The summer movie season officially began with last week's Iron Man 3, and already, this week offers a different kind of Hollywood blockbuster: Baz Luhrmann's lavish, bombastic 3D adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. The film, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire, certainly stands out from its summer blockbuster contemporaries. After all, there's nary a superhero in sight. But it's far from the only time that Hollywood has taken a crack at the Great American Novel. In fact, filmmakers have been tackling The Great Gatsby for the better part of a century — though so far, no one has managed to make the Great American Novel into a great American film. Here, a comprehensive look back at The Great Gatsby's legacy on the silver screen:
1. The Great Gatsby (1926)
The first film adaptation of The Great Gatsby came out within a year of the first printing of Fitzgerald's novel. And just three years before Warner Baxter became the second man to win Best Actor at the Oscars (for In Old Arizona), Baxter played Jay Gatsby opposite a cast that included Lois Wilson as Daisy and Neil Hamilton as Nick. "Come and see it ALL! — and enjoy the entertainment thrill of your life!' promises the minute-long trailer, which even manages to squeeze in a shot of the famous eyes that graced The Great Gatsby's book cover. Unfortunately, "coming and seeing it all" is no longer an option. This film has been lost, and only the trailer survives, though that might be for the best: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald reportedly hated the adaptation so much that they walked out of the theater midway through.
2. The Great Gatsby (1949)
The second black-and-white adaptation of The Great Gatsby benefited from the advent of sound, with Alan Ladd stepping in as Jay Gatsby opposite Betty Field as Daisy. The film opens with Nick (Macdonald Carey) and Jordan Baker (Ruth Hussey) visiting Gatsby's grave before flashing back to "another life, another world" in prohibition-era New York. This adaptation spends more time moralizing than Fitzgerald's novel, and ends with a touch sure to rankle purists: Nick and Jordan, who are mutually disgusted by the New York socialite scene, decide to return to Nick's hometown in the Midwest together.
3. The Great Gatsby (1974)
In the midst of a stellar run in the 1970s that included The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, and the first two Godfather films, Francis Ford Coppola wrote this lifeless, misbegotten film version of The Great Gatsby after a script from Truman Capote was rejected by director Jack Clayton. Robert Redford stars as Gatsby opposite Mia Farrow as Daisy, depicting a screen romance that's most noteworthy for its utter lack of chemistry (though the film was a box-office hit). But 1974's The Great Gatsby has flaws that extend beyond its casting: "Gone is the romance that was so divine," read the promotional tagline, missing the point of Fitzgerald's novel entirely.
4. The Great Gatsby (2000)
This made-for-TV movie, which originally aired on A&E, casts Paul Rudd as Nick, Mira Sorvino as Daisy, and — perhaps most curiously — English actor Toby Stephens as Gatsby, one of the most quintessentially American characters in all of literature. Like the 1949 version, A&E's adaptation opens by jumping ahead, depicting Gatsby being shot by Wilson while lounging in his pool. This version also takes the liberty of "improving" Fitzgerald's ending by having Nick throw Gatsby's monogrammed cufflinks into the bay behind his house while he delivers the book's famous closing lines. (Though embedding is disabled, the movie can be watched in full here.)
5. G (2002)
For anyone who's been turned off by the decades of blandly conventional Great Gatsby adaptation, there is another option: G, a retelling that recasts the start in the Hamptons in the modern day. Richard T. Jones plays Summer G, a "mogul and a self-made millionaire" who encounters his former love Sky Hightower at a lavish Memorial Day party. Though G follows the general arc of The Great Gatsby's original narrative, it makes significant tweaks in its third act to keep viewers familiar with The Great Gatsby guessing up until the end.
6. The Great Gatsby (2013)
With an estimated production budget of $100 million — and an advertising budget that's at least half that much — Baz Luhrmann's lavish 3D take on The Great Gatsby is by far the most expensive adaptation of Fitzgerald's novel, though early reviews have been as mixed as its predecessors. Will stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan manage to elevate Fitzgerald's Great American Novel to greater cinematic heights than its predecessors? We'll find out when The Great Gatsby hits theaters on Friday.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Ted Cruz is the new Sarah Palin
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How liberals are unwittingly paving the way for the legalization of adult incest
- Watch out, China — America is working on dogfighting drones
- How the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover revealed the worst of both shows
- Why you probably don't have Ebola — even if you shook hands with America's 'patient zero'
- Fall film guide: All the movies you should see in October
- The dumb war in Syria will haunt Democrats' 2014 prospects
- Bill O'Reilly and Stephen Colbert are accidentally having a serious debate on ISIS
Subscribe to the Week