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17 Best Movies You Didn’t Realize Are Based on Shakespeare Plays

William Shakespeare was a late 16th-century English playwright, poet, and actor who is regarded by many as the greatest writer in history. Today, his plays are still performed on stages around the world, and studying his works is a high school right of passage.




It’s not surprising that the Bard would go on to inspire future writers and their stories. Shakespeare’s works have since been used as the basis for a lot of movies – and not just the straight adaptations like Romeo + Juliet or Macbeth. Modern interpretations of his plays exist in every film genre, with numerous movies inspired by Shakespeare. All you have to do is look closely, and you will find that sometimes a zombie movie is a romance, or an animated musical is a Shakespearean tragedy. From Men of Respect to The Lion King, we analyze and rank which are the best Shakespeare adaptation movies that aren’t as obvious to audiences thanks to their modernized retellings.


17 ‘Forbidden Planet’ (1956)

Based on ‘The Tempest’

Robot and crew on a planet
Image via MGM


An iconic entry of 1950s sci-fi cinema, one whose influence on the genre going forward as A-grade entertainment cannot be overstated, Forbidden Planet is one of the most famous titles of 50s Hollywood. It follows the crew of a spaceship sent to a distant planet to investigate why the scientific colony stationed there decades earlier has gone silent. Upon arrival, they discover that one of the scientists and his daughter are the only two survivors, and endeavor to uncover the dark truth as to why.

Derived from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Forbidden Planet thrives with its narrative intrigue that places an emphasis on character. Its special effects and art design retain much of the striking grandiosity today as they did upon release almost 70 years ago, which is actually a testament to the story and the manner in which such elements were implemented into the film. – Ryan Heffernan


Forbidden Planet

Release Date
March 23, 1956

Director
Fred M. Wilcox

Cast
Walter Pidgeon , Anne Francis , Leslie Nielsen , Warren Stevens , Jack Kelly , Richard Anderson

Runtime
98

16 ‘Men of Respect’ (1990)

Based on ‘Macbeth’

Men of Respect is the story of Mike Battaglia (John Turturro), who climbs to the top of his mafia family by killing the boss and anyone else who threatens to get in his way. The film is a 1990s crime drama that mirrors the tragedy of Macbeth, transporting the story into the world of organized crime.


Battaglia’s ambitions and actions during his rise to power would ultimately become his downfall. Despite not being a masterpiece, Men of Respect is an interesting adaptation of Shakespeare’s well-known play Macbeth. William C. Reilly’s film has political overtones that allude to the idiom, “Be careful what you wish for,” just like the famous work by the gifted poet and playwright.

Watch on Tubi

15 ‘Get Over It’ (2001)

Based on ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

When it comes to Shakespeare-retelling movies, Get Over It is a pretty loose adaptation (it is based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream), but it is well worth mentioning nonetheless. The teen romantic comedy tells the story of a high school senior who tries to win back his ex-girlfriend by joining the cast of the school play she is starring in (which happens to be the play from which the movie draws inspiration).


Tommy O’Haver‘s 2001 film veers far from Shakespeare’s original plot, exchanging mischievous fairies for impish but well-meaning high school boys. The film steers itself back by inserting scenes from the play, performed on stage by the high school students, while its musical performances by Vitamin C and Sisqo rooted the film firmly in the early 2000s.

Watch on Hoopla

14 ‘Deliver Us from Eva’ (2003)

Based on ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

The girls posing while looking at the camera in Deliver Us from Eva.
Image via Focus Features

Eva (Gabrielle Union) is a little too involved in her three sisters’ love lives. Their partners decide to take matters into their own hands when the men hire Ray (LL Cool J) to woo her. They hope that Ray can keep Eva away from her sisters and out of their business, but their plan begins to backfire when the two fall in love for real in a wonderful approach to the fake dating trope in film.


Deliver Us from Eva is loosely based on The Taming of the Shrew. This version of the play isn’t as complicated as the original text. What is complicated is the meddling of the three men in the life of the combative “shrew.” Although a bit predictable, Deliver Us from Eva is still a fairly enjoyable watch.

