Movies Inspired by Shakespeare’s Plays

Beth Fhaner
 | Mar 05, 2018
West Side Story

Richard Beymer and Natalie ​Wood in the 1961 film ​West Side Story

Other films based on the Bard’s plays:

  • Coriolanus (2011; Ralph Fiennes directorial debut)
  • Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005, sci-fi/adventure film loosely based on Othello)
  • The Merchant of Venice (2004)
  • Deliver Us from Eva (2003, romantic comedy based on The Taming of the Shrew)
  • Get Over It (2001, teen comedy loosely based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • O (2001, drama loosely based on Othello)
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000)
  • Romeo Must Die (2000, action film loosely based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet)
  • Titus (1999)
  • Shakespeare in Love (1998, romantic comedy based on Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night)
  • Twelfth Night (1996)
  • William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)
  • Richard III (1995 and 1955 versions)
  • Much Ado About Nothing (1993 and 2012 versions)
  • My Own Private Idaho (1991, adventure drama loosely based on Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2 and Henry V)
  • The Tempest (1979)
  • Macbeth (1971)
  • The Taming of the Shrew (1967)
  • Romeo and Juliet (1968)
  • Kiss Me Kate (1953, based on The Taming of the Shrew)
  • Othello (1952)
  • Hamlet (1948, 1964, 1969, 1990, 1996, 2000 versions)
  • Henry V (1944)

Throughout the history of cinema, scores of films have either been inspired by or adapted from the Bard’s plays. Whether focusing on plot or characters—including storylines that utilize star-crossed lovers or mistaken identities—moviemakers have continued to borrow generously from William Shakespeare’s canon and its universal themes. Since SHREW! will be playing on the Segerstrom Stage from March 24 - April 21, we decided to take a look at some perhaps not-so-obvious films that were greatly influenced by a Shakespearean story.

Warm Bodies

​Teresa Palmer and Nicholas Hoult in Warm Bodies.

Warm Bodies (2013) –A paranormal romantic zombie comedy, the film has been described as an undead take on Romeo and Juliet. Based on Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name, the film chronicles the development of the relationship between a young woman named “Julie” and the zombie “R” eight years after a zombie apocalypse. The movie was noted for being told from a zombie’s perspective and for displaying human characteristics in zombie characters. Richard Larson of Slant Magazine said, “The ubiquity of Shakespeare’s original template allows Warm Bodies some leeway in terms of believability…but the film’s persistent charm encourages us to look past a few festering surface wounds and see the human heart beating inside, which is really what love is all about.”

She's the Man

​Clifton Murray, Brandon Jay McLaren, Channing Tatum and Amanda Bynes in She's the Man.

She’s the Man (2006) – Surprisingly, certain Shakespeare plays have tended to work well as the premise for some successful teen films, and this romantic comedy—a remake of the 1985 film Just One of the Guys—was based on Twelfth Night. Instead of a shipwreck, a new high school is the setting for this story, which features gender-bending, disguises and love triangles. Amanda Bynes plays “Viola Hastings,” a teen who must pose as her brother to play on a boy’s soccer team after her school soccer team is cut.

10 Things I Hate About You

Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate about You.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999) – Based on The Taming of the Shrew, this film is another high school romantic comedy-drama, where popular sophomore Bianca needs a date to the prom, but is only allowed to attend if her older, more ‘shrewish’ sister Kat can also find a date. Actors Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the late Heath Ledger all had breakthrough roles in this film. A moderate box office and critical success, the movie was adapted into a TV series of the same title a decade after its theatrical release.

A Thousand Acres

​Jessica Lange and Michele Pfeiffer in ​A Thousand Acres.

A Thousand Acres (1997) – Based on Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title, this film has been described as a “Midwestern” King Lear. In the movie, patriarch Larry Cook decides to hand joint ownership of his farm over to his three daughters, and in doing so, causes a bitter rivalry while exposing dark family secrets. Although the film didn’t garner much critical acclaim, it boasted a stellar cast comprised of Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jason Robards and Colin Firth.

The Lion King

​Disney's ​The Lion King.

The Lion King (1994) – In Disney’s animated musical film, The Lion King, lions take the place of people and the African Savanna is swapped for Denmark in this hugely successful movie that pays homage to Hamlet. Simba is a young lion who is to succeed his father, Mufasa, as King of the Pride Lands. After Simba’s evil uncle, Scar, “accidentally” kills his brother and usurps the throne, Simba flees into exile, before eventually returning to the kingdom to bring the truth to light.


​Peter and Tatsuya Nakadai in ​Ran.

Ran (1985) – Based on King Lear, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s epic film re-imagines Shakespeare’s play as a Japanese warlord dividing his empire amongst his three sons. In this story infused with Japanese legend, as well as its Shakespearean roots, Ran received universal acclaim and is often cited amongst Kurosawa’s finest achievements. Kurosawa also made the Macbeth adaptation Throne of Blood (1957) and The Bad Sleep Well (1960), which was a nod to Hamlet.

West Side Story

Richard Beymer and Natalie ​Wood in ​West Side Story

West Side Story (1961) – Inspired by Romeo and Juliet, this classic New York musical was an adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name. A tale of two rival street gangs, the film chronicles the story of Tony, a member of the American gang, who falls for Maria, the sister of the leader of the Puerto Rican gang. With catchy tunes and dance-offs by the rival gangs, West Side Story was a smash hit at the box office, in addition to earning critical acclaim. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards and winner of 10, including Best Picture, the film holds the record for most wins for a movie musical.

Forbidden Planet

Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon and Anne Francis in Forbidden Planet.

Forbidden Planet (1956) – Loosely based on The Tempest, this classic science-fiction film’s action takes place on a foreign planet, instead of a desert island, but the characters and isolated setting are straight out of Shakespeare’s story. Considered a groundbreaking film, Forbidden Planet was the first sci-fi film to depict humans traveling in a faster-than-light starship of their own creation, as well as the first movie to be set entirely on another planet in interstellar space. Additionally, it was the first film of any genre to use an entirely electronic musical score. Fun fact: The iconic sci-fi film was shot on the same stage where The Wizard of Oz had been filmed 17 years earlier.

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