Everyone loves a good period romance, frolicking through 19th century England in long dresses and wavy updos, but sometimes you’ve got to spice it up a bit, and who could have guessed Jane Austen’s works would work so well in 1990s Los Angeles? Austen lived from 1775 to 1817, completing only six novels during her lifetime: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey, along with a final, posthumously finished book called Sanditon, and the epistolary novel, Lady Susan. Now, more than two centuries after her death, Austen’s influence has grown exponentially, with her writings transforming into many different mediums, including a lot of on-screen adaptations.
Considering how brilliant Austen’s writing is, especially the depth and complexity she puts into her female protagonists, it’s no wonder that people continue to remake and reinterpret her novels over the years. Though there honestly should be more adaptations out by now, particularly for her later novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, and we’ve yet to see these stories brought to life on-screen for more than a few different languages and cultures.
Looking at the current catalog of Austen movies, you’ll find great adaptations, practically perfect adaptations, and very bad adaptations. While some movies bring a brilliant new angle to Austen’s classic stories, some ideas fall flat. The safest bet is usually a straightforward adaptation of the material, and thankfully people still love to see old-fashioned romance.
But where does your favorite Austen film adaptation land on this list? Read on to see which movie takes the cake. To note, this list only includes theatrically released features. So sorry to say, but the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries with Colin Firth‘s iconic portrayal of Mr. Darcy is not in the running.
14. From Prada to Nada
In 2011, Austen’s 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility was brought to life in modern Los Angeles in From Prada to Nada. Starring Camilla Belle and Alex PenaVega as Nora and Mary Dominguez, two privileged sisters whose life is turned upside down when their father’s death forces them to move in with an aunt they barely know in East Los Angeles. The film adaptation aims to bring Latino representation to Austen, infusing the original story of sisters Elinor and Marianne with a story of Mexican heritage and identity set in a historical area of LA. The heart is definitely there, but Prada to Nada lacks the emotional depth to really make an impact.
13. Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy
If you ever wanted to see Austen’s works transferred to the modern Mormon lifestyle, look no further. Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy has got you covered. The 2003 comedy takes place in modern-day Utah, with Elizabeth Bennet (Kam Heskin) as a college student trying to become an author, while everyone around her continues to pressure her into getting married. Elizabeth has multiple suitors, including an arrogant businessman named Will Darcy (Orlando Seale). The film’s humor is heavily catered to a Mormon audience, so it’s safe to say that this adaptation isn’t for everyone. But if you are looking for a simple, fun watch with a familiar story, this might be a good pick.
In 2010, Aisha was released, a modern adaptation of Austen’s 1816 comedic romance novel, Emma. The protagonist is Aisha Kapoor (Sonam Kapoor), a young woman who belongs to a rich, upper-class family in Delhi, India, living a glamorous, privileged life. Aisha strongly believes that she’s the one best-suited to match up her small-town friend Shefali Thakur (Amrita Puri) with a businessman named Randhir Gambhir (Cyrus Sahukar), while her neighbor Arjun Burman (Abhay Deol) chides Aisha for her nosiness. While the story can be a little shallow at times, Kapoor as Aisha is magnetic, especially in her banter with Arjun, making Aisha an enjoyable watch that doesn’t go much deeper than surface level.
11. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Everyone seems to rag on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but honestly, it’s not that bad. With Lily James as lovely as always as Elizabeth Bennet and Sam Riley as the haughty yet handsome Mr. Darcy, the movie has two charismatic leads with great chemistry to hold up the story. Add to that Charles Dance, Lena Headey, Matt Smith, and a boatload of other recognizable faces, and there’s plenty to like. Especially Jack Huston, who plays a particularly smarmy George Wickham. The main shortcoming with the film is that as a zombie movie, one of the adaptation’s biggest draws, it doesn’t really commit to the concept. The action starts rather late in the story, and it could have definitely been more intense and gruesome.
10. Pride and Prejudice (1940)
The first full-screen theatrical adaptation of Austen’s famous novel, 1940’s Pride and Prejudice stars Greer Garson as Bennet and Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, the famous story is moved forward a few decades into the Victorian Era, a choice mostly made to make the film more visually interesting. Remarkably, author Aldous Huxley was one of the screenwriters, and the movie won a well-deserved Oscar for Art Direction. While both Garson and Olivier give charming performances, the chemistry’s a bit lacking, and the movie cuts out some of the best parts of the original story.
9. Bride and Prejudice
From Gurinder Chadha, the director of Bend it Like Beckham, 2004’s Bride and Prejudice is a Bollywood musical adaptation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The movie brings the 19th-century English tale to the modern-day in a small town in India, where Lalita Bakshi (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) aims to avoid her parents’ ideas for an arranged marriage and marry for love. At a family friend’s wedding ceremony, Lalita meets an American businessman named William Darcy (Martin Henderson) who initially puts her off, but over time the two grow closer as they start to understand each other, and well, you know the rest. Bride and Prejudice successfully adapts the original romantic story, while adding Chadha’s signature humor and style, celebrating Indian culture and bringing an unexpected warmth to the film.
