The Great Gatsby movies – what a difference!

The 1974 Gatsby
The 1974 Gatsby

Have you seen both Gatsby movies? What a shocker! After watching the 2013 Gatsby, I knew I was going to have to watch the older version and re-read the book, just to get a handle on the differences. I remember seeing the 1974 version and liking it, but that was a long time ago. So if you’ve seen both, maybe you’ll agree with me, and maybe you will prefer one over the other.

Here it is in 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013) in 3D, was directed by Baz Luhrmann. Luhrmann is an Australian film director who has also directed Australia (2008), Strictly Ballroom (1992), Moulin Rouge! (2001) and Romeo + Juliet (1996). Luhrmann and Craig Pearce co-wrote the screenplay. This movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan and Toby Maguire as Nick Carraway.

This film is very different. It’s shiny, glitzy, loud, manic, surreal and a little bit campy. The party scenes are insane, and the background music is rap and hip hop, with just a little bit of jazz. That threw me off balance. Luhrmann uses a film technique that quickly zooms in on characters and places, with a “whoosh” kind of sound effect. What’s surprising, however, is how true this film is to the plot and dialogue and the scenes, while crisp and modern and almost “in your face,” are very similar to the 1974 Gatsby and to the book itself.

The earlier version of the The Great Gatsby was released in 1974 and was directed by Jack Clayton. Francis Ford Coppola wrote the screenplay. This movie stars Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby, Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan, Bruce Dern as Tom Buchanan and Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway.

When I watched this one again, after just having watched Baz Luhrmann’s version, I was shocked at s-l-o-w-l-y this version moved, how quietly the characters spoke and how very tame their antics were compared to the 2013 Gatsby. A great example is the party at Myrtle’s New York apartment. In Luhrmann’s movie, everyone there is going crazy. It’s like a super wound-up frat party – adults gone wild! But in the 1974 movie, you’d hardly know it was the same party. Gatsby’s house parties are also much calmer in the older film, but the contrast isn’t as strong.

Something else that struck me was how drippy and sweaty everyone is in the 1974 movie. I can’t imagine being a man back then and wearing all that gear – three-piece suits, buttoned up and ties knotted tightly. Sweat is just pouring out of those guys! The women had it much better clothes-wise back then, but the heavy make-up and its smudgy drippy-ness makes me thankful for air conditioning (and less make-up!). Everyone is still good-looking though and it doesn’t take away from the film. I actually think it’s a good depiction of the time. There isn’t nearly as much sweat in the 2013 film – everyone looks pretty and fresh, except for George Wilson, who always looks sweaty.

This movie also follows the book’s plot and dialogue very closely, with just a few changes. And the casting is very similar. Leonardo DiCaprio looks a lot like Robert Redford and there is a strong likeness between all the characters. I thought it was interesting how two very different films could have nearly the same foundation in plot and casting.

One of the characters that seemed especially different, however, was Meyer Wolfsheim, who is based on the real Arnold Rothstein, a Jewish gangster and the man responsible for fixing the World Series in 1919. He looks like a deceivingly nice man in the 1974 movie, but the 2013 Wolfsheim is just plain scary, and much younger.

And, while Toby Maguire looks a lot like Sam Waterston’s Nick Carraway, the new Nick is much goofier than the old one, and I think that takes away from the film.

I think I prefer the 1974 movie overall, for nostalgic reasons and because it wasn’t so exhausting to watch. Maybe a younger set prefers a slick, modern adaptation. There is one scene I think is much more powerful in the 2013 movie – the confrontation between Daisy, Tom and Gatsby at The Plaza in New York. Leonardo DiCaprio explodes with anger in that scene, revealing his defeated self. It’s very realistic. In the 1974 movie, Robert Redford simply clenches, then un-clenches his fist, a little too tame, even for me!

I’m glad I watched both, and re-read the book. It’s a great story and worth the time.

I had a little fun comparing the looks of each character from both movies. See how much they look alike?

Here's Robert Redford
Here’s Robert Redford as Gatsby…





Gatsby leo
…and here’s Leonardo DiCaprio as the man.
Here's Mia Farrow...
Here’s Mia Farrow…
daisy 2013
and here’s Carey Mulligan as Daisy.
Nick 1974
Sam Waterston is Nick Carraway.
Nick 2013
Toby Maguire is a goofier Nick.
Bruce Dern is a good Tom Buchanan.
Bruce Dern is a good Tom Buchanan.
tom 2013
Joel Edgerton is the new Tom.
jordan 1974
Lois Chiles plays Jordan Baker in 1974.
jordan 2013
This is Elizabeth Debicki as the new Jordan.
meyer 1974
Howard Da Silva looks like a deceivingly nice Meyer Wolfsheim.
meyer 2013
Amitabh Bachchan plays the modern Meyer.
George 1974
Scott Wilson is the original George.
George 2013
This is Jason Clark as George Wilson in the 2013 film.
myrtle 1974
Karen Black plays the old Myrtle Wilson.
myrtle 2013
Isla Fisher is Myrtle in the 2013 movie.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

8 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby movies – what a difference!

  1. I haven’t seen the Robert Redford version, but I’ve read the book about 3 times and was disappointed in the newer movie version. All great actors, but as it you said, it was loud, glitzy, and manic.

  2. I haven’t seen the new one. I can’t bring myself to do it because Baz is always so manic. Romeo and Juliet was enough, I’m not sure I want to see that treatment with Gatsby. I have seen the older version and I do agree it’s slow. I love that you mentioned the sweating. Hahahaha. It’s so true. Great post.

  3. Thanks for commenting! I have not seen the other movies by Baz so now I know what he’s like. It’s a great story either way, but I much prefer the 1974 version.

  4. I have seen both versions. Sam really was fantastic as Nick,but Karen Black whom was talented was unsettingly nightmarish as Myrtle and saturated my memory of the film. The new one is worth seeing although the acting and direction does lack a certain depth.

  5. Robert Redford will always be Gatsby for me. I loved the 1974 film and have read the book a number of times. I also liked the 2013 film simply because I love the story. But to me, the earlier movie reflected the book and the times perfectly.

    1. Hi Darlene – thanks for checking out this post. The 2013 version was so different. There were parts I liked a little better, but for the most part I think I preferred the 1974 version. I’ll have to go back and see what I actually said! 😉

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