Happy National Poetry Month! Here's a Definitive Ranking of the Best Poetry Movies

It's time to rhyme your couplets, crack open the Plath, and start referring to yourself by your first two initials, because it's National Poetry Month. In case the myriad of nationally-themed months has left you flustered, here's your reminder that Poetry Month has been around since 1996, and it's not going away anytime soon. There are plenty of ways to celebrate, including attending poetry readings, signing up for poem-a-day emails, and writing some verse yourself. Powell's Bookstore even has an online poetry bracket a la March Madness, where all-female poets are duking it out for the title of Best Poet of All Time.

But if you're more interested in watching poetry butchered on a medium-to-large-sized screen, you can always watch one of the hundreds of movies based on poems, poets, or poetry education. Some are horrendously inaccurate, more than a few are racist, and some are delightful, but all of these poetry movies will get you in the creative spirit to finish Poetry Month right.

Image: Touchstone Pictures

#10 - 'Beowulf'

If Beowulf were a food, it would be three-day-old French fries. It might sound like a good idea if you’re drunk or desperate, but once you indulge, it’s gross and might make you sick.

In case you haven’t read Beowulf the epic poem, it is delightful, not nauseating. Only Hollywood could turn something so fascinating into an poorly animated, hour-and-a-half of mindlessness.

Image: Paramount Pictures

#9 - 'Troy'

Troy wasn’t so much a movie as it was an excuse to see Orlando Bloom and Brad Pitt run around, get sweaty, and make out with gorgeous women. I highly doubt this is what Homer had in mind when he penned the Aeneid, but at least the costars are really ridiculously good looking.

Image: Warner Bros.

#8 - 'Dead Poets Society'

I realize that many people would put this film at the top of the list. But as someone who cares deeply about the study of literature, and about diversity in that study.

Although Robin Williams is adorable, many of the “lessons” from this movie have nothing to do with the reasons poetry is so great. Also, I refuse to worship a movie about an all-boys private school as the best portrayal of American education. Nope.

Image: Touchstone Pictures

#7 - 'Braveheart'

Oh Mel Gibson, how you’ve butchered poetry. Technically, Braveheart is based on the 15th-century poem The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace, but it’s clearly more interested in proving that Mel Gibson is both Jesus and a freedom fighter than illustrating the true story of William Wallace’s life.

This would be lower down on the list, but Mel’s speech before to the troops still motivates me.

#6 - 'Mulan'

I used to love Mulan. She was one of my favorite Disney princesses growing up, probably because she spent the majority of her film wearing pants and getting things done.

And although Mulan is LOOSELY based on the Chinese poem, The Ballad of Mulan, it leans on some icky Asian American stereotypes. As commentators much smarter than myself have pointed out, there is even an overarching message in the film that white women are more empowered than those of East Asian descent.

Image: Disney

#5 - 'Freedom Writers' (2007)

This is where the list turns from actively bad to simply “meh.” I don’t love Freedom Writers, because frankly, the “educator who makes a difference for at-risk youth” trope had been played out by ‘07. But it’s still a feel-good movie that addresses the terrors of public education, so I can’t really stay mad at it.

If you really want to see touching or procative films about impoverished schoolchildren, rent Pay It Forward or The Class.

Image: Paramount Pictures

#4 - 'Poetic Justice'

Poetic Justice might be one of the few movies to feature two living poets: Maya Angelou and Tupac Shakur. Some of the references might be a little dated and sometimes the dialogue is a bit hokey, but at its heart, this movie tackles the issues poets face like few other modern films.

Image: Columbia Pictures

#3 - 'Howl'

Before James Franco was sexting teens, he starred in a movie about the first beat poet, Allen Ginsberg. Howl adapts the poem of the same name into a pseudo-biopic, which tries to capture the irreverence and imagination of the beat movement. Watch it with a paperback copy of the poem in one hand and a cup of black coffee in the other.

Image: Werc Werk Works

#2 - 'Shakespeare in Love'

I’m going to get this out of the way first: Joseph Fiennes was looking FINE in this movie. Beyond that, the love story between Will and Viola is adorable, and the references to multiple Shakespeare plays will make everyone smile.

Plus, who doesn’t love to see Gwyneth Paltrow in a mustache?

Image: Universal Pictures

#1 - 'O Brother Where Art Thou'

Even though this adaptation of The Odyssey is looser than George Clooney’s age standards for his girlfriends, it’s a treat. As one of the few great adventure movies of our time, it’s something you have to watch once, then watch again and again because you’ve been hooked. And if you’ve somehow managed to miss the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou, you need to buy it. Right now.

Image: Universal Pictures