Deliver Us From Eva

Release Date
February 7, 2003

Director
Gary Hardwick

Cast
LL Cool J , Gabrielle Union , Duane Martin , Essence Atkins , Robinne Lee , Meagan Good

Runtime
105

13 ‘O’ (2001)

Based on ‘Othello’


In O, Odin (Mekhi Phifer), a Black student-athlete, is the MVP of the basketball team in a predominantly white upper-class high school. He has a beautiful girlfriend, Desi (Julia Stiles), and is loved by his coach and all his teammates with one exception: Hugo (Josh Hartnett). Hugo is jealous of the attention and affection Odin receives, especially from their coach (Martin Sheen) who is also Hugo’s father.

Following the plot of Shakespeare’s Othello, Hugo begins manipulating his “friend” and those around him, ultimately resulting in Odin’s undoing. O is a perfectly executed turn-of-the-century take on Shakespeare’s play Othello, which has been frequently re-adapted over the years. The play’s themes of race, passion, and adversity have made it a favorite among filmmakers and audiences alike.

Rent on Amazon

12 ‘Just One of the Guys’ (1985)

Based on ‘Twelfth Night’

A young boy looking at a young girl in Just One of the Guys.
Image via Columbia Pictures


The ’80s high school rom-com Just One of the Guys is an adaptation of Twelfth Night starring Joyce Hyser, Clayton Rohner, and William Zabka, Terri (Hyser) is an aspiring journalist who just wants to be taken seriously in a world dominated by men. She disguises herself as a boy to gain more journalistic credibility, ditching her “good looks” for a short haircut and men’s clothing.

In true Shakespearean fashion, Terri falls for a guy while she’s disguised, and things get complicated. All in all, the film is a hidden gem from the ’80s that fans of the Bard will likely still enjoy today. Furthermore, Just One of the Guys tackles universal teenage themes, like sexual relationships, body image, and dating.

Just One of the Guys

Release Date
April 26, 1985

Director
Lisa Gottlieb

Cast
Joyce Hyser , Clayton Rohner , Billy Jayne , Toni Hudson , William Zabka , Leigh McCloskey

Runtime
90


11 ‘The Northman’ (2022)

Based on ‘Hamlet’

Amleth in village during the Viking raid in The Northman.

An epic Viking movie about family and revenge, The Northman is imbued with a gritty historical might as it follows Prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) on his quest to avenge his father and rescue his mother by killing his traitorous uncle. Its premise has a loose basis on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, tracking a young prince hellbent on killing his uncle for usurping his father’s throne. However, The Northman is also based on the legend of Amleth, a Scandinavian tale that was the direct inspiration for Hamlet.


As such, The Northman may not be based on Shakespeare as earnestly as other films, but it is fascinating to see a modern-day re-telling of a mythic legend that inspired the playwright’s works. Realized with stunning art design, a rousing sense of brutality, and all of Robert Eggers’ trademark style, the film is a gloriously ultra-violent fantasy revenge tale sure to intrigue fans of Shakespearian stories. – Ryan Heffernan

The Northman

Release Date
April 22, 2022

Director
Robert Eggers

Runtime
137 Minutes

10 ‘Warm Bodies’ (2013)

Based on ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Teresa Palmer and Nicholas Hoult in Warm Bodies
Image via Lionsgate


In one of the best modern movies based on Shakespeare’s work, R (Nicholas Hoult) is not your typical zombie. True, he craves human flesh, and brains are admittedly his favorite. But unlike the rest of his kind, he longs for more. Affection? Perhaps love? He finds what he’s looking for when, one day, he meets Julie (Teresa Palmer). It’s love at first sight for R, as his once-dead heart begins beating again.

Warm Bodies, at its core, is an echo of the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet: a boy meets and falls in love with a girl from a different household (or species) who is the sworn enemy of his own, and, alas, the star-crossed lovers are destined for failure. The film gives the play a 21st-century twist but still throws in plenty of callbacks to the original text. R has a best friend named M (Rob Corddry). In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo’s best friend is Mercutio. Julie is a shortened version of Juliet. Also, Julie’s boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco), gets his name from Count Paris. What’s more, Warm Bodies, a truly underrated zombie movie, recreates the famous balcony scene.


9 ‘Anyone But You’ (2023)

Based on ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Ben (Glen Powell) and Bea (Sydney Sweeney) looking at each other in Anyone But You
Image via Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group

When it comes to recent films based on Shakespeare’s plays, Anyone But You surely deserves a spot on the list. This 2023 romantic comedy follows Bea (Sydney Sweeney) and Ben’s (Glen Powell) destination wedding vacation, in which the two meet again after their complicated past. What’s more, the two pretend to be a couple.


