Gnomeo and Juliet Most Recent in Long History of Shakesploitation.

Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 9 2011 5:03 PM

Gnomeo Must Die

This Friday, Touchstone Pictures will release Gnomeo and Juliet , the studio's first animated picture, its first G-rated release, and the first film to remake Shakespeare's timeless tragedy using lawn ornaments.

But Gnomeo is not entirely the firstof its kind. The Romeo, Juliet and Shakespeare brand names have been used topeddle schlock for years, as part of a genre we might call Shakesploitation. Thiscategory doesn't include offbeat updates like Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, or even creative repurposings like West Side Story. (Romeo and Juliet, of course, was itself a retelling.) Instead, Shakesploitations exploit the Bard's enduring popularity and name-recognition primarily to boost box office, with little literary intent, and at any cost to the source.

Forrest Wickman Forrest Wickman

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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How do you know Shakesploitation when you see it? Punny titles and high-concept scenarios are a dead giveaway. And in the case of Romeo spin-offs, you can tell a filmhas moved into that territory when no one even dies at the end.

Here are some of the most bizarre bastardizations of Romeo and Juliet ever committed to film.

(Spoilers henceforth.)

1. Romie-0 and Julie-8

This 1979 Canadian television movie (also known as Runaway Robots! Romie-0and Julie-8 ) centers around two star-crossed androids. 

Suicide count: 0.

2. ABC Family's Pizza My Heart

In Verona, New Jersey, where we lay our scene,
Two rival pizzerias, bake their lives...

Suicide count: Unless this family film takes an unexpected dark turn with pizza knives, presumably 0.

3. Romeo Must Die

While notable for being a breakout film for both Jet Li and R&B starAaliyah, this 2000 martial arts film about rival gangs concerns itself morewith beatings and beats than with Shakespeare's text.

Suicide count: At least 1 guilt-ridden gangster, though Romeo does not, in fact, die.

4. Romeo & Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss

(It's about seals.)

Suicide count: 0.

5. Tromeo and Juliet

This ultraviolent, soft-core schlockfest (from cult studio Troma Entertainment) might actually bethe closest cousin of Gnomeo and Juliet. Its gleeful blend of the high, the low, and the camp asks not to be taken seriously, but to be reveled in as abit of burlesque. It proves that blending the high and the low can be effectivewhen provocative whereas in Gnomeo , the same gesture just makes for kids' stuff.

Suicide count: 1, an autodefenestration triggered by the sight of Juliet transformed into (according to Wikipedia) "a hideous cow monster, complete with a three-foot penis."

Titles that did not make this list include Romeo & Juliet: A Monkey's Tale , Romeoand Juliet with Herpes , and, my personal favorite, Romeo Loves Juliet... But Their Families Hate Each Other!

What all-too-loose adaptations did we miss?

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