"Pride and Prejudice" where Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen touch their heads together tenderly with their eyes closed.
(Focus Features)

18 Best Jane Austen Movie Adaptations, Ranked From Worst to Best

They HAVE bewitched me body and soul!

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that all Jane Austen fans have watched and rewatched pretty much all the adaptations of her novels ever made—and that they will use the most clichéd intro ever.

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Jokes aside, though, we all know why we’re here—the release of Netflix’s new adaptation of Persuasion —starring Dakota Johnson as the protagonist Anne Elliott—which has lit up the internet with memes, scathing reviews, and more than one doubt re: its questionable dialogue choices. 

While Jane Austen adaptations are no stranger to modern takes that set the story into our current time period and culture—two words: As if!—it’s pretty clear that what this new Persuasion is trying to do is the Bridgertonification of Austen’s works. And while yeah, Bridgerton is inspired by Austen-era novels and it’s set in more or less the same time period, let’s just say that the two couldn’t be more different.

What’s certain, though, is that Jane Austen and her works haven’t stopped being popular since they first appeared on the literary scene, and rightly so, they are truly timeless novels that are simultaneously incredibly tied to the culture they were coming from, while also being forever relevant.

The sheer number of movie adaptations that they have generated over the years is another testament to Austen’s legacy on our collective cultural landscape. Some are amazing, others, not so much. Now, I am a lifelong Austen fan, so while I did try to stay as objective as possible, a lot of my personal taste has made its way into this ranking.

Here are the 18 best Austen movie adaptations, ranked.

18. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

Some elements of this Renée Zellweger-starring classic are very much reflective of the fact that it was shot in the early 2000s—meaning that it has not aged well. The fat-shaming alone truly is something else—which is why this movie appears at the bottom of this list. However, it’s undeniable that Bridget Jones’s Diary remains one of the most widely-known Austen adaptations to ever hit the screen—even though it’s technically the adaptation of an adaptation, being inspired by Helen Fielding’s novel of the same name, which was itself based on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Plus, it features one of the ultimate Mr. Darcys, Colin Firth.

17. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012)

This is probably the most early-2010s way of making a Jane Austen adaptation, but it was all over my Tumblr dashboard back in the day. As the title suggests, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries modernizes the story of Pride and Prejudice and tells it through a series of vlogs told by Lizzie Bennet herself while also shuffling some characters around—so that Mary Bennet becomes Lizzie’s cousin rather than her younger sister and Kitty turns into Lydia Bennet’s cat. Created by Hank Green and Bernie Su, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was the first product of its kind to win an Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement In Interactive Media.

16. Love & Friendship (2016)

Lady Susan might be one of the lesser-known of Austen’s works—this epistolary novel was probably completed in the last years of the 1790s but not published until the 1870s, well after the death of the author herself. Still, while not as popular as her six major novels, it’s still part of the Austen canon—and it has, of course, inspired a movie adaptation. Kate Beckinsale plays the titular Lady Susan, a recently-widowed noblewoman who likes to spend her time seducing married and single men alike—especially to maintain her comfortable lifestyle.

15. Bride and Prejudice (2004)

Another adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Bride and Prejudice is a Bollywood-style take on Austen’s most famous work, directed by Gurinder Chadha—the same director of another early 2000s classic, Bend It Like Beckham. The movie, structured as a typical Bollywood musical but filmed primarily in English, stars Aishwarya Rai as Lalita —the second of the four Bakshi sisters— and Martin Henderson as Will Darcy. The two butt heads immediately, but of course, we all know how that is going to turn out. A feature of this movie that definitely needs to be highlighted—Naveen Andrews playing Balraj, our Mr Bingley-esque character who falls for Lalita’s eldest sister Jaya.

14. Sense and Sensibility (2008)

Sense and Sensibility is one of Austen’s more popular works, so it makes sense that it was adapted time and time again for both television and cinema. While the best Sense and Sensibility in my book will always be another one—I’m sure you can tell which one—this 2008 mini-series produced by the BBC and starring Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood adds a bit more tension than the original while indulging in some of its most sexual themes. It also features Dan “Cousin Matthew Crowley” Stevens as Edward Ferrars and what can I say but that we love to see it.