Although it isn’t obvious that the Will Gluck film is based on Much Ado About Nothing, Anyone But You brings Shakespeare’s characters Benedick and Beatrice to life with great results. The film is an innovative take on the romantic comedy genre and felt like a breath of fresh air, though far from being an unforgettable feature (it received mixed reviews from critics, too). Still, Gluck’s movie is an entertaining one, as well as a win for rom-coms at the global box office, with Anyone But You grossing over $150 million worldwide. – Daniela Gama

Watch on Netflix

8 ‘Ex Machina’ (2015)

Based on ‘The Tempest’

Alicia Vikander in 'Ex Machina'
Image via A24


Alex Garland is a modern master of science-fiction storytelling, seamlessly blending the mesmerizing aesthetic of the genre with a rich thematic depth that makes for arresting and spellbinding films. One of his best pictures thus far is 2015’s contained sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, which follows a programmer who wins a prize that sees him travel to his CEO’s remote villa. Once there, he begins participating in an experimental series of tests concerning the CEO’s new creation, an advanced AI android.

A fascinating and complex tale of power, desire, technology, and misogyny, Ex Machina takes inspiration from a variety of different sources including past sci-fi films and literature, and contemplative thought experiments. Another discernible influence on the picture was Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, with its narrative of manipulation and isolation abundantly clear in Ex Machina. – Ryan Heffernan


Ex Machina

Release Date
April 24, 2015

Director
Alex Garland

Runtime
108 minutes

7 ‘She’s the Man’ (2006)

Based on ‘Twelfth Night’

Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum in She's The Man
Image via Paramount Pictures

She’s the Man, in all its early 2000s romantic comedy glory, takes its entire plot from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The only real difference to the play is its modern setting. The play has twins separated in a shipwreck, whereas Viola (Amanda Bynes) and Sebastian (James Kirk) are separated by different schools in the film.


The teen drama is about Viola, who disguises herself as a boy to play in an all-male soccer team. Her plan quickly becomes complicated when she falls for her roommate, Duke (Channing Tatum), who does not know her true identity. She’s the Man was a commercial success when it came out, grossing $57.2 million against a budget of $20–25 million, and endures as a highly referenced film in popular culture.

She’s the Man

Release Date
March 17, 2006

Runtime
105 minutes

6 ‘My Own Private Idaho’ (1991)

Based on ‘Henry IV’ Parts I and II

River Phoenix sitting behind Keanu Reeves in My Own Private Idaho
Image via Fine Line Features


Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix‘s chemistry alone — the two were very close friends in real life — makes it worth watching My Own Private Idaho, which is among the best movies inspired by Shakespeare plays. The film follows Mike Waters, a hustler afflicted with narcolepsy, and Scott Favor, the rebellious son of a mayor. The two embark on an adventure from Portland to Idaho and ultimately to the coast of Italy to find Mike’s long-lost mother.

Gus Van Sant‘s road trip drama based on Henry IV is touching and tender, offering a thoughtful message about sexual identity and love — so much so that it is considered a landmark piece in queer cinema. Regarded as a cult classic these days, the avant-garde My Own Private Idaho is mandatory viewing when it comes to Shakespeare adaptations. – Daniela Gama


Watch on Criterion

5 ‘Ran’ (1985)

Based on ‘King Lear’

Ran - 1985
Image via Toho

A legendary Japanese filmmaker and a true master of visual storytelling, Akira Kurosawa is widely regarded as one of the greatest film directors in the history of cinema. In addition to his technical magnificence, he was also a marvel when unveiling a narrative in a spectacular and immersive fashion. Perhaps a reason for this is the inspiration he often took from William Shakespeare, even adapting several of his stories to the screen. While Throne of Blood is heralded as one of the greatest adaptations of Macbeth, Ran is sometimes overlooked as a similarly brilliant interpretation of King Lear.


