Just like my favorite Hamlets, I want to emphasize that this is all subjective. Some Hamlets I don’t like because of the production, some because of the acting, and some because of EVERYTHING, but I encourage you to check these out anyway because you may disagree with me, and even the worst Hamlet is still a lot of fun.
#7: Andrew Scott
Just as one of my favorite Hamlets played Sherlock Holmes, one of my least favorites played James Moriarty. I’ll grant you that Scott has a unique acting style- his gestures are fluid and yet frenetic. His voice jumps up and down pitches seemingly at random, which serves him well when he’s playing characters who seem mentally unbalanced. I’ll also grant you that he has a fresh take, but honestly, that take is- what if Hamlet is a bad person? Scott’s Hamlet is cold, full of internalized rage and fear and he treats everyone around him appallingly. He’s never warm or kind to anyone and is often belligerent, condescending, or outright disgusting. The part where he picks up Ophelia’s corpse and hugs her is very unpleasant to watch and I felt very sad for both her and poor Horatio. In short, nobody could say “Good Night Sweet Prince,” to this guy with a straight face.
#6: Mel Gibson, 1990 Film Directed by Franco Zeffirelli
This film was so disappointing. Every Shakespeare fan knows that Zeffirelli made one of the most iconic film versions of Romeo and Juliet, which is still beloved after 50 years. So it’s deeply ironic, that he also produced an utterly forgettable version of Hamlet with human punching bag Mel Gibson in the title role.
#5: Maxamillian Shell
To be honest, this one isn’t all that bad. Shell is a talented actor, especially when you consider that English is his second language. And the fact that he won an Oscar a few years after this shows that mainly the problem with this film was the direction. His delivery is slow, dreary, with little vocal variety and no interesting cinematography. That said, you know he understands the part and does his best. My advice, don’t watch the film unless you’re watching the Mystery Science Theater Episode:
#4: Simba In The Lion King
Like I said in the previous post, it might be debatable whether or not The Lion King is Hamlet, but if it is, I really hate this interpretation. Simba is not given time to mourn his father or contemplate revenge. Nor is he especially concerned with his kingdom for most of the movie. In essence, he’s a spoiled brat, who just happens to be the heir to the throne, so he is the only one who can overthrow Scar and take the kingdom. Really, every time Simba is onscreen I keep hoping Nathan Lane will start singing and drown him out. To paraphrase Hamlet himself:
This twerp cries out, and speaks each petty line of dialogue as grossly as an unwashed lion’s mane.
I haven’t had the privilege to play Hamlet, though I have come close many times. I’ve done scenes in classes and during recitals, recorded monologues, even sung the Gravedigger’s song online. The closest I actually got to doing the whole part in front of an audience was reading Hamlet in front of my high school class.
In 2020 when I had a little free time during quarantine (like many of us), I decided to record a short video for a lecture on Hamlet, where I did a clip of “To Be Or Not To Be.” I was never happy with it, but let me know what you think:
#2: Arnold Schwartzenegger in “Last Action Hero”
“Wait!” You’re saying, “Wasn’t Schwartzenegger on the Good Hamlets list too?” Yes. Yes, he was. Like I said yesterday, when it works, “Last Action Hero” is a cheeky, self-aware parody of all action movies that fully acknowledges that Hamlet is their true progenitor. Sadly though, when it’s not doing that, it’s a poorly directed, unfocused, dull mess. Like a lot of Hollywood blockbusters, I think this movie eventaully was taken over by studio heads who really didn’t get the joke. Having Arnold’s character Jake brood when he discovers he’s fictional just wastes time and goes nowhere.
Nick – “This is a wonderful moment for me, Mr. Slater. I’ve never met a fictional character before. How new and exciting this must all be for you.”
Jack Slater – “Hey, I just found out I was imaginary. I mean, how would you feel is somebody made you up? Your job, your marriage, your kids. Oh, yeah. Let’s push his son off the building. Gives you nightmares for the rest of your life. But you’re fictional, so who cares? I’m sorry. But I don’t find this new and exciting to discover that my whole life has been a damn movie.”Arnold Schwartzenegger (as Jack Slater)
This moment in particular explains the problem with the film- it keeps wanting to be dramatic when it doesn’t need to be. The film loses focus when it starts commenting about action movies instead of gently poking fun and parodying them. Ironically, when Schwartzenegger is playing Hamlet he does some of the best acting in the movie. So I love this film when it’s a clever pastiche, but I hate it when it’s trying to give a fictional character depth.
#1: EVERYONE IN “STRANGE BREW”
What happens when you try to make a comedy out of “Hamlet,” and then get rid of Hamlet? In this case, you get THE WORST SHAKESPEARE ADAPTATION I’VE EVER SEEN!!! I simply can’t believe this exists- a comedy starring Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Mel Blanc, and MAX VON SYDOW FROM THE SEVENTH SEAL?
If you read a lot of my posts, you know I enjoy trying to find Shakespearean tropes in movies that aren’t intentionally Shakespeare. Heck, I even did one about Hamlet and Disney’s Coco. So I know you might be saying to yourself, “Why is he claiming this silly Canadian comedy about drunk guys is Shakespeare? He must be reading too far into this.”
Nope. No I am not. Look at the facts:
- The main location is called Elsinore.
- The head of Elsinore beer is murdered by his brother.
- The dead brother comes back as a ghost.
- The heroine’s name is PAM, just add a -let and you clearly see her significance to the plot. She even gets declared insane halfway through the movie.
Weirdly, the 1980s and 90s had a lot of comedies that used Shakespeare as a framework; from Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy to Porkys 2, which hinges around a production of Romeo and Juliet, to later comedies like “Get Over It,” “She’s All That,” and “Ten Things I Hate About You.” It seems that a lot of writers wanted to try their hands at reworking Shakespeare for comedy.
But what about this version? IT’S TERRIBLE. The film doesn’t even focus on Pam, the Hamlet analogue, and instead focuses on the idiotic hockey hooligans Bob and Doug Mackenzie played with a tedium that would make Polonius cry to be stabbed again. The germ film was actually this sketch from the Second City Improv Troupe’s TV show: SCTV:
So like a lot of TV stars aiming for the big screen, Moranis and Thomas decided to turn these sketches into a movie, and they don’t even hide how lazy they are taking the exact same premise of this sketch and repeating it verbatim in the movie:
So the premise is, much like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, these hapless idiots find themself caught up in the court drama of Elsinore, only this time it’s a beer company, not a castle, and they actually help the hero, not the villain, though completly by accident.
So who’s bright idea was it to pair these Canadian donut munchers with Hamlet?
According to Mental Floss, it was Thomas’ own idea to base the film on Hamlet, and the script went through many stages of re-interpretation of the play:
Dave Thomas studied English Literature in college, and thought it would be funny to class up Bob and Doug’s big-screen debut by modeling the pair after Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Pam (Lynne Griffin), who takes over her recently deceased father’s brewery in the movie, is also modeled after Hamlet, who in the play returns to Denmark after the murder of his father. English lit fans will also note that Elsinore Brewery is named after Hamlet’s royal castle of the same name.Sean Hutchinson. “11 Frosty Facts About Strange Brew”
I’ve heard this film defended as a slice of Canadiana (is that even a word), and that the Hamlet comparisons are a way of riffing on Canada’s “Postmodern identity.” In essence, the film is Hamlet because both Hamlet and Canada are meta, but I don’t see it that way. I see it as a way to hoodwink people into thinking this comedy is smarter than it is.
Right now you’re thinking, “Geez, we got hosed! What about Hamlet, you knob?”Dave Thomas, ending of this POS