Skip To Content

    17 Movies That Are Cleverly Disguised Shakespeare Plays

    Long live the king of literature.

    1. The Lion King (1994)


    Based on: Hamlet

    It can be easy to overlook the similarities between Hamlet and The Lion King, but any theatre fan would be able to spot them. There's the "accidental" killing of the king (Mufasa) by the prince's (Simba) evil, power-hungry uncle (Scar). Plus Timon and Pumba are fairly obvious substitutes for Hamlet's friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

    2. Warm Bodies (2013)

    Mandeville Films

    Based on: Romeo and Juliet

    Focusing on the star-crossed lovers theme, Warm Bodies follows a young, male zombie (Nicholas Hoult) who falls in love with one of humanity's surviving females (Teresa Palmer). To make the connection to Romeo and Juliet clearer, the lead zombie is named "R" (Romeo), his best friend is named "M" (Mercutio), and R's love interest is named "Julie" (Juliet).

    3. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

    Touchstone Pictures

    Based on: The Taming of the Shrew

    The inspiration behind 10 Things I Hate About You is fairly straightforward: Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) is looking for a date to prom, but will only be allowed to attend if her "shrewish" older sister, Kat (Julia Stiles), comes as well. The solution? Setting her up with bad boy Patrick (Heath Ledger). Many of the characters even share a similar name to their play counterpart. For example Bianca is Bianca, Kat is Katherina, and Patrick is Petruchio.

    4. West Side Story (1961)

    The Mirisch Corporation

    Based on: Romeo and Juliet

    Swap out Italy for New York City, and the wealthy Montague and Capulet families for rival gangs the Sharks and the Jets. Add in some musical numbers to replace the emotional soliloquies, and you've got a truly American take on the classic tale of Romeo and Juliet.

    5. Forbidden Planet (1956)

    Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.

    Based on: The Tempest

    Instead of a desert island, the space crew in Forbidden Planet end up on a seemingly utopian world. But similar to the original material by Shakespeare, Atla (Anne Francis) falls in love with one of the outsiders despite her father's attempts to intervene.

    6. Throne of Blood (1957)

    Toho Studios

    Based on: Macbeth

    Throne of Blood presents itself as a fairly straightforward adaption of Macbeth, aside from the relocation of the story from 11th century Scotland to feudal Japan. Macbeth is portrayed by Takeotiki Washizu (Toshiro Mifune), with his wife, Lady Macbeth, played by Lady Asaji Washizu (Isuzu Yamada).

    7. She's the Man (2006)

    Lakeshore Entertainment

    Based on: Twelfth Night

    In Shakespeare's original tale, after Viola is separated from her twin brother because of a shipwreck, she disguises herself as a male called Cesario. Sound familiar? It should because in She's The Man, Viola (Amanda Bynes) disguises herself as her twin brother, Sebastian, to play on the boy's soccer team. It probably goes without saying that Duke Orsino (Channing Tatum) is the movie's version of the play's Duke of Illyria as well.

    8. Get Over It (2001)

    Ignite Entertainment

    Based on: A Midsummer Night's Dream

    In this teen romance, the high school students are putting on a musical production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The twist? The drama onstage begins to play out in the movie's narrative as Berke (Ben Foster) falls for Kelly (Kirsten Dundst) while pursing Allison (Melissa Sagemiller).

    9. Big Business (1988)

    Touchstone Pictures

    Based on: The Comedy of Errors

    Inspired by Shakespeare's classic farce, Big Business is based around the same premise of mistaken identity. Like the original, the film deals with the mismatching of two sets of identical female twins, Sadie (Bette Midler) and Rose Shelton (Lily Tomlin), and Rose (Lily Tomlin) and Sadie Ratliff (Bette Midler).

    10. My Own Private Idaho (1991)

    New Line Cinema

    Based on: