Some stories never get old, but in some cases we don’t mind because they’re just so charming. That is the case with “Beauty and the Beast.” Like any story that’s told over and over again, it has gone through some changes over the years often incorporating more modern values, but most of the core elements have remained the same. A young, beautiful woman takes her father’s place as the prisoner of a hideous Beast who falls in love with her. At first she is repulsed by his appearance, but slowly grows to care for him as she sees his kindness and goodness. Eventually, she falls in love with him too and her love breaks the spell that’s been placed on the Beast. He is transformed back into a handsome prince, they marry and presumably live happily ever after.
It’s a story we all love to believe in, or at least its happy ending where love and kindness triumph and transform us for the better. Below are fifteen films (which excludes some some pretty good TV adaptations and movies) that have told this story best. While each version inevitably has similarities, each makes its own unique contribution to the classic fairy tale
15. Beauty and the Beast (1992)
Around the same time Disney’s classic iconic film was released, a much smaller company, Golden Films, released its own version. Sure, it was shorter (clocking in at a little less than an hour), and a much less progressive spin on the fairy tale. However, it did have original music as well as some new additions to the plot that include Clara, a castle servant who is also the main source of humor and whose magical powers make her job a little easier.
And while Belle is as annoyingly perfect and beautiful as her sisters are ugly and selfish, she is concerned about more than just her family and provides whatever assistance she can to the less fortunate. She also has a new conflict to deal with, as she dreams of a fairy who warns her not to trust the Beast in spite of the kindness he shows her. The Beast himself also makes an emotional journey of his own, as he is so genuinely touched by her kindness that he changes his ways. And I’m pretty sure this is the only version where he’s actually not wearing pants. Here’s hoping none of the kids who watch notice that small detail.
14. The Beautiful Beast (2013)
This movie brings the fairy tale to the modern world and actually does something a bit new. The Beast is a woman, but she is a pretty woman. However in this story although Isabelle (Shona Kay) is attractive on the outside, she’s actually ugly on the inside. She’s a spoiled, rich socialite whose sole concern is spending as much money as she can on herself and her equally shallow friends. Then one day while skiing in Switzerland, she gets lost and finds herself stranded in a remote cabin with no internet or phone. Except, there is one very attractive guy named Jeremy (Brad Johnson), who is also something of a tormented soul hiding from his past. He isn’t the least bit interested in catering to Isabelle’s spoiled demands. Will they overcome their initial antagonism towards each other and fall in love? Will Isabelle learn to be a better person and help Jeremy move on at the same time? When Isabelle returns home, will she lose Jeremy and return to her old ways? We all know the answers and where this is going, but there are some very funny enjoyable moments, even if the journey is heavy on clichés and light on originality
13. The Beautician and the Beast (1997)
This adaption, “The Beautician and the Beast”, is very reminiscent of the 90’s; It especially reminds us of the sitcom “The Nanny.” If you weren’t a fan but enjoy the nostalgia of that time, you will still find something to enjoy in this movie. Fran Drescher’s character is a New York cosmetologist who is mistaken for a science teacher, and is given a job tutoring the children of the ruler of an eastern European country who finds himself threatened by democracy. Perhaps appreciation for the 90s is the only prerequisite to enjoying this movie, since it is very much a product of its time. Just how 90s is it? Drescher actually tells someone to “talk to the hand.” It also features some more unfortunate trademarks of the era such as, stereotypical representations of gay people and Europeans, and some bad terrorism jokes. It’s doesn’t exactly make for enlightened viewing, but it does allow people to lean back and enjoy a simpler time, or rather, the last time a movie like this could be made. A time where a combination of “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Sound of Music,” and “The King and I” resulted in a happy ending where a woman could not only get her man, but could bring about the release of political prisoners and free elections.
