William Shakespeare wrote 38 plays — and perhaps a couple more for which there’s circumstantial historical evidence, but no surviving copies. The magnitude and influence of the Bard’s output, even if we leave aside the brilliance of his sonnets, cement his reputation as the single greatest writer the English-speaking world has produced. (Note to those who believe that Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe or other Elizabethan scribes penned some or all of the works: your arguments are compelling. They’re also wrong.) But as moving as Shakespeare’s plays can be when seen on stage, it’s arguably in the movies that the breadth of his genius is allowed its most vibrant, varied expression. Virtually every season brings a new film version of one (or more) of his comedies, histories and tragedies — from strictly literal costume dramas to radically updated adaptations that scandalize Shakespeare purists — and, every once in a while, breathe new life into the 400-year-old texts.
The most recent of these films, Joss Whedon’s low-budget, marvelously paced (108 minutes!) Much Ado About Nothing, is notable not only for the frugality of its execution — it was shot in 12 days, in black and white, at Whedon’s Santa Monica home.
Here, in light of Whedon’s bold foray into the genre, TIME counts down the 10 greatest Shakespeare films of all time. And for those who disagree? At the risk of butchering one of the Bard’s greatest lines: Speak what you feel, folks, not what you ought to say … in the comments.
Next Richard III (1995)