8. Mansfield Park
In 1999, the only film adaptation of Austen’s third published novel, Mansfield Park, was released, starring Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price, a woman sent from her poor, overwhelmed family to live at her aunt and uncle’s fancy estate as a child, growing up as the odd one out. Fanny’s family wants her to conform to privileged society and follow her expected path, but Fanny isn’t one to do as she’s told. Mansfield Park is one of Austen’s more challenging novels to understand, exploring classism and deeper political quandaries, which the film, unfortunately, doesn’t go too deep into. Despite that, the adaptation is an enjoyable, feel-good movie, making it a solid entry in the world of Austen on screen.
7. Kandukondain Kandukondain
Another Bollywood musical, Kandukondain Kandukondain is an Indian Tamil-language film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility released in 2000. The movie stars Bride and Prejudice’s Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in an earlier role as Meenakshi, the counterpart to Marianne, while Tabassum Fatima Hashmi (known by her stage name Tabu) plays Sowmya, the counterpart to Elinor. Director Rajiv Menon builds a complicated tale exploring class, war, gender, and other issues on top of the traditional story, creating a well-made, culturally relevant film that stands on its own.
6. Love & Friendship
This 2016 comedy is based on Austen’s novel Lady Susan, written sometime in the 1790s but not published until 1971. Austen never submitted the work for publication for unknown reasons, but it eventually made its way to us, and in 2016, the first-ever big-screen adaptation was released as Love & Friendship, directed by Whit Stillman. Kate Beckinsale plays the flirtatious and highly intelligent Lady Susan Vernon, a recent widow who comes to visit her brother unexpectedly, stirring up trouble with her manipulative ways. Throughout her stay, she romances Reginald (Xavier Samuel), a young man oblivious to her selfish, scheming nature, and her married lover, Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin). Love & Friendship perfectly captures Austen’s sharp humor, while Beckinsale is brilliant in her portrayal of Lady Susan, an extremely modern woman who cares little for emotion when money’s on the line.
5. Emma (1996)
The 1996 adaptation of Emma stars Gwenyth Paltrow as the title character, with a stacked supporting cast that includes Toni Collette as Harriet Smith, Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley, Ewan McGregor as Frank Churchill, Polly Walker as Jane Fairfax, and Alan Cumming as Mr. Elton. Paltrow’s Emma is appealing despite her constant meddling, while the rest of the cast keeps an equal pace, creating a colorful and hilarious adaptation of the classic novel. Honestly, Collette as Harriet should be enough to convince anyone to love this movie.
Most people know by now that Clueless is an adaptation of the Austen novel Emma. Writer/director Amy Heckerling transforms the late 18th-century traditional story to 1990s Beverly Hills, with Alicia Silverstone’s Cher as a perfect modern Emma. The cult classic stands on its own as a comedy about a teenage girl who fancies herself a matchmaker, but it’s also a spot-on adaptation of the classic source material. Alongside Silverstone, Clueless features one of the late Brittany Murphy’s best performances as Tai, as well as Paul Rudd as Josh, with a supporting cast that includes Donald Faison, Stacey Dash, and Dan Hedaya. It’s one of the great teen comedies and among the very best Austen adaptations.
The most recent Austen film adaptation, 2020’s Emma., stars Golden Globe-winner Anya Taylor-Joy as the title character, and is directed by Autumn de Wilde in her feature filmmaking debut. The film is a relatively straightforward adaptation of the book that brings the story to vibrant life through fantastic cinematography and exceptional acting from Taylor-Joy as the well-meaning young Emma who can’t seem to stay out of other people’s love lives. The humor is sharp and abundant, and this adaptation gives particular attention to Johnny Flynn’s Mr. Knightley, giving him a deeper character development that adds authenticity to his romance with Emma. On top of that, Mia Goth is a surprising standout as the awkwardly kind Harriet Smith.
2. Sense and Sensibility
Proving that Emma Thompson is a huge talent, for not just acting but also screenwriting, 1995’s Sense and Sensibility is a fantastic adaptation of Austen’s 1811 novel. Thompson and Kate Winslet star as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, two sisters left penniless after their father passes away. The movie is directed by Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, and won Thompson an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for her first feature-length script. As expected, Thompson and Winslet are amazing in their roles, while Hugh Grant is delightful as usual as Edward, and the late Alan Rickman features as Colonel Brandon in one of his early roles, before he transitioned to mostly darker characters.
1. Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Starring Kiera Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfayden as Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is the obvious winner of the top spot on this list. Featuring Knightley, the all-star period film actress who can’t seem to stay away from the genre, it’s already amazing, but Macfayden perfectly encapsulates the socially awkward, rude, and somehow endearing Darcy. From the thorny first meeting to the famous rain scene, director Joe Wright makes us fall in love with Darcy and Bennet over and over again with each new viewing.
KEEP READING: The Best Romantic Shows on Netflix Right Now
William Peter Blatty’s 1990 film acts as a mirror and continuation of the original 1973 masterpiece.
About The Author