15 Movies You Might Not Know Were Based On Shakespeare Plays

Shakespeare has been adapted in countless ways over the years, sometimes — as in the case of these films — rather subtly. Here are 15 movies inspired by some of the Bard’s greatest works.

1. Forbidden Planet (1956)

MGM

Based on: The Tempest

Instead of getting stranded on an island, the space crew in Forbidden Planet ends up on a seemingly utopian planet. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) is a stand-in for Prospero, keeping a protective hold over his daughter Alta (Anne Francis) — Miranda in The Tempest. As in the original story, the daughter falls in love with one of the outsiders despite her father’s objections.

2. Throne of Blood (1957)

Criterion

Based on: Macbeth

Although Throne of Blood is a fairly straightforward adaptation of Macbeth, director Akira Kurosawa’s most significant innovation was transposing the action from 11th century Scotland to feudal Japan. Macbeth becomes Taketoki Washizu (Toshiro Mifune), with his scheming wife Lady Macbeth transformed into the equally power-hungry Asaji (Isuzu Yamada).

3. The Bad Sleep Well (1960)

Criterion

Based on: Hamlet

Just three years later, Kurosawa directed another Shakespeare adaptation. The Bad Sleep Well is a noir about corporate corruption, but it was inspired by Hamlet. While far less close to the original than Throne of Blood, the film has, instead of Hamlet, Toshiro Mifune’s Koichi Nishi, a man seeking revenge against Vice President Iwabuchi (Masayuki Mori) for his father’s death.

4. Strange Brew (1983)

MGM

Based on: Hamlet

Strange Brew could have been an even more direct adaptation of Hamlet, but screenwriter Steve De Jarnatt was advised to make the film a little less faithful to the original. Hamlet is still represented, of course, not only in the Elsinore beer that figures so heavily into the plot, but in the evil Uncle Claude (Paul Dooley) that Bob (Rick Moranis) and Doug (Dave Thomas) must take down.

5. Ran (1985)

Rialto Pictures

Based on: King Lear

Akira Kurosawa returned to Shakespeare with Ran, but the film was initially based on a parable about Sengoku-era daimyo Moro Motonari. In deciding to make the children of aging warlord Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) rebellious and feuding, Kurosawa ended up aligning the story with King Lear. The sons, rather than daughters, battle each other over the division of their father’s estate.

6. Big Business (1988)

Buena Vista Pictures

Based on: The Comedy of Errors

At this point, so many films have covered the terrain of identical twins switching places that the connection between Big Business and The Comedy of Errors seems almost incidental. And yet, it was inspired by Shakespeare’s classic farce, with Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin taking on dual roles as two sets of twins separated at birth, two raised by a rich family and two by a poor, rural family.

7. Men of Respect (1990)

Columbia Pictures

Based on: Macbeth

Macbeth as a gritty mob drama feels like an obvious choice — and it was. Long before Men of Respect, the 1955 film Joe MacBeth did just that. But Men of Respect is a little less obvious. John Turturro stars as Macbeth stand-in Mike Battaglia, who — at the urging of his Lady Macbeth-esque wife Ruthie (Katherine Borowitz) — plans a hostile mob takeover.

8. My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Fine Line Features

Based on: Henry IV and Henry V

While My Own Private Idaho was not always intended as a Shakespearean adaptation, writer-director Gus Van Sant was inspired by Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight, which centers on Shakespeare’s recurring character of Falstaff. Here, Falstaff becomes Bob Pigeon (William Richert), mentor to young street hustlers Scott (Keanu Reeves), as Prince Hal, and Mike (River Phoenix), as Poins.

9. The Lion King (1994)

Buena Vista Pictures

Based on: Hamlet

The Lion King was inspired by Hamlet, yes, but also by the Biblical stories of Joseph and Moses. Like so many Disney movies, it’s an amalgamation of different mythologies. But Scar killing his brother Mufasa to become king is taken directly from Hamlet. The characters of Timon and Pumbaa also serve as fairly obvious substitutes for Hamlet’s friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

10. A Thousand Acres (1997)

Buena Vista Pictures

Based on: King Lear

As in King Lear, a dying old man is dividing his estate among his three daughters. In A Thousand Acres, that man is Larry Cook (Jason Robards), and his children are Ginny (Jessica Lange), Rose (Michelle Pfeiffer), and Caroline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). In this version, however, the older sisters aren’t villains but rather coming to terms with their traumatic past experiences.

11. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

Buena Vista Pictures

Based on: The Taming of the Shrew

This one’s pretty obvious: Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) can’t date Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) until her shrewish older sister Katherina (Julia Stiles) dates, so they set her up with bad boy Patrick (Heath Ledger). Bianca is Bianca, Katherina is Katherina, Patrick is Petruchio, and Cameron is Lucentio — Cameron even disguises himself as a language tutor, just as Lucentio does in Taming of the Shrew.

12. Get Over It (2001)

Miramax Films

Based on: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

In Get Over It, the high school students are putting on a musical production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, making the connection between the two works overt. But as in the similar gay indie film Were the World Mine, the drama onstage begins to play out in the larger narrative as Berke (Ben Foster) falls for Kelly (Kirsten Dunst) while pursuing Allison (Melissa Sagemiller).

13. Deliver Us From Eva (2003)

Focus Features

Based on: The Taming of the Shrew

Like Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew, Eva (Gabrielle Union) pushes her suitors away with a bad attitude. Her three younger sisters are all married, but Eva’s persistent interference causes trouble between them and their husbands. The men decide to set Eva up with a man — instead of Petruchio, it’s “Master Player” Ray (LL Cool J) who is called upon to “tame” her.

14. She’s the Man (2006)

DreamWorks

Based on: Twelfth Night

Like her namesake Viola in Twelfth Night, She’s the Man’s Viola (Amanda Bynes) disguises herself as a boy. She takes the name Sebastian, who is Viola’s twin brother in Twelfth Night. In addition to playing soccer, Viola also romances Duke Orsino (Channing Tatum) — it probably goes without saying that Duke Orsino is the film’s version of the play’s Duke of Illyria, Orsino.

15. Warm Bodies (2013)

Summit Entertainment

Based on: Romeo and Juliet

It doesn’t get much more star-crossed than a zombie and a human falling in love. Warm Bodies is another loose Shakespeare adaptation, but it focuses on the forbidden love between zombie R (Nicholas Hoult) and the woman he can never be with, Julie (Teresa Palmer). The names are a tip-off — Rob Corddry plays R’s friend Marcus, which sounds a lot like Mercutio.

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