"Romeo + Juliet"
You know his name, but did you also know that William Shakespeare — the renowned 16th and 17th century playwright — was the inspiration for some of our favorite films today? Take, for example, "Romeo + Juliet," which celebrates its 25th anniversary on Nov. 1, 2021! What made the 1996 Oscar-nominated romantic drama "Romeo + Juliet" from filmmaker Baz Luhrmann so powerful was how it kept the original dialogue of Shakespeare's popular tragedy "Romeo and Juliet" but modernized the soundtrack and setting. Starring a young Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the titular roles, the film explored the saga of two young lovers from feuding families who risk everything to be together. In honor of the film's anniversary, Wonderwall.com is taking a look at all the greatest films inspired by Shakespeare's life and works, including a few surprises. Keep reading for more…
"10 Things I Hate About You"
Color us surprised too! It turns out that one of our favorite '90s films, "10 Things I Hate About You," is a modern retelling of William Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew." Starring Julia Stiles, the late Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the movie is about a teenage boy's determination to date the girl of his dreams — but first, he must find someone to date her unfriendly older sister if he wants a chance at love. In a nod to the original Shakespearean play, the film even kept the sisters' names: Kat and Bianca.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Another Shakespeare-inspired film from 1999 is "A Midsummer Night's Dream" starring Kevin Kline and Michelle Pfeiffer. Taken directly from his comedy of the same name, the movie chronicles the chaos of passion between lovers yearning for the wrong partner and how a magical flower from a rogue faerie accidentally makes things right.
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"Shakespeare in Love"
One of the few films about the life of this epic playwright is the 1999 Oscar-winning historic dramedy "Shakespeare in Love" starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes. When a young and poor Will Shakespeare begins a passionate love affair with a beautiful aristocratic woman who disguises herself as a man to be allowed to act in his plays, he finds the inspiration he needs to begin writing one of his most popular romantic tragedies, "Romeo and Juliet."
"She's the Man"
We're not pulling your leg! The 2006 romantic comedy "She's the Man" starring Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum is actually based on Shakespeare's comedy "Twelfth Night" (also known as "What You Will"). Don't believe us? Not only did the film keep most of the original names in the play, but the story — a girl named Viola impersonates her twin brother to cover for him while he's away and ends up falling in love with his roommate — also closely follows Shakespeare's version. The differences include that this version is set in a modern-day prep school and that Viola's brother chooses to leave instead of being separated from her by a shipwreck.
"As You Like It"
The 2006 Golden Globe-nominated romantic dramedy "As You Like It" starring Bryce Dallas Howard and David Oyelowo is also taken directly from the pages of William Shakespeare's writing. Based on his comedy of the same name, the movie details the blooming romance between Rosalind and Orlando and how Rosalind, disguised as a man, uses her appearance to learn if Orlando truly loves her as much as he claims to.
The 2011 war thriller "Coriolanus" is based on Shakespeare's tragedy of the same name. In Ralph Fiennes' directorial debut, he and Gerard Butler star as combat enemies General Coriolanus and Commander Tullus Aufidius, bitter rivals who become allies after one of them is branded a traitor of Rome. As they fight to bring down the city that betrayed them, the men find their alliance threatened when Coriolanus turns away from their mission.
Although the 2013 horror-romance film "Warm Bodies" is technically based on the novel of the same name, it is also inspired by William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." The unconventional love story about a zombie named R who falls in love with a human named Julie (despite his need to feed on the living) is a fresh take on a timeless story of star-crossed lovers who were never meant to fall for one another.
"Deliver Us From Eva"
Few realize that the 2002 romantic comedy "Deliver Us From Eva" starring Gabrielle Union and LL Cool J is loosely based on Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew." Instead of a domineering father controlling the love lives of his daughters, however, the film begins with Eva (played by Gabrielle), a bossy perfectionist who takes over raising her siblings after their parents die. Although her sisters have grown up and found love, Eva refuses to date and spends much of her free time meddling in her siblings' relationships. Tired of her interference, the girls' partners devise a plot to pay a handsome man to romance Eva and get her out of their hair for good.
"West Side Story"
Yet another adaptation of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" is the 1961 Oscar-winning musical "West Side Story." Starring Rita Moreno, Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, the film is a song-filled odyssey into the forbidden romance between two teens from warring New York City gangs and the tragic turn of events their love sets into motion. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg's remake of the musical arrives in December 2021.
In 2017, Academy Award-nominated actress Florence Pugh starred as the titular character in "Lady Macbeth." While the film itself was based on the 1865 novella by Nikolai Leskov, the novella was inspired by William Shakespeare's "Macbeth." The romantic drama follows a woman who's miserably married to a resentful man twice her age.
"The Lion King"
Another surprising Shakespeare adaptation is the 1994 animated adventure "The Lion King." Although it's also inspired by the Biblical stories of Joseph and Moses, the film — about a young lion prince who, after the death of his father the king, is tricked by his deceiving uncle into running away from home — is loosely based on Shakespeare's "Hamlet." In 2019, "The Lion King" returned to theaters, this time as a CGI remake featuring the voices of Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Beyonce and more.
Another film loosely inspired by Shakespeare is the decadent 2002 Bollywood romantic drama "Devdas," which took its cue from the ill-fated lovers' tale "Romeo and Juliet." Starring Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan as Paro and Shah Rukh Khan as Devdas, this classic story of ill-fated romance — which has been remade numerous times — tells the tale of two young lovers who are kept apart by their feuding families, leading one to spiral out of control and the other to be sentenced to a life of misery.