Using immense scale and a visually arresting color palette, Ran transpires as an aging warlord divides his kingdom so each of his three sons can rule. However, the allure of total power corrupts them, seeing the region fall into all-out war. It is a mighty cinematic achievement, a breathtaking display of style and story that never wastes a second of its 160-minute runtime and stands as one of the greatest epics ever made. – Ryan Heffernan

Ran (1985)

Release Date
May 31, 1985

Director
Akira Kurosawa

Cast
Tatsuya Nakadai , Akira Terao , Jinpachi Nezu , Daisuke Ryu , Mieko Harada , Shinnosuke Ikehata , Hisashi Igawa , Yoshiko Miyazaki

Runtime
162 Minutes

4 ‘The Bad Sleep Well’ (1960)

Based on ‘Hamlet’


Another Kurosawa masterpiece, The Bad Sleep Well is one of the most subtle of the director’s adaptations of Shakespeare’s work. The noir crime thriller follows Kōichi Nishi (Toshiro Mifune), a vengeful man who rises up the ranks of an industry corporation and marries the disabled daughter of the company’s vice president as a grand scheme to secure justice for his father, a past employee at the company, whose suicide was covered up.

A loose adaptation of Hamlet, The Bad Sleep Well is a rousing story of family honor and revenge, with its focus on Kōichi’s obsessive vendetta amid a world of corporate corruption and greed an intriguing centerpiece. A pristine example of Kurosawa’s mastery of narrative as well as his prowess as a filmmaker, the crime film is an iconic testament to the excellence of international cinema. – Ryan Heffernan

Watch on Criterion


3 ’10 Things I Hate About You’ (1999)

Based on ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

Patrick and Kat from 10 Things I Hate About You standing together and pointing at the camera.
Image via Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

The 1999 high school comedy, 10 Things I Hate About You, is the story of a love-sick Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his elaborate plan to win the heart of Bianca (Larisa Oleynik). Bianca is not allowed to date until her sister Kat (Julia Stiles) begins to. Cameron convinces the self-absorbed pretty boy, Joey (Andrew Keegan) to pay the mysterious Patrick (Heath Ledger) to “tame” Kat.


Gil Junger’s movie is loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and features tons of references to the play and Shakespeare himself. In the movie, Kat is referred to as “the shrew” in one of the first scenes. Kat’s best friend, Mandella (Susan May Pratt) is Shakespeare-obsessed, with a photo of him in her locker and she can be heard quoting the playwright more than once. Being the blueprint of 1990s romantic comedies, 10 Things I Hate About You is the perfect back-to-school film everyone should check.

10 Things I Hate About You

Release Date
March 31, 1999

Director
Gil Junger

Runtime
97 minutes

2 ‘West Side Story’ (1961)

Based on ‘Romeo and Juliet’

The cast of West Side Story dancing.
Image via United Artists


West Side Story, the musical remake of Romeo and Juliet, went from Broadway to film in an engaging play-to-big-screen adaptation in 1961. Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) are star-crossed lovers in New York City. The two teens come from rival gangs, the Jets and Sharks.

Just as the Montagues and Capulets of Romeo and Juliet, peace cannot be kept as Bernardo (Maria’s brother, played by George Chakiris) kills Tony’s best friend, Riff (Russ Tamblyn), prompting Tony’s immediate retaliation. Tony stabs and kills Bernardo and the deaths seem to mirror that of the play’s characters, Mercutio and Tybalt. No doubt, West Side Story is an engaging story that takes place among the best Shakespeare adaptations.

West Side Story (1961)

Release Date
October 18, 1961

Director
Robert Wise , Jerome Robbins

Cast
Natalie Wood , Richard Beymer , Rita Moreno , Russ Tamblyn

Runtime
152 minutes


1 ‘The Lion King’ (1994)

Based on ‘Hamlet’

Rafiki holding up Simba at Pride Rock in The Lion King.
Image via Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Disney’s The Lion King is a true classic and not the first film fans are likely to think of when identifying movies based on Shakespeare’s works. With a score composed by Hans Zimmer and A-list actors like Matthew Broderick (Simba) and James Earl Jones (Mufasa) bringing the animation to life, it’s almost hard to believe the story isn’t completely original. But one of Disney’s greatest animated classics wouldn’t exist without a monumental play by The Bard.

The Lion King is the play Hamlet at its core; it is the story of a king murdered by his brother and a young prince who will someday avenge his father. Luckily, Disney decided to leave out the part where the queen marries the murderous uncle and instead made it so Sarabi (Madge Sinclair) and the other lionesses are servants to Scar (Jeremy Irons).


The Lion King (1994)

Release Date
June 24, 1994

Runtime
88 minutes

NEXT: The Best Shakespeare Film Adaptations, Ranked


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