, it’s a couple of ex-lovers who heat up the French aristocracy. If you want to take a step further, also watch the 1988 film “Dangerous Liaisons” which remains one of my favorite films of all time.
Side note: The soundtrack of “Cruel Intentions” also remains a staple in my music library, definitely worth a trip to iTunes in case you never listened to it. In my opinion, it’s a landmark of that time.
2. “She’s All That” (Robert Iscove, 1999)
Inspired by: Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw
There was a time in which the definitive teen heartthrob was Freddie Prinze Jr. Girls wanted to date him and boys wanted to copycat him (to get the girls). The plot here is simple: Zack, your average jock, places a bet with his friends that he can turn Loney – the school nerd – into a hot dateable chick. Of course he ends up falling victim to his own tricks, much like Henry Higgins, in ‘Pygmalion’. This play was also the inspiration for the movie “My Fair Lady”, starring Audrey Hepburn
3. “Easy A” (Will Gluck, 2010)
Inspired by: The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
Not only is this awesome movie inspired by The Scarlet Letter, but it also makes use of it in the plot: the book is part of the school’s syllabus. In the movie, as in the book, our lead character is humiliated and accused of being too… open minded.
4. “10 Things I Hate About You” (Gil Junger, 1999)
Inspired by: The Taming of the Shrew, William Shakespeare
This movie single handedly elevated Heath Ledger to superstardom. Here, Ledger brings life to Patrick, the rebellious school kid who’s every girl’s crush. In this loose interpretation of “The Taming of the Shrew” the heart of the story remains the same. Bianca is in love and wants to start dating, but is not allowed until her temperamental older sister kicks her love life into gear. A fun film to watch on any lazy day, and it never gets old.
5. “Clueless” (Amy Heckerling, 1995)
Inspired by: Emma, Jane Austen
I bet you didn’t see this one coming. Believe it or not, “Clueless” came straight from the pages of a Jane Austen book into the streets of Beverly Hills. There were some serious adaptations to make the story fit the 90’s, but the basic plot remains the same: a rich spoiled girl who loves to get involved in match making. Many names of the original Jane Austen book were used in this classic 90’s movie.
6. “She’s The Man” (Andy Fickman, 2006)
Inspired by: Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare
When Sebastian goes to London, his twin sister Viola takes the opportunity to dress like her brother and replace him in their new school, all of that in order to fulfill her dream of playing soccer with the boys. In Shakespeare’s original story, Viola loses her brother when their ship sinks and pretends to be a man in order to get help. The Duke asks for her (his) assistance to confess his love to Olivia, but it all goes wrong. Olivia falls in love with Viola (dressed as a man, obviously), and Viola falls in love with the Duke. Sounds like something I’d get myself into.
7. “Romeo + Juliet” (Baz Luhrmann, 1996)
Inspired by: Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare
This is the most literal adaptation in this list. The only difference is that even though the film retains the original dialogs and a lot of the poetic language, here the story is given a much more vibrant setting, in the streets of the 90’s; ridden with gangs, guns, drugs and wild parties. The chemistry between Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes is effervescent and remarkable and made us all dream of having a love affair as intense theirs was.
8. “Get Over It” (Tommy O’Haver, 2001)
Inspired by: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare
In the classic Shakespeare play, four teenagers get wrapped up in a love ‘square’, thanks to the magical works of faeries and elves. Here the magical beings are set aside and the film focuses on one of the parallel plots from the original play. The reference becomes more evident when all four leads, including Kirsten Dunst’s character, take part in their school’s play, which is, roll drums… “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.