2010's "The Tempest" starring Helen Mirren and Djimon Hounsou is a fantasy brought to life on the big screen. Although it closely follows Shakespeare's original play of the same name, the film is reimagined thanks to casting main character Prospero as a woman named Prospera who's banished to an island with her daughter for practicing magic. Using her sorcery and the help of spirits, Prospera conjures a terrifying storm that shipwrecks a band of sailors and seals the fate of her daughter, Miranda, in the process.
Inspired by Shakespeare's "The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark" is a film that's been remade time and time again, including in 1990 with Mel Gibson and in 1996 with Sir Kenneth Branagh. Our personal favorite, however, is the 1948 Oscar-winning black-and-white cinematic masterpiece "Hamlet" starring Laurence Olivier and Eileen Herlie in a legendary tale of a king's murder and a son's quest for revenge.
A familiar face in Shakespearean films is Sir Kenneth Branagh, who directed, adapted the screenplay for and starred in the 1989 historical biopic "Henry V" alongside then-wife Dame Emma Thompson. The Oscar-winning film, which follows King Henry V's rise to power and attempt to conquer France amidst the Hundred Years' War, is based on Shakespeare's historical play of the same name.
Another oldie but goodie on our list is the 1953 big-screen production of "Julius Caesar" starring Marlon Brando, James Mason and Louis Calhern. Based entirely on Shakespeare's "The Tragedy of Julius Caesar," the film centers on the betrayal and murder of Rome's greatest ruler on the Ides of March and the unexpected power of his closest ally, Mark Antony.
"Love's Labour's Lost"
A modern take on one of Shakespeare's early comedies is "Love's Labour's Lost," a Sir Kenneth Branagh-directed film starring himself, Alicia Silverstone, Natascha McElhone and more in a hilarious musical about an oath four friends take to swear off alcohol, singing and romance for three long years in order to focus on their educations. Their promise turns out to be harder to keep than they imagined when four beautiful women come into their lives.
In 2019's "The King," Timothée Chalamet took on the starring role of the Prince of Wales-turned-King Henry V. The epic war drama directed by David Michôd and written by David and Joel Edgerton (who also produced along with Brad Pitt) chronicles Henry's tumultuous rise to the throne and navigation of war and politics. As for its source material? "The King" is based on three William Shakespeare plays: "Henry IV, Part 1," "Henry IV, Part 2" and "Henry V."
One of Shakespeare's most powerful tragedies is "Macbeth," a story about a clansman in Scotland who murders his king after three witches tell him of his future on the throne. The story has come to life on both the screen and stage many times over the years, but our favorite is the 2015 version starring Michael Fassbender in the titular role alongside Marion Cotillard as the wife who encourages him to commit murder in order to take his place as Scotland's next king.
"Much Ado About Nothing"
Yet another Shakespeare-inspired film directed by and starring Sir Kenneth Branagh is the 1993 comedy "Much Ado About Nothing." Co-starring Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves and Robert Sean Leonard, the movie tells the story of two lovers who secretly plot to get their sparring friends to marry. While setting their "lovers' trap," the couple is plagued by their own difficulties when a jealous acquaintance accuses one of them of being unfaithful.
"My Own Private Idaho"
It's a little-known fact that the 1991 drama "My Own Private Idaho" starring Keanu Reeves and the late River Phoenix was loosely based on William Shakespeare's "Henry IV" and some of "Henry V." Although the film takes definite liberties, the story — about a young gay street hustler who falls in love with his straight friend while searching for the mother who abandoned him — proved to be a powerful one that evoked the spirit of Shakespeare's historical plays.
"Romeo Must Die"
William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" got the Hollywood action-flick treatment with a loose adaptation in 2000. Set in Oakland, California, "Romeo Must Die" stars martial artist Jet Li and late R&B singer Aaliyah as Han Sing and Trish O'Day — a retired police officer and mobster's daughter who fall in love in spite of their rival allegiances.
The 2001 dramatic thriller "O" starring Julia Stiles and Mekhi Phifer is a modern adaptation of Shakespeare's "Othello." Set in a private high school, the film hinges on the love story of basketball star Odin and girlfriend Desi and how one jealous classmate uses their intense bond against them, hoping to break them apart and turn Odin into a failure on the basketball court.
The 1995 romantic drama "Othello" was a classic take on Shakespeare's tragedy of the same name. It stars Laurence Fishburne and Irène Jacob in a story about a newlywed couple driven apart by jealousy after the husband, a Moorish general, is tricked by his ensign to believe his bride is cheating on him. This movie was the first big screen retelling of "Othello" to feature a Black actor in the titular role.
"The Merchant of Venice"
Based on Shakespeare's play of the same name is the 2004 big screen adaptation of "The Merchant of Venice." Starring Al Pacino in the role of Jewish moneylender Shylock, the film chronicles his determination to get an unpaid debt resolved by taking a pound of his Christian borrower's flesh. Considered one of Shakespeare's most anti-Semitic works, the film and play perpetuate negative stereotypes of Jewish people, which is a reflection of societal prejudice in 16th and 17th century London, when the play was written.
"All is True"
2019's "All is True" gives fans a rare chance to learn about the last years of William Shakespeare's formidable life. The film — which stars Sir Kenneth Branagh (a lifelong Shakespeare fan), Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen — follows the prolific writer as he returns home after more than 20 years away to face the family he abandoned while pursuing his literary career.
Starring Jessica Lange and Anthony Hopkins, the 1999 historical thriller "Titus" is based on Shakespeare's tragedy "Titus Andronicus." Following a victorious war, General Titus returns home with hostages, only to find 21 of his sons are dead. To appease his dead children, Titus sacrifices one of his hostages and in doing so, sets into motion a domino effect of betrayal, jealousy and murder.