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The Best (and Worst) of the Major 'Little Women' Adaptations

Image: Wilson Webb/Columbia Pictures

The less said about this adaptation, the better. A who's who of '70s and '80s sitcom stars, this treacly two-part miniseries features The Partridge Family's Susan Dey as Jo, Family Ties' Meredith Baxter Birney as Meg, The Brady Bunch's Eve Plumb as Beth, and…William Shatner as Professor Bhaer (???).

'Little Women' (1978 miniseries)


Image: NBC/Photofest

There are things Jo March shouldn't be: perky, irritating, draining. June Allyson completely misses Jo's essential brooding core. This large-scale adaptation may be a feast for the eyes, but its script strays far from Alcott's pathos, plotting and characterizations, rendering it big but shallow.

'Little Women' (1949)


Image: MGM/Photofest

Clare Niederpruem's quasi-faith-based modern update isn't "bad," per se — it's as wholesome, pleasant and watchable as any version of the story. But it exposes its seams a bit too openly. The film, starring Lea Thompson as Marmee, was released in theaters, yet would have been much more at home on Lifetime, the Hallmark Channel or even Netflix

'Little Women' (2018)


Image: Courtesy of Pinnacle Peak

Heidi Thomas' script, which takes its time to equally develop each of the girls as individuals, beautifully integrates Alcott's laugh-out-loud humor into the larger story about accepting — even embracing — impending adulthood. Consider this among the classics.

'Little Women' (2017 miniseries)


Image: Tribeca Film Festival

Without a doubt, Katherine Hepburn is film's greatest Jo March. Compared to this vigorous and vinegary performance, every other onscreen Jo comes off as delicate and sullen. Yet, as glad I am to take in Hepburn's whole-hearted enthusiasm, her star power sacrifices every other castmember in the film.

'Little Women' (1933)


Image: RKO Radio Pictures/Photofest

This wild adaptation seamlessly winds you through past and present, Gerwig dispensing with chronological storytelling to make a grander statement about flashbulb memory and female ambition. 

'Little Women' (2019)


Image: Wilson Webb

If diving into Little Women is akin to wrapping yourself in a warm, cozy afghan on a cold night, then consider this version a top-of-the-line. Armstrong's vision is naturalistic, presenting the March sisters in all their innate sweetness and saltiness. It's the kind of film you can watch over and over again, especially in the days leading up to Christmas.

'Little Women' (1994)


Image: Columbia Pictures/Photofest

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