The 90s weren’t all grunge rock, Snackwells, and Doc Martens. They were also a golden era for classic-lit inspired movies, each of them given a totally 90s modernizing treatment: Jane Austen met California rich girls, and Shakespeare mashed up with high school cliques. Here are four of our favorite 90s movies with an awesome literary pedigree.
10 Things I Hate About You
Five words for you: Heath Ledger on the mic. This classic 90s flick is both a modern riff on “Taming the Shrew” and a love letter to Shakespeare and his themes (says one supporting character, of the bard, “We’re involved“). Kat loves female-fronted punk, shrugs off seduction attempts by lowly high-school boys, and dreams of going to Sarah Lawrence. She meets her match in Patrick, a behavioral problem wrapped in a mystery, about whom dangerous urban legends abound. When a King Jerk popular guy offers Patrick a tidy sum to shave down Kat’s rough edges and get her to join him at prom, he takes the bait. What follows is teen movie gold, complete with Ledger’s unforgettable football field performance of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
This sun-drenched, consumerist rewrite of Jane Austen’s Emma works as a time capsule, a retelling, and one of the most enduringly charming teen comedies of the 90s. Rich girl Cher (Alicia Silverstone in her best role) is the story’s meddling Emma, taking a socially underprivileged new girl under her wing and pushing her to look for love in all the wrong places. Cher’s socially conscious ex-stepbrother (Paul Rudd) stands in for Mr. Knightley; Mr. Elton becomes an arrogant rich boy; and Emma’s fretful father, Mr. Woodhouse, is reimagined as a hardheaded businessman. Candy-colored shopping montages, LA vistas, and subplots involving ditzy classmates and lovelorn schoolteachers make Clueless worth an annual rewatch.
Romeo + Juliet
In this edgy, intensely romantic adaptation, Baz Luhrmann moves Shakespeare’s most famous star-crossed lovers to the fictional beachfront town of Verona. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo and Claire Danes’ Juliet frolic through a costume party and a swimming pool, get married to the sweet sounds of Prince, and die after a gun battle gone wrong between rival gangs of Capulets and Montagues. The movie is irresistibly lush, set on what feels like another planet, in which cars and phones exist but the rest of modern history has been wiped away.
She’s All That
A misfit artist with a heart of gold—and good looks just barely “hiding” beneath overalls and a pair of glasses—is taken under the tutelage of a pretty boy who is, you guessed it, getting close to her as part of a bet. This Pygmalion retelling has the golden boy trying to turn his artsy duckling into a prom queen swan (and falling in love with her along the way), and it’ll remind you why you used to wish every movie had a little bit of Matthew Lillard.