A gif of Dan Stevens as Edward Ferrars looking dumbfounded and so perfectly in character

13. Persuasion (2007)

There are two different adaptations of Persuasion on this list—and both are made-for-television movies put together by the BBC. This more recent version stars Sally Hawkins as the heroine Anne Elliot, and Rupert Penry-Jones as the once-rejected Captain Frederick Wentworth. The movie was generally well-received, even though there have always been some reservations about Hawkins’ performance.

12. Mansfield Park (1999)

Opinions on Mansfield Park have always been as mixed as they come, with some critics believing it’s one of the best in Austen’s entire canon, and others, thinking it’s the lowest of her six major novels. The same goes for the book’s heroine, Fanny Price— are we meant to take her at face value or is she actually a brilliant example of Austen’s irony? Be that as it may, the book got its first feature-length adaptation in 1999—with Frances O’Connor taking on the role of Fanny—one that underlines some of the novel’s anti-slavery themes.

11. Mansfield Park (2003)

I’m not usually one for radio dramas, I have to admit—I’m only now starting to get into audiobooks. But I would watch or listen to anything if David Tennant is involved, and so that’s how I discovered this particular adaptation of Mansfield Park. Our favorite Doctor/Demon/Detective voices Tom Bertam, while Edmund Bertram is none other than Benedict Cumberbatch. Felicity Jones is the story’s heroine, Fanny Price—a role that wouldn’t be her first Austen performance. Still, it’s a radio drama and I’m very much a visual person, which is why it can’t be any higher on this list.

10. Persuasion (1995)

The second adaptation of Persuasion on this list, this one a bit older—released just before the Great Austen Wave™ of 1995 brought on by Sense and Sensibility and Clueless. The production was able to film in the actual location of the novel, especially at Lyme Regis and Bath, and the whole movie was shot chronologically—so that the leads, Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds, could really step into Anne’s and Wentworth’s minds and emotions.

9. Northanger Abbey (2007)

Northanger Abbey is famously known for being an ironic take on the all-popular Gothic novel—with the novel’s heroine, Catherine Morland, viewing the world in a way that’s completely distorted because all she does is read Gothic novels. The 2007 movie adaptation is another made-for-television movie, produced by ITV and starring Felicity Jones as Catherin and JJ Field as the story’s love interest, Henry Tilney.

8. Emma (1996)

Until the release of Autumn de Wilde’s version in 2020, the 1996 version was The Ultimate movie adaptation of Emma. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow as everyone’s favorite meddling heroine, as well as other pretty known names like Ewan McGregor, Toni Collette, and Alan Cumming, the movie was very faithful to the novel and also extremely well-received—it brought home an Academy Award for Best Original Score, while Paltrow scored a Satellite Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Comedy or Musical.

7. Emma (2009)

While there have been several takes on Austen’s sparkling heroine Emma Woodhouse on screen, the one and only television version for me has always been the one that aired in 2009 on the BBC starring Romola Garai as the titular character. Maybe it’s because the show’s writer, Sandy Welch, just gets period dramas—since she also worked on both the 2006 version of Jane Eyre, starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens as Jane and Rochester, and especially the 2004 adaptation of North & South, featuring Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage as Margaret Hale and John Thornton. Garai really captures the spirit of Emma, so much that she earned a Golden Globe nomination for her work.

A gif of Romola Garai as Emma Woodhouse in the BBC television series Emma

6. Fire Island (2022)

The most recent movie on this list, Fire Island has immediately burrowed its way into our hearts—or maybe just mine, because I am a Pride and Prejudice stan first and a human second. Written by Joel Kim Booster, who also stars as the movie’s main character Noah—our version of Elizabeth—the story follows five friends during their annual week vacation to ultimate-gay-holiday-spot Fire Island. As Noah’s best friend Howie—played by Bowen Yang—starts to flirt with Charlie (you guessed it, they’re Jane and Bingley), Noah himself immediately finds himself arguing with Charlie’s friend Will, played by Conrad Ricamora, who clearly went to the Matthew-Macfayden-as-Fitzwilliam-Darcy school of being painfully socially awkward.

5. Clueless (1995)

Alicia Silverstone stars as Cher Horowitz, the Nineties and American version of Emma. Rich, popular, and pretty, Beverly Hills native Cher and her friend, equally rich and pretty Dionne (played by Stacey Dash), decide to give their fellow student Tai (played by the late Brittany Murphy) the ultimate makeover—oh, and Paul Rudd is there, playing this universe’s George Knightley, a.k.a. Cher’s ex step-brother. Widely considered one of the best teen movies of all time, Clueless is nothing short of iconic, from Cher’s yellow plaid combo to her “Ugh, as if!” line.

4. Pride and Prejudice (1995)

When it comes to adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, I feel like you’re either a 1995 TV series person or a 2005 movie person—and from this ranking I think you can guess on which side I am. Still, there’s no denying that the 1995 television series, starring equally brilliant Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth as Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, has by now become iconic both as an Austen adaptation and as a screen transposition in general. Darcy’s dip in the lake has been described by the Guardian as “one of the most famous scenes in British television history”—and with good reason. Still, I am and forever will be a Matthew Macfayden walking-at-dawn person, which is why this version of Pride and Prejudice sits just shy of my personal podium.

3. Emma (2020)

In my humble opinion, the 2020 version of Emma—directed by Autumn de Wilde and starring Anya Taylor-Joy as the titular character—is the perfect way to make an Austen adaptation. Make it witty and light, because most of Austen’s novels have a solid base of irony and sarcasm. Make it somewhat modern, so that audiences can be entertained while keeping it respectful of the time it was created in. Have a brilliant actress play the heroine and make sure you show how the love interest is completely unmade by his attraction to her. Oh! Johnny Flynn’s George Knightley breaking down in his parlor so much he actually has to lie down on the floor, I’m thinking about you. The only reason it’s not higher on the list is that I’ve had literal decades to fall in love with the number one and two movies—and you can’t beat that kind of established relationship.

2. Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Emma Thompson won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for her work on Sense and Sensibility, and what is there to say but deserved. This adaptation of one of Austen’s most famous works—starring Thompson herself as Elinor Dashwood, the “sense” and Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood, the “sensibility”—directed by none other than Ang Lee, is really what you would call a timeless classic. I love everything about it—from Hugh Grant’s performance as Edward “Has Never Had A Clue In His Life” Ferrars to the quiet desperation of Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon to the scene where Edward’s sister Fanny freaks out on Imogen Stubbs’ Lucy Steele.

1. Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Not to quote another Austen work while we’re talking about Pride and Prejudice, but “if I loved this movie less I might be able to talk about it more”. The 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley as Lizzie and Matthew Macfayden as Darcy, is pretty much engraved in my brain and will probably never leave. It’s all so perfect, from the cinematography to the costumes to the soundtrack to everyone’s performance. And it’s so full of iconic moments—the Hand Flex™, the first declaration under the rain, Darcy walking across the moor at dawn with his coat flying behind him. It doesn’t get any better than this, I think.

It’s pretty much as Tumblr user guinevereslancelot said: “the way p&p 2005 said: here’s one of the most beloved enemies to lovers romances of all time, we don’t need to change anything but here’s Keira Knightley and the most socially awkward Mr Darcy you have ever seen. we’re going to sprinkle in a hand touch and an almost kiss during an argument following a love confession in the pouring rain. what excellent boiled potatoes. yearn. you will think about this movie every day for the rest of your life”.

So true, bestie. I do think about this movie every single one of my waking hours. I love it most ardently.

So, what do you think? Which adaptations would you put in the top three?

(featured image: Focus Features)


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Author
Benedetta Geddo
Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.