At last count, IMDb lists 1,371 films that have adapted the works of Shakespeare and Ten Things I Hate About You is the best of all of these movies.
Gil Junger’s directorial feat beats works by Kenneth Branagh, Baz Luhrmann, Orson Welles, and some other cinematic titans. Frankly, the Bard himself would be pleased with her work.
From remaining true to the storyline to appreciating the value of music, this is why Ten Things I Hate About You is the best Shakespeare-to-film adaptation of all time:
Sticking to the storyline
Fans of the Bard of Avon are quick to criticise any cinematic rendering of their hero’s work that goes it alone, but they’ll have no complaints with Ten Things I Hate About You — it’s a lovingly faithful modernisation of The Taming of the Shrew, not a rewrite.
This is important because the cardinal sin for any film adapted from one of Shakespeare’s plays is failing to stick to the storyline. And frankly, we agree — if it’s good enough to still be talked about 400 years after ole’ Bill wrote it, then it sure as hell still works.
Ten Things I Hate About You not only retains Shakespeare’s vision, it makes it more palatable; the shrew remains, as do her constrictions and taming, but marriage becomes the more audience-appropriate dating.
And the film even plays to its origins by adding Mandella to the story, a character who explains that she’s more than a fan of Shakespeare — ‘we’re involved’.
Shakespeare sets up the characters, but it still needs the right actors to bring them to life and Ten Things I Hate About You gets every casting decision right.
Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger fill the lead roles, with both delivering excellent performances that win your attention from the outset and never let up.
And the supporting cast shines too — Joseph Gordon-Levitt is loveable, Larisa Oleynik is bratty, David Krumholtz is goofy, and Andrew Keegan is hilarious.
Use of language
Staying true to Shakespeare’s words is a must for any adaptation. After all, they’re what got the film commissioned in the first place.
But speaking like Shakespeare can present problems when trying to create something that has mass appeal. Let’s be clear here, people don’t talk like Shakespeare anymore and nor would he if he were born in 1964, not 1564.
Ten Things I Hate About You has a difficult job on its hand making the script relatable to a teen audience but it excels at this task — Shakespeare’s reimagined words are fresh, relevant, and accurate.
And the film’s success in adapting Shakespeare’s language can be seen in how cutting its quotes remain 20 years on — ‘you know, there’s a difference between like and love. I like my Skechers but I love my Prada backpack’.
Acknowledging the importance of music
Music was important to Shakespeare. Custom dedicated that plays of his era must have at least one song, but he truly valued the way that music helped his audience to connect with the action on stage.
Ten Things I Hate About You makes music a key part of Kat’s story arch.
Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation is used to represent Kat’s thoughts on being tamed — she literally doesn’t ‘give a damn about [her] bad reputation’.
Patrick Verona then uses Kat’s love of music to woo her, win her, and then regain her: he goes to watch her favourite band and then gets them to play at their school prom, he sings for her, and then he buys her a guitar.
And the soundtrack itself is superb, with Letters To Cleo, Semisonic, Sister Hazel, and more contributing well-placed songs that all add something to the storytelling.
An adaptation that fits its time and audience
Adaptation is defined as being both ‘of its time’ and ‘better suited to its environment’. Ten Things I Hate About You excels in both of these areas.
1999 was the height of the teen movie craze and Ten Things I Hate About You fits into this niche perfectly — it’s set in a high school, its characters are teens, and the storyline is adapted to make it perfect for adolescents.
The film also makes Shakespeare better suited to this teen environment; the language is tweaked, the storyline teased, and characters made more relatable.
But the thing that really sums up how well the adaptation fits its time and audience is that Ten Things I Hate About You could just be a great teen film of its age. In fact, it adapts the Bard so successfully that if you didn’t know it was inspired by Shakespeare then it could just easily be another John Hughes homage, like all the other high school films released at the same time.
Things I Hate About You is a brilliant movie that tenderly brings the Bard into the 20th century.
But it isn’t just the best Shakespeare-to-film adaptation — it’s the finest teen film of its age, one that’s remembered fondly by millennials who grew up with it and used as a cultural reference point by the nex-gen.