12. Beauty and the Beast: A Dark Tale (2009)
This 2009 Australian medieval fantasy really tries to incorporate the horror genre along with fantasy and fails spectacularly; its B-movie credentials make it so enjoyably ridiculous that it’s impossible to mind too much. It has Belle (Estella Warren), the washerwoman’s daughter, running around in a pink costume that looks like it was bought at a Halloween Express. That means tight with a short skirt and low-cut corset top that allows, or rather guarantees, that we see some pretty ample cleavage. And sure, Belle and the Beast (Victor Parascos) hardly spend any time together and have even less chemistry than Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in the “Star Wars” prequels, but who cares? Audiences are compensated with: bad computer effects that include a monster who looks nothing like the troll he’s supposed to be; some truly terrible writing that has glaring plot holes; and unintentionally hilarious death scenes, one of which features a decapitated witch’s head that’s somehow still able to say, “How dare you!” If it sounds like something Syfy would air, it did indeed find its way to that very channel soon after its release.
11. Beastly (2011)
In the film “Beastly,” the fairy tale is brought to modern-day New York City with the two lovers as high school students. Alex Pettyfer is Kyle, a rich, good-looking, popular student at a ritzy school, and Vanessa Hudgens is Lindy, a fellow student that the callous Kyle doesn’t bother to get to know. One day, Kyle plays a cruel joke on another student, Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen), who unbeknown to him happens to be a witch. Kendra punishes him by transforming him from a blonde heartthrob into a bald, tattooed monstrosity. He can break the curse if he can find someone to love him by the end of the year, but if he fails, he’ll stay repulsive forever. This causes Kyle’s life to drastically change, as his shallow father is so ashamed by Kyle’s appearance that he hides him away in an expensive apartment with only a maid (LisaGay Hamilton) and a blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris) for company. But it does prompt him to take more of an interest in Lindy, and manages to persuade her father to let her move in with him after he gets on the bad side of a few drug dealers. And so their love story begins, bolstered by some great comic relief from Harris, and a delightfully weird performance from Olsen. It’s equal parts cheesy, hilarious, and oddly enjoyable in a way only a teen movie can be, with an ending that heavily implies that more magic is on the way.
10. The Scarlet Flower (1978)
This version of “The Scarlet Flower” should be higher up on this list, but it doesn’t exactly improve on its predecessor. It’s certainly not for lack of originality. While the plot is mostly the same, that of a merchant finding his life in peril after he plucks a scarlet flower, the journey there is wildly different and much more experimental. The Beast also has an interesting look, resembling more of a forest spirit than the animal he is so often depicted as. Belle’s father is led to the Beast’s castle by a series of bizarre events. Once he partakes of the food at the Beast’s castle, he is pulled into its enchanted world where the curse has created a cold, lonely atmosphere of ritual and lifelessness. Even the beauty, Aljona (Marina Ilyichyova), finds herself drained by this cloistered environment. It is a world dominated by the red glow of the titular flower which blooms in the forest where the Beast dwells, with the vibrant woods being the lone source of life and color. It is where Aljona and the Beast are able to connect and find joy in the world as they cautiously circle each other and begin to fall in love. However, so much emphasis is put on ideas and the experimental means that the love story itself can, and does, come off as oddly passionless. Nevertheless, “The Scarlet Flower” remains a creative, darkly metaphorical spin on the fairy tale.
9. The Scarlet Flower (1952)
“The Scarlet Flower” is the Russian version of the fairy tale, with this film clocking in at about forty minutes. The story is basically the same; the beauty being a young woman named Nastenka who asks her father, a ship’s captain named Stephen, to bring her back a scarlet flower that she saw in a dream. Her father agrees and discovers the flower, and much else, as he gets thrown from his ship during a storm and finds himself on a magical island. The rest of the story follows the familiar path; He finds himself in the usual trouble when he plucks the titular flower and his daughter Nastenka takes his place against his wishes.
The animation is gorgeous, especially for the period. During Nastenka’s stay, she is surrounded by animals both beautiful and adorable, such as peacocks, lambs, and swans. The Beast is also depicted differently than usual and resembles a swampy creature akin to Bigfoot rather than an animal. The period does feature some unfortunate misogynistic touches, such as the jealousy of Nastenka’s sisters leading them to trick her into staying later, and Nastenka herself resembling a perfect angel more than a person. But these faults are also found in many other versions. “The Scarlet Flower” remains an interesting variation of a classic tale, with the Russian animation and culture adding unfamiliar characteristics to an otherwise familiar story.
8. Spike (2008)
Other entries on this list explore the horrific undertones of the “Beauty and the Beast” story, but “Spike” embraces them in a way that is definitely not for the faint of heart. Taking place over the course of a single night, the film follows four young friends who find themselves in peril after their car crashes. As the night progresses, they come upon a strange being who dwells in the forest and things become more and more surreal. It is quickly revealed that the strange, spiky person (or monster) has a past with The Girl (Sarah Livingston Evans) that goes back to their childhood. He has been watching and waiting for a chance to reunite with her ever since.
As the night unfolds, the film explores the consequences of such an all-consuming obsession, which features callbacks to everything from Disney’s 1991 take on this story to earlier tales of lovers and the myth of Hades and Persephone, as well as Cupid and Psyche. Throughout the movie, Spike’s (Edward Gusts) character and intentions are frustratingly, yet fascinatingly, doubted as he veers from sympathetic to monstrous, leading to a truly suspenseful viewing that is equal parts horrific and tragic. It also upends the usual horror conventions by injuring The Girl’s boyfriend which leaves him unable to take action, thus making the girl herself along with her lesbian couple friends to be the ones who move the story.
7. Beauty and the Beast (2017)
This was part of Disney’s live-action relaunch of its classic films. And while it was enjoyable, it has rightly been criticized as being too much of a rehash of the 1991 original. Still, this adaptation offers a few original touches, incorporating the original story of Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) being imprisoned for clipping a rose rather than simply being discovered by the Beast. It also ups the stakes by making the castle’s servants in danger of becoming ordinary household objects rather than conscious ones; in essence, they will die if the curse isn’t lifted.
Emma Watson is also a delight as Belle and Dan Stevens plays the Beast as a hardened, vulnerable intellectual. These two slowly come together, aided by their common love of literature, with a supporting cast that features the likes of Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, and Emma Thompson.
Most famously, it also introduces Disney’s first gay character in film with Josh Gad’s LeFou. Gad is actually the highlight of the movie, with his larger than personality more than matching the grandeur of the film’s sets and surroundings. His performance is equal parts hilarious and heartfelt, with his character’s redemption feeling all the more earned.
6. Beauty and the Beast (1987)
This movie might just be the strangest entry on this list, despite the fact that it basically has the same plot as the other films. Much like “Labyrinth,” which came out a year prior, it is a live-action musical which features some baffling dialogue, odd acting, and of course singing. But unlike “Labyrinth,” there isn’t anything to prepare us for why characters who are not animated decide to just burst into song. Perhaps a few puppets would have prepared viewers better.
Rebecca De Mornay plays Beauty who has long grown used to catering to the needs of her siblings and is happy to feel needed. She then goes to the Beast’s (John Savage) castle, where she is waited on for a change. Every night she and the Beast have dinner together, and every night he asks Belle if she loves him and if she will marry him. She always answers no, preferring instead to dream of a handsome prince who says she is the key to saving him.
Filmed in Israel, the movie takes advantage of its location with a unique setting, and definitely makes the most out of its meager budget as it gives viewers a more family-friendly experience. Unlike “Labyrinth,” there’s no David Bowie to serve as a charismatic, insanely talented center, but it’s still a fun ride.
5. Beauty and the Beast (2014)
This movie goes back to the roots of the fairy tale while tossing in a few new elements. Belle ( Léa Seydoux) goes to the castle prepared to die in place of her father, and discovers that the Beast (Vincent Cassel) would rather marry her than kill her. The film makes the most of today’s special effects giving us some truly gorgeous imagery with the costumes and sets, especially with the castle and creatures who reside there. Much like the 1946 version, it has a subplot involving Belle’s brother trying to take some of the castle’s wealth for himself, but it also adds a new backstory for the Beast. He was a Prince who broke his promise to his Princess to never hunt the golden deer that lived in the nearby forest. He discovered too late that the deer was actually his beloved Princess. He and the castle’s inhabitants then found themselves cursed by her father, the god of the forest.
The effects are amazing even as they ultimately threaten to overwhelm the story. However, the amazing actors, especially Seydoux and Cassel as the lovers at the film’s center, more than hold their own in their decadent surroundings and the action scenes that involve giant, moving statues.
4. Beauty and the Beast (1962)
This film takes a new approach to the source material. Here, the Beauty’s name is Althea (Joyce Taylor) and she is already not only deeply in love, but engaged to the man who has become the Beast, Eduardo (Mark Damon). As the movie begins, Althea and her father are journeying to Eduardo’s kingdom in Italy for the wedding, only to find trouble brewing. Eduardo is acting secretively by sending all of his servants away from the castle before sundown, except for his closest advisor, then hiding himself away and refusing to see anyone once night falls. He remains the same man Althea knows and loves when the sun rises, but soon she and her father discover that Eduardo is doomed to turn into a hideous, werewolf-like creature every night unless he can break the curse a sorcerer has placed on him.
Of course, Althea’s love turns out to be the key, but the group’s efforts to break the spell is complicated by the intrigues of a usurper who is after Eduardo’s throne. The film may have somewhat undercut its own message of love triumphing over all odds, but for the most part, this is an example of a new approach working out in an enjoyable and charming way.
3. Panna a netvor (1978)
In some versions of this story, it is heavily implied that the beauty faces sexual danger as she finds herself alone with a beastly suitor. In this Czech film, death is a very real possibility, as director Juraj Herz brings all the horror elements to the forefront.
Here, the Beast is a winged-birdlike creature with a very precarious grasp on sanity. He’s also an actual monster; a vicious killer who has murdered people unlucky enough to set foot on his territory. Few love stories begin with the love interest murdering an innocent woman, but the Beast does just that and plans to do the same to Julie (Zdena Studenková) when she arrives at his castle. His castle has been reduced to a shell of its former glory and is now a hollow, dark, gutted, wreck. However, when the Beast sees her, her beauty and eventually her innocence stop him from harming her. Instead he speaks with her every evening, never allowing her to see him. The Beast begins to become more human with his claws even turning back into hands. It’s a very gothic approach that makes their romance feel that much more tender, ultimately allowing both of them to triumphantly step into the glorious light that has eluded them both for so long.
2. Beauty and the Beast (1946)
This French version of the classic fairy tale is said to have set the standard for all adaptations that came after. The sets are lavish, the costumes are beautiful, and the performances are spectacular, especially that of Jean Marais who plays no less than three roles. The movie conveys a dreamlike state of wonder, enhanced by the black and white photography. As we watch this film, it is swooningly obvious that director Jean Cocteau was also a poet.
In this version, Belle (Josette Day) is the saint of the family. She takes care of her father while her spoiled siblings recklessly spend his money, even when he no longer has any. When Belle’s father runs afoul of the Beast (Jean Marais) for plucking a rose, Belle cannot bear the thought of him dying for a gift that she had asked him for. She secretly journeys to the Beast’s castle, prepared to die. Instead, the Beast tells her that she can have anything she desires as he lavishes her with gifts. The castle is indeed a breathtakingly magical place, where disembodied human arms serve food and provide light and statues are living things. At first Belle pities the Beast, but then develops feelings for this creature who yearns to be a man. He is tormented by his appearance and animal nature. Seldom has a love story so been so beautifully told, even if it somewhat contradicts its own message and features some of the misogyny of the time.
1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Some may consider it blasphemous to put this version above Cocteau’s 1946 version, but a pox on all their houses. Not only was this the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture, but it’s also the version where Belle is depicted as a real person rather than the perfect, angelic servant she is so often portrayed as (as in most entries on this list). She actually gets angry, impatient, and she occasionally yells. In other words, she exhibits a range of emotions and makes a few mistakes rather than always doing the right thing. She lives in a time and place where everyone expects her to look pretty, get married, then cater to her husband’s every whim. But Belle is an independent, bookish young woman who longs for something other than romance. She wants an adventure, something more for her life.
This is also the least hypocritical version of the story. Nearly every Beauty and the Beast film will have at least a little of that; taking a woman’s beauty for granted while endorsing her falling in love with someone who is essentially a very rich jailer. But this version not only makes the Beast change into someone who is worthy of Belle’s love, it takes its time building their love story as they slowly get to know and truly love each other. Watch this movie for the best this fairy tale has to offer.