Skip to main content

Film Versions of "Little Women" Ranked


With Greta Gerwig's new version of Little Women now in theaters, it's time to look back at the versions that have come before. But first, a note on what's not included in this ranking: I'm only ranking the major movie versions, so I'm excluding the lost 1917 British film, the lost 1918 American film, the 1978 TV miniseries starring Susan Dey and William Shatner, the 2005 Broadway musical (but watch this clip of Sutton Foster singing the one good song from the musical), the recent PBS miniseries, or the 2018 modern day movie version. 


4. Little Women (1949)



A Little Women movie lives or dies by its Jo, and unfortunately, June Allyson wasn't a great Jo. Though I'm usually a fan of her work, Allyson's performance here overshoots headstrong and lands on just plain irritating. It's a shame, since all the supporting players have been perfectly cast - including Liz Taylor as Amy, Margaret O'Brien as Beth and Janet Leigh as Meg. Also, this version recycles the music used for the 1933 film, so it loses points for originality. Mervyn LeRoy directed. 


3. Little Women (1994)



If you're a Little Women fan, you'll be a fan of this perfectly fine adaptation. Everything you want is there, including a spunky Jo played by the excellent Winona Ryder. It also marked the first time a women, Gillian Armstrong, directed a big-screen version of the story. But it's very straightforward, and the lack of any bold choices makes it hard to argue that this is a definitive version. It also makes the puzzling choice of having the role of Amy split between two actresses, one younger in the early part of the film and one older in the later part. Maybe this wouldn't bother me so much if Kirsten Dunst wasn't such a recognizable face these days, since it's a little jarring when she's replaced by Samantha Mathis halfway through.


2. Little Women (1933)

















Katharine Hepburn is the definitive Jo March. There's no debate on this. It's a fact. Hepburn is such a perfect match for the spirit of Alcott's character that, I'd argue, left a lasting impression on her iconic star persona, still burgeoning when this movie was made. All of the other elements are really strong here, too, as director George Cukor's light touch perfectly suits the material. 


1. Little Women (2019)





While Cukor's film is the definitive adaptation of the novel, Greta Gerwig's is the best and most audacious piece of cinema. I don't know if that means it should be ranked higher than the 1933 one, but I'm putting at the top of this list. Gerwig's film deviates the most from the source material by chopping up the chronology and creating two intersecting timelines, one set during childhood and one in adulthood. It's a difficult trick to pull off, but it is wildly successful at contrasting the past and the present, underscoring the melancholic nature of growing up. The new film also works as a surprising piece of metafiction, in which the writing of the novel itself becomes central to the development of the themes. People like to complain about Hollywood endlessly recycling old stories, but a movie like this proves how vital and exciting new adaptations of stories we know well can be. 

How would you rank the Little Women movies? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Vanessa Redgrave in "Camelot": Review

Classic Film Review: Camelot (1967) The following post is a part of the 2017 TCM Summer Under the Stars blogathon, hosted by  Journeys in Classic Film . In celebration of Vanessa Redgrave day on TCM (which will be showing her movies all day long August 14th), I decided to revisit one of my all time favorite movies, Camelot . The 1967 film is an adaptation of the 1960 musical of the same name by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. The musical, which was based on T.H. White's retelling of the Arthurian legend The Once and Future King , which was a huge box office success and won four Tony Awards. The original cast recording was the best selling record in the country for over a year. A movie version was inevitable.  That movie came seven years later. Directed by Joshua Logan, Camelot starred Richard Harris as King Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Guenevere and Franco Nero as Lancelot. When the King of England decides to use might for right and establish a new order of chival

The Ten Best Films of 2020

2020 was an odd year for movies. Many of the ones scheduled to come out in 2020 were delayed due to movie theaters closures brought on by the pandemic. And many of the ones that did actually come out were released digitally. In 2019, I saw 44 films in a movie theater. In 2020, I saw only 11, all during the first two and a half months of the year. While watching movies at home on my laptop or TV is far from the ideal cinematic experience, I still saw a number of great films. Here are 10 of them.  10. I'm Your Woman  It took a few days after watching this crime drama, directed by Julia Hart, for me to really appreciate the sly magic it worked. Starring Rachel Brosnahan as the wife of a criminal in the 1970s who, after her husband goes missing, learns more about the criminal world in which he lived. It finds a unique perspective on a generic story and upends the tropes of the genre by focusing on the moments that would happen offscreen in a typical crime drama. Available to watch on P

The Ten Best TV Episodes of 2020

As I mentioned in my list of the ten best shows of 2020 , there was a lot of great TV this year. So, I've decided to list some of the best episodes of the year, to spotlight some shows that perhaps weren't strong enough overall to make the other list, but that had a really good episode.  10. "In the Belly of the Whale" ( Hunters episode one of season one, Prime Video) This show premiered back in February, which feels like a lifetime ago. But I liked it! It definitely won't be everyone's cup of tea, but you'd know whether or not it is by watching the 90-minute first episode, which is probably the high point of the series (it gets very twisty toward the end). Al Pacino is in it! 9. "Elizabeth, Margaret, and Larry" ( Curb Your Enthusiasm season ten episode eight, HBO) Curb Your Enthusiasm has done ten seasons in twenty years, and when the latest premiered, I thought it was stale and out-of-touch, a poor imitation of its former self. But the back