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The 5 Best Esmeralda from the Hunchback of Notre Dame

Updated on August 27, 2015
Disney Esmeralda
Disney Esmeralda

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a story that lots of people know about but few people know the real story. It’s so much more than just a deformed Bellringer who loves a Beautiful young Gyspy girl who is being pursed by a lustful priest, there are just so many layers to the story. However one big thing that often gets lost, especially where film versions are concerned, is who is the title character of the story? The English title and the title for many of the movies who make one think it’s Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame but really the original title of the book is a Notre Dame de Paris which points to the Church, the main setting, and the leading lady, Esmeralda.

This page is a look at which Esmeralda in film, and by extension TV movies were included, is the best depiction of the character and just all around memorable character. And because the pool is fairy small on Hunchback that are films that can be watched this is The Top 5 Best Esmeraldas from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Opening it up to Esmeralda from musical versions is a can of worm for another list.

Since there are always rumors of new versions being made, this list is subject to change.

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Salma Hayek as Esmeralda, 1997 The Hunchback
Salma Hayek as Esmeralda, 1997 The Hunchback

Number #5

Salma Hayek, 1997 Hunchback

At Number #5 we have Salma Hayek’s version. Hayek is one of those actresses that seemed ideal for the role as she is beautiful, sensual, kind and independent. Now if you know the book, Esmeralda wasn’t really all that brave and she was kind of a whim but the Disney version morphed the character in to a more take charged woman and the 1997 version was made on the coat-tails of the Disney version.

A pro and a con of Hayek’s depiction of Esmeralda is she plays the role as Salma Hayek, kind, sensual and empowered. I don’t feel like she is really acting all that much however that is really enough because Hayek was pretty much destined to play Esmeralda. Where she really shines in this movie is her dance number. I somehow doubt it is accurate to the way Esmeralda might have dance but there is a nice belly-dancing vibe and it entertaining, it might be one of the most entertaining parts of the 1997 that isn’t a glaring flaw.

Gina Lollobrigida as Esmeralda, 1956 The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Gina Lollobrigida as Esmeralda, 1956 The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Number # 4

Gina Lollobrigida, 1956 Hunchback of Notre Dame

For many people, Gina Lollobrigida is their favorite Esmeralda as she has a free-spirited charm to her performance that is very engaging and very similar to Esmeralda’s personality in the book. She also is the ONLY actress to play the role in bare feet, which speaks to authenticity and her dedication to the role. She also have a lovely dance scene that has a very spanish flamenco tone it and she the only Esmeralda to sing while she dances, which she does in the book.

Lollobrigida also has the right look for an Esmeralda that is meant to be a full-fledge Gypsy, Esmeralda in the book is not. She has dark hair which is in the fashion for the last 50’s and dark smoldering eyes. I would also point out that book Esmeralda does have black eye and hair too. There is just something to Lollobrigida that looks right for the part.

All that being said however there is something to her playing this role of a young naïve girl I just don’t buy. For whatever reason, Lollobridga feels too mature for the role. I don’t believe that her Esmeralda is young and innocent. And if that was the point to her character, that she was just a more mature Esmeralda that would be fine but the role was written to be the young innocent girl Esmeralda was in the book.

Disney Esmeralda
Disney Esmeralda

Number #3

1996 Disney Version

If you’re like me, the Disney version of Esmeralda was the first depiction of the character you saw. The Disney version seems to be a mix of the 1939 version with a sense of social justice and reverence for the Virgin Mary and Lollobrigida's sex appeal spliced with late 90’s independent woman.

As far as being accurate to the original character of Victor Hugo’s book, Disney could not have been more wrong. However they did create an interesting spin of the character who at her core has all the tenants of the character; a beautiful, kind person who helped Quasimodo out when he needed help.

Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda, 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame
Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda, 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame

Number #2

Maureen O’Hara, 1939 Version

The 1939 version is one of the most respective versions of the story. It was made in the golden age and was the released the same years of two hallmark American movies, Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of OZ and yet it still shone bright that year. This version was speared-head by lead actor, i. e, Quasimodo, Charles Laughton who had a good working with relationship with nineteen year old Irish actress, Maureen O’Hara,

The Hunchback was her American debut. At Nineteen, O’Hara is the youngest of the screen actresses to play Esmeralda and as result she brings a great spark and youth to the role. Though O’Hara’s Esmeralda is less carefree than Lollobridga’s or the 1923 Esmeralda. Due to the political climate of 1939 with World War II, Esmeralda is lot more concerned for the treatment of her people who are being persecuted in Paris and needing papers to live there, which was not the case in the book. And yet despite her concern O’Hara still has the love of life that Esmeralda has in the book.

Patsy Ruth Miller as Esmeralda, 1923 Version  of The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Patsy Ruth Miller as Esmeralda, 1923 Version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Number #1

Patsy Ruth Miller, 1923 Version

The 1923 a.k.a The Lon Chaney version is one of the most famous movie versions of the Hunchback of Notre. I would say that it is the second best known Hunchback movie with Disney being first. At the time the role of Esmeralda was coveted by every young actress in Hollywood and in the end Twenty-One year Patsy Ruth Miller won the role. Unlike most Esmeraldas, this version of Esmeralda followed her backstory in the book where is stolen away from mother, albeit there are some difference, like in mother was noble and not a poor woman. Miller also plays Esmeralda more like she is the book, as sweet, free-spirited, innocent, romantic and a bit shallow.

Miller’s depiction does differ somewhat from the book in that she isn’t afraid of Frollo, none of the Esmeraldas really seem to be, and she has an understanding of the social structure. In the book she thinks that she can marry Phoebus, a noble, without an issue but in the 1923 movie she rejects Phoebus for being in a different class as it’s a broader she can’t break with ease.

Miller was also pronounced by French authorities of Victor Hugo to be the "ideal" Esmeralda. If that isn’t a testimonial, I don’t know what is.

Who is your favorite character from The Hunchback Notre Dame?

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