Film adaptations of literature are in a weirdly contradictory position; although a famous title has the unique ability to make people fork it over at the box office, audiences by default almost never like a retelling as much as the original.
Fleshing out characters with good-looking actors is a great way of building viewer loyalty (just think Colin Firth in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice), but sometimes, sexiness is horribly misapplied. Let’s take a look at these seven hot on-screen couples – for better or worse – inspired by literature.
1. Mia Farrow and Robert Redford (Daisy and Jay) in The Great Gatsby (1974)
Though nowadays she is best known for her performance as the mother of a demonic child in “Rosemary’s Baby,” Mia Farrow was once simply considered one of the most talented beauties in Hollywood. This made her an obvious choice for the 1974 role of Daisy Buchanan, the intoxicating but selfish woman for whom Jay Gatsby would – and does – sacrifice everything.
And who better to convey Gatsby’s goodnatured-ness than a young Robert Redford?
Actually, Redford’s indomitable charm has been cited as part of the reason that the 1974 adaptation doesn’t quite work; whereas the novel’s Gatsby has nothing but a thin veneer of respectability over his otherwise uncultured upbringing, Redford always seems so wonderfully assured that he fails to convince us as an awkward wooer.
2. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes (Romeo and Juliet) in Romeo + Juliet (1996)
DiCaprio, just 22, was still a year away from Titanic fame at this point, making it even more impressive how good he manages to look in that blue, floral print shirt.
Caire Danes was 17 when the edgy adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was released and, like DiCaprio, had only been in a few movies prior to Romeo + Juliet. However, anyone who has seen Olivia Hussey as Juliet in Zeffirelli’s 1968 adaptation can agree that Danes had a difficult act to follow.
Her winged getup in the costume party scene has since become an iconic image of the ’90s, proving that you can pull off “sexy angel” without having to strut around in overpriced lingerie.
3. Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles (Patrick and Kat) in Ten Things I Hate About You (1999)
Long before his gruesome Joker makeover, Heath Ledger made a name for himself as the strapping yet doe-eyed Patrick Verona in this ’90s retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.
In an… umm… wildly innovative plot twist, Patrick is paid $350 to romantically pursue the unpopular Kat Stratford, with whom he then – get this – inadvertently falls in love. Formulaic? Perhaps, but if it’s good enough for Shakespeare we have no room to complain.
Rather than ask ourselves why this particular storyline still intrigues us after hundreds of years, let’s instead marvel at how little our definition of shrewish has changed. Julia Stiles’s Kat is opinionated, outspoken, and antagonistic, which, good looking or not, makes her unforgivably unfeminine by the standards of her peers. In a modern innovation, however, the movie breaks with tradition in deciding NOT to end the story with Kat responding obediently to Patrick’s every beck and call.
4. Angelina Jolie and Ray Winstone (Grendel’s mother and Beowulf) in Beowulf (2007)
Appearing in the film naked, digitally enhanced, and strategically covered with liquid gold – in CG – Angie bravely redefined the way we think of the word “monster.”
Just when you thought that thousand-year old epic poetry couldn’t get any sexier, the screenwriters also decided that Ray Winstone’s Beowulf would fight Grendel in the nude; having pored diligently over the original text, they insisted that this “wīg ofer wæpen,” or “battle without weapons,” somehow translated to a “battle without tanlines.”
In a further departure from the original Beowulf story, the title character and Grendel’s mother then go on to spawn a fire-breathing dragon. After all, nothing says “baby-daddy” quite like a naked guy who kills your son after a night of heavy drinking.
5. Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt (Daisy and Benjamin) in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Although Cate Blanchett’s recent portrayal of Daisy Fuller in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button impressively spans from ages 21 to 81, the image most moviegoers remember is of a very limber Daisy attempting to seduce Benjamin via forbidden dance… Never mind that Brad Pitt’s Benjamin looks about 50 at the time. In fact, Pitt spends the majority of the movie beneath incredibly effective old-man makeup, forcing audiences to be mindful of his talent and whatnot.
Daisy’s interest pays off in a few years, however, as the backwards-aging Benjamin transforms from a hunched-over Senior Citizen into a leather-jacket wearing, motorcycle-riding Adonis.
The two have a child in their respective primes only to come to the realization that the older woman / younger man dynamic won’t work as time goes by. Although Demi Moore and Susan Sarandon might argue otherwise, we must concede the point as Benjamin’s laugh lines turn to pimples – and then baby fuzz.
6. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson – and Taylor Lautner – (Bella, Edward, and Jacob) in New Moon (2009)
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson both have a disaffected punk look that just screams “undead.” Playing the roles of Bella Swan, a lovestruck mortal, and Edward Cullen, a do-gooder vampire, the two enter a relationship that challenges their ideas about love, life, death, and the implications of food cravings.
Enter Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black, a handsome young Native American who is riddled with muscles and also happens to be a werewolf.
After Jacob falls hard for Bella, she is forced to choose between the rivals – which is difficult, since both are chivalrous gentlemen with great abs who talk about their feelings and prefer commitment to animalistic urges.
Incidentally, the whole vampire/werewolf thing suddenly sounds a lot more believable.
7. Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law (Sherlock and Dr. Watson) in Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Alongside him was Jude Law playing a noticeably un-bumbling Dr. Watson. Though this Watson is considerably different from earlier onscreen versions, it’s actually closer to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original characterization of the doctor in his series of Sherlock Holmes novels. (Honestly, would Sherlock ever seek out the friendship of an idiot?)
But, wait, how did these two end up in a list of hot couples? Was there anything more than a platonic “bromance” brewing between these two characters?
The crime-solving duo enjoyed incredibly good chemistry during the filming of the movie, prompting Downey to call the film “a love affair of sorts.” Although Downey’s gay-baiting insinuations in the media ticked the studio off royally, it would be pointless to deny that there is a deep love between Sherlock and Watson, who, after all, do move in together. As bachelors. In the late eighteen-hundreds.