Extreme Makeovers: Classic Books Turned Into Teen Rom-Coms


High-school English teachers may have trouble getting students to read classic books, but Hollywood has found a way to successfully peddle canonical texts to the same audience. As a result of its apparently original-story-drained creativity well, movie studios have made over literary favorites into pitch-perfect rom-com drivel for the hormone-saturated set (and, of course, those of us who enjoy a good guilty pleasure). So, with Easy A , a rather loose retelling of The Scarlet Letter hitting theaters today, here’s a look at six deliciously dumbed-down movies based on classic works of literature.

Clueless (1995)

A year before Gwyneth Paltrow starred as everyone’s favorite poor-little-rich-girl in 1996’s Emma , Alicia Silverstone codified Jane Austen’s precocious protagonist as Cher Horowitz in Clueless. The movie revels in the campy excess of mid-’90s Beverly Hills while adhering closely to Austen’s 1815 comedy of manners as Cher bumbles her way through mistaken matchmaking, shifting social power dynamics, and perhaps the most harrowing 38 seconds anyone has ever spent on the Los Angeles freeway.

She’s All That (1999)

George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is better recognized these days as the basis for My Fair Lady , but the play — inspired by a Greek myth in which the titular sculptor falls in love with the statue he carves — also trickled into the realm of high school melodrama via She’s All That. Freddie Prinze Jr. stars as the requisite hottie who takes on a bet to turn the school’s outcast art chick into prom queen material. Although said social miscreant turns out to be a total jock-magnet babe as soon as she removes her glasses (and unnecessarily plucks her eyebrows), we kind of preferred her in her weird body suit performance art getup.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

The Taming of the Shrew‘s namesake Katherina, a headstrong woman turned into an obedient wife through psychological torment (apparently also known as “taming”), is hardly the type of heroine one would expect to stand the test of gender-balancing time. But 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You somehow found a kernel of potential in the story by offering surprising depth to the outcast psyche of both the titular character and her manipulated suitor. The movie probes some of the play’s misogynistic subtext by linking Kat’s misanthropic attitude to an unwanted sexual encounter, but it’s mostly just an entertainingly shallow story of high school politics, predictably unexpected crushes, prom night showdowns, and the best rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” that any high school marching band has ever performed.

O (2001)

Othello’s war-ravaged Mediterranean setting is transposed to the apparently equally cutthroat world of high school basketball in O. Although backstabbing, murder, and sex are all rampant in Shakespeare’s race-heavy play, O‘s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink use of athletic rivalries, rape rumors, drug addiction, motel rendezvous, and gratuitous shootings is the kind of spectacle-heavy saga that has since translated into the gladiatorial word of reality TV.

Get Over It (2001)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘s surrealist plot may seem distant from the strikingly grounded script of Get Over It, but there’s no denying that it served as the teen flick’s inspiration. After all, they’re both united by spurned love, revenge, and a play within a play. But where Shakespeare’s tale features jealous fairies, trickster demigods, and a witty break in the fourth wall, Get Over It simply tells the story of a dumped dude who tries to win back his ex by joining the high school play — awkwardly titled A Midsummer Night’s Rockin’ Eve — but ends up falling for the someone else entirely. Also Sisqo is somehow involved, which makes everything better.

She’s the Man (2006)

She’s the Man might sounds more like Ladybugs than Twelfth Night, but Shakespeare’s story of mistaken identity firmly serves as the movie’s template. When an over-eager Viola Hastings (played by Amanda Bynes) pretends to be her twin brother in order to join the boy’s soccer team, a bizarre web of confused crushes and innocent confiding ensues. The cross-dressing comedy at the heart of the story pales compared to, say, Some Like it Hot or Just One of the Guys, but its romantic unraveling deftly mirrors that of Twelfth Night.