The story of Cinderella has been told for longer than you might think: The earliest versions appear between the first and seventeenth centuries, depending on whom you ask and which language you speak. Movies, too, have engaged with the fairy tale for about as long as film has existed. So when the newest version of Cinderella drops on Prime Video this weekend, it becomes part of a very, very long tradition.
We all know the animated Disney classic, but here are a few others to check if you want to dive deep into Cinderella’s cinematic legacy.
Director Kay Cannon has done a great job making the newest Cinderella “incredibly inclusive,” but it’s not the first time diversity has been a priority when casting the fairy tale. The 1997 version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella was way ahead of the times when it placed Brandy at its center. More specifically, it was executive producer Whitney Houston who made the call—she handpicked the young R&B star after passing on the princess role herself. Instead, Houston chose the part of the Fairy Godmother, which she brings to peppy, pitch-perfect life. That’s especially clear in iconic, earworm moments like “Impossible” that she shares with Brandy, and since Cinderella arrived on Disney+ earlier this year, we admit we’ve had that scene on repeat.
Brandy’s version was actually the third in a line of Cinderella TV specials all based on the musical by writing team Rodgers & Hammerstein. All three iterations cast leads who were relatively new to the screen—and the first was none other than a pre-stardom Julie Andrews. After following the theater darling’s career on Broadway, Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote the part of Cinderella specifically with Andrews in mind. When it was broadcast live on CBS in 1957, an estimated 107 million viewers tuned in to watch Andrews’ spirited (and eventually Emmy-nominated) performance.
After the smash success of Andrews’ Cinderella, CBS decided to have another go at the fairy tale, this time with Lesley Ann Warren as the princess. At the time, Warren hadn’t yet broken into the world of film, but Cinderella helped to launch her career as it had for Andrews years earlier. (Cinderella might be a bit of an Oscars good luck charm because, as fate would have it, both actresses ended up on screen together decades later in Victor/Victoria, for which they both earned acting nominations.) Warren’s Cinderella became a beloved TV tradition for many families—it was rebroadcast about once every year until 1974.
But let’s not forget that Cinderella exists outside of the show tune world of Rodgers & Hammerstein, too! One of the earliest film adaptations of the folktale is this silent version starring Mary Pickford, the unbelievably prolific silent movie star and original co-founder of the Academy. It’s a different experience without songs to sing along to, but the emphasis on body language and facial expression heightens the comedy and the drama—as does the unexpected moment when the newly crowned princess considers beheading her stepmother and stepsisters…. Plot twist!
Among Disney’s recent blitz of animated-classics-turned-live-action is Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, with the charming Lily James playing our unlikely princess. Unlike the 1950 animated movie, this one introduces us to Cinderella’s mother for the first time: In a compelling opening sequence, she tells young Ella to always “have courage and be kind.” But that’s quite a challenge once the relentlessly degrading Stepmother—played by Cate Blanchett, who has absolutely perfected her evil laugh and disapproving glance—comes into the picture.
The Brothers Grimm are some of the storytellers known to have passed down the Cinderella tale across centuries, and this movie sets its sights on their version of events. It’s the stripped-down, fairy-free, Renaissance-era story of Danielle (Drew Barrymore), and it still involves a cruel stepmother (Anjelica Huston) and a pair of slippers, yes. But it’s full of plenty of surprises, too, like the fact that Leonardo da Vinci plays a central role. It’s all quite a bit more exhilarating than the Cinderella stories you might be used to.