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12 Movies to Watch After ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’

We recommend the movies that came before and influenced Joel Coen’s take on the Scottish play.
Macbeth in The Tragedy Of Macbeth
By  · Published on January 14th, 2022

Throne of Blood (1957)

Throne Of Blood Mifune

Considered by many still to be the best adaptation of Macbeth, Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood takes the plot of the play and translates it to a samurai film set in feudal Japan. Despite the obvious differences (including the reworded dialogue, of course), it’s a rather faithful retelling. Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune plays the main character, who like Macbeth is a soldier who assassinates and then takes the place of his lord, as is prophesized. And his eventual defeat and demise are even caused by a forest seemingly come to life, also as foretold.

Coen celebrates the film in his interview with The Film Stage:

“I think the best adaptation of Macbeth is the one that really doesn’t do the language, which is the [Akira] Kurosawa one, ‘Throne of Blood.’ In the sense that it’s the story of ‘Macbeth,’ but it’s not really the play, because he’s not doing the language. But in a sense, it’s the best movie of the bunch.”

Throne of Blood is streaming on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Coriolanus (1979) and Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

Muchadoaboutnothing Denzel Emma Kate

Denzel Washington, who plays the title character in The Tragedy of Macbeth, has been doing Shakespeare throughout his career, having played Othello early on in his studies as an actor and later taken roles for notable stage productions of Richard III and Julius Caesar. Also early in his career, just after making his screen debut on television but before breaking out into movies, Washington performed multiple roles in a Joseph Papp-produced staging of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus featuring only Black and Hispanic actors, including Morgan Freeman in the title role. There’s a video of the show out there.

More than a decade later, when he was not only a well-established actor but now an Oscar-winning movie star, Washington was cast in Kenneth Branagh’s second movie based on a Shakespeare play. In this adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, Washington plays the supporting character Don Pedro, half-brother of Keanu Reeves’ Don John and matchmaker for the couplings in the romantic-comedy plot. It’s a much lighter example of the Bard and of Washington’s talents, a reminder that the actor has a fun, humorous side that’s not seen or recognized enough.

Much Ado About Nothing is streaming on Max Go and Amazon Prime’s Cinemax channel.

Burn After Reading (2008)

Burn After Reading Cast
Focus Features

Neither Joel Coen nor Frances McDormand has prior examples of Shakespeare adaptations on-screen, but Shakespearean elements have definitely found their way into the films of Joel and Ethan Coen. Their 1990 gangster picture Miller’s Crossing comes to mind for its power struggles. You can also find links in Blood Simple, Barton Fink, Fargo, Intolerable Cruelty, The Big Lebowski, True Grit, No Country for Old Men, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and Hail, Caesar! — I guess almost all of their movies have a touch of the Bard.

But one, in particular, is worth looking at before the rest. In anticipation of the release of The Tragedy of Macbeth, our own Anna Swanson looked at the Coens’ Burn After Reading as a parallel, complete with McDormand in a role compared to her Lady Macbeth. As Swanson sets it up:

“To transpose themes of ambition and paranoia from the Medieval Scottish highlands to the present day, Washington DC makes one hell of a fitting locale. Of course, ‘Burn After Reading,’ which follows an ex-CIA analyst blackmailed by two out of their depth gym employees, is not an adaptation of the Bard’s work. But boy, does it share some similarities.”

I would share more of the essay, but I’d just want to share the whole thing, so do yourself a favor and check out Swanson’s “Reading ‘Burn After Reading’ as a Shakespearean Tragedy” after you’re done here.

Burn After Reading is available to rent or buy from your favorite digital/VOD outlet.

Romeo and Juliet (2014)

Romeo And Juliet 2014 - movies like Tragedy of Macbeth

A number of cast members in The Tragedy of Macbeth have done their fair share of Shakespeare on the stage. Less so in movies and television productions, though some of the stage works have been taped and released for viewers outside the theatre. Alex Hassell, for instance, can be seen in recordings of Royal Shakspeare Company productions of Henry IV Part 1Henry IV Part IIHenry V, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And Kathryn Hunter is in taped versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Timon of Athens.

In 2013, a Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet featured a mixed-race cast — the Montague roles all filled by white actors and the Capulets all played by Black performers. Corey Hawkins, who portrays Macduff in the new Macbeth movie, had the part of Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin who is vengefully killed by Romeo. There was also a film made of the production that screened in cinemas via Fathom Events, and fortunately for the purpose of this column at least, that taping of the 2014 Romeo and Juliet is also now available online as well.

Watching any version of Romeo and Juliet is a good idea anyway since it could be seen as a sort of prequel to The Tragedy of Macbeth. In the interview with The Film Stage, Coen mentions that Washington has asked about how his and McDormand’s characters met. Coen explains: “My instinct was perhaps we could use the play that Shakespeare wrote of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ that we met when we were 15. They were against us marrying, but we married anyway, and if we hadn’t committed suicide we would have ended up as the Macbeths 50 years later.”

Romeo and Juliet is streaming on Tubi, Plex, and Broadway HD.

Tale of Tales (2015)

Kathryn Hunter In Tale Of Tales

Kathryn Hunter is one of those primarily stage-focused thespians who only occasionally show up on film and television roles. After her memorable portrayal of the witches in The Tragedy of Macbeth, though, Hollywood could be calling more often. Until then, new fans can check out those theater works that are available plus the rare screen appearances, from her film debut in Sally Potter’s Orlando to her other recent role in Will Sharpe’s HBO limited series Landscapers. Her most easily relatable gig, however, might be Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales, in which she plays, that’s right, a witch.

The small role is part of one of the titular tales in the anthology film, which is based on the dark fairytale works of Giambattista Basile, from Pentamerone. In “The Flayed Old Lady,” Hunter’s witch nurses an old woman who has been wronged by the king. Thanks to the witch, the woman is turned youthful and more beautiful, and afterward, she is welcomed back to the castle by the unknown king and made his queen. Happily ever after? Sort of? Well, there’s also more to the story that I won’t spoil. The rest of the fantastical medieval tales are worth a watch, too.

Tale of Tales is streaming on Amazon Prime’s AMC+ and Roku channels.

James Turrell: You Who Look (2016)

James Turrell Documentary - Movies like Tragedy of Macbeth

Finally, for this edition’s obligatory documentary selection, I recommend a very short film about minimalist artist James Turrell. In the Little White Lies interview, Coen says, “In terms of influences or inspirations for this film, there’s a little James Turrell in there – although not really consciously.” If you’re not familiar with Turrell and his work, get to know him in Jessica Yu’s James Turrell: You Who Look. It’s only about eight minutes long, and you can watch it right here:

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.