Hamlet is up there with the likes of Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet as one of William Shakespeare‘s most famous plays. It’s an epic, violent tragedy that takes multiple hours to act out in full, thanks to having a large cast of engaging characters who are all involved in its story about family conflict, betrayal, and death (so, so much death).
Its popularity also means it’s got more film adaptations than most Shakespeare plays. The following 10 are among the most well-known movies that either adapt Hamlet or feature plots heavily inspired by the iconic play’s narrative. They’re ranked below by their average rating on IMDb, and collectively show how applicable the story of Hamlet is to various genres, periods in history, and cultures.
Updated on May 23, 2023, by Jeremy Urquhart:
It seems that movie fans are like Depeche Mode when it comes to Hamlet movies, because they just can’t get enough. Hamlet adaptations go back to the silent era, meaning that this timeless story of revenge and tragedy has been popular with film audiences for over a century at this point. Of all the movies based on Hamlet, IMDb is a great way to find the best, with the average ratings from users on the site ultimately showing what the best Hamlet movie is.
13 ‘Hamlet’ (2000)
IMDb Rating: 5.9/10
It’s ironic that this adaptation of Hamlet aimed to update the story into a modern-day New York City setting, yet by being so clearly set around the turn of the millennium, it’s ended up “aging” worse than most adaptations that are set centuries ago. In the film’s defense, those behind it likely didn’t know how fast technology was going to advance, and how quickly Blockbuster was going to become obsolete (in the film, it’s where Hamlet has his “To be or not to be” soliloquy).
It makes it an accidental period piece in hindsight, but at least it stands out as far as adaptations go. For anyone who loves late 90s/early 2000s aesthetics and/or Ethan Hawke, it’s probably one take on the iconic play that’s worth a watch.
Watch on Paramount+
12 ‘The Banquet’ (2006)
IMDb Rating: 6.4/10
The Banquet is a Chinese film that loosely adapts Hamlet into a historical setting that’s also slightly fantastical. The story here takes place more than 1000 years ago, and is kicked off with the actions of a murderous uncle, but ultimately builds to an extensive (and violent) banquet where numerous characters collide.
The plot might be familiar to those who know Hamlet well, but the fact that The Banquet adds martial arts into the mix makes it unique, given that’s something that couldn’t exactly be done on stage. Overall, it’s a solid addition to the ever-growing list of Hamlet movies that manages to add something new to the mix.
Watch on Hoopla
11 ‘Strange Brew’ (1983)
IMDb Rating: 6.6/10
There are plenty of cult classic 1980s sci-fi movies that have taken some time to find an audience, usually because they’re a little offbeat. Strange Brew could definitely count itself as one of those films, as it’s perhaps one of the most aggressively Canadian movies of all time, features comedy and sci-fi elements, and has a story loosely inspired by Hamlet.
It revolves around a brewery, and sees two hosers (an informal Canadian term for “losers”) get a job there, and end up in a plot to help a young woman regain ownership of it from a mysterious brewmaster who’s also her uncle. It’s very silly and unlikely to appeal to a wide audience, but it has its fans, and stands as a unique take on the classic play.
10 ‘Hamlet’ (1990)
IMDb Rating: 6.7/10
Hamlet (1990) is notable for starring Mel Gibson as the Prince of Denmark, but can also be singled out as the one where the title character has a terrible haircut. Otherwise, it sort of blends into the crowd when it comes to Hamlet adaptations, seeing as it plays things straight when it comes to adapting the original text, and forgoes adding any genres besides basic “drama” to the mix.
It was far from director Franco Zeffirelli‘s first Shakespeare adaptation, as he’d previously directed The Taming of The Shrew in 1967 and Romeo and Juliet in 1968. The latter of those is particularly well-regarded for being one of the best film adaptations of a Shakespeare play, and even if Zeffirelli’s Hamlet is still seen as decent, it couldn’t quite measure up to 1968’s Romeo and Juliet.
9 ‘Hamlet’ (1921)
IMDb Rating: 7.0/10
1921’s Hamlet is one of the oldest known film versions of the play, and more significantly, is still watchable. There are plenty of films from the 1920s and earlier that have been lost to time, meaning those interested in old cinema can only imagine what they would have looked like.
This take on Hamlet also stands out from the crowd because it changes Hamlet from prince to princess, with the title character needing to pass as a man for much of the film’s runtime. Naturally, this leads to various plot elements being changed, too, adding another level to the film and making it surprisingly unpredictable in the process, even though all the characters – and the core premise – are found in the original play.
8 ‘The Northman’ (2022)
IMDb Rating: 7.1/10
If there’s one thing that The Northman does exceptionally well, it’s highlighting the cyclical nature of revenge and the way violence can continue to inspire more violence until there’s no one left to be violent. Speaking of violence: the movie has a ton of it.
Interestingly, The Northman might not quite be an adaptation of Hamlet, given it’s based on the Scandinavian legend of Amleth, which itself inspired Hamlet. However, given Hamlet’s ultimately overshadowed its predecessor, The Northman does end up feeling like another take on that familiar story, but thankfully contains a few surprises for those who think they know the original text well (plus a good deal more action than most Hamlet movies).
Watch on Prime Video
7 ‘Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead’ (1990)
IMDb Rating: 7.3/10
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern re-frames Hamlet to focus on two of its minor characters who tend to be cut out of most film adaptations. Those two characters are none other than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and they spend much of the movie having philosophical conversations about their existence and lack of purpose in life in a way that’s consistently very meta.
It’s an odd movie, and its sense of humor isn’t going to be for everyone. Also, for as clever as the premise is, the whole thing is fairly one-note and repetitive, considering it’s almost two hours long. At least it’s unique and undoubtedly entertaining in parts, and benefits hugely from having Tim Roth and Gary Oldman in the titular roles.
Watch on Hoopla
6 ‘Hamlet’ (1948)
IMDb Rating: 7.6/10
1948’s Hamletis the only direct Shakespeare adaptation to have won Best Picture. Sure, West Side Story (1961) also won the top prize at the Oscars, but that’s based on a musical that drastically modernized Romeo and Juliet. And while 1998’s Shakespeare in Love is (loosely) about the man itself, it’s not an adaptation of one of his plays.
In essence, this take on Hamlet is a direct, simple, and perfectly efficient one. It trims the play down to a still fairly epic 2.5 hours, and showcases Laurence Olivier at the height of his powers as both an actor and director. It might not stand out now, 75 years later, but it was an undoubtedly impressive film for its time.
Watch on Max
5 ‘Hamlet’ (1996)
IMDb Rating: 7.8/10
Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet is easily the longest, with the 1996 film clocking in at just over four hours. It would be difficult to feasibly make an adaptation longer without adding material, given this version is notable for adapting the entire play to the big screen.
This results in a movie that might well be too long and exhausting for some viewers, but the epic scope achieved through such an ambitious adaptation of the play is undeniable. For Shakespeare purists out there, there’s a good chance this would have to rank as one of the very best films based on one of his works, given it leaves nothing on the cutting room floor.
Watch on Hoopla
4 ‘The Bad Sleep Well’ (1960)
IMDb Rating: 8.0/10
The Bad Sleep Well is one of many underrated Akira Kurosawa movies that gets buried under the likes of more popular movies like Seven Samurai, Ran, and Yojimbo. As far as adaptations go, it’s fairly loose, having less in common with its source material than Kurosawa’s 1957 take on Macbeth (Throne of Blood) did.
It transports things to mid-20th century Japan, and follows a young man who seeks revenge on a powerful industrialist who he holds responsible for his father’s death. Murder, madness, and human corruption are explored in both Hamlet and The Bad Sleep Well, and the film captures the spirit of the source material well, even if numerous aspects of the plot itself are quite different.
Watch on The Criterion Channel
3 ‘Haider’ (2014)
IMDb Rating: 8.0/10
Haider is a must-see Indian film that takes the story of Hamlet and sets it in Kashmir during the 1990s. At 160 minutes long, it’s one of the longest adaptations of Hamlet out there, and one of the most explosive, unwilling to shy away from the violent consequences of its protagonist’s quest for revenge after his father dies in mysterious circumstances.
Even though it’s one of the most recent Hamlet adaptations, it’s already among the highest-rated, with an 8.0/10 on IMDb and a similarly impressive 88% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Just like the title character himself, it seems like nothing will stop Hamlet’s persistent rampage throughout pop culture.
Watch on Netflix
2 ‘Hamlet’ (1964)
IMDb Rating: 8.2/10
One of the highest-rated versions of Hamlet according to IMDb ratings is this 1964 adaptation from the Soviet Union. It’s not quite as widely seen as many of the better-known adaptations, but those who are familiar with it seem to hold it in high regard, and it was recognized by the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes upon release, too.
There’s not a great deal else to say about it. It’s another strong adaptation of a great play, and of the direct adaptations, is also one of the shortest (even though it still runs for about two hours and 20 minutes).
1 ‘The Lion King’ (1994)
IMDb Rating: 8.5/10
While the idea of adapting Hamlet into a family-friendly Disney movie might sound absurd on paper, it led to one of the most acclaimed animated movies of all time. And yes, though The Lion King is far from a direct adaptation, it does feature the protagonist’s father being murdered by a treacherous uncle, with the protagonist then setting out to avenge the killing and right the injustice that was committed.
Thankfully, things end much better here for the main character, Simba, than things usually do for characters based on Hamlet. And even if that means The Lion King isn’t nearly as dark as most versions of Hamlet, at the same time, most animated Disney movies aren’t nearly as dark as The Lion King.
Watch on Disney+
NEXT: The Best Shakespeare Film Adaptations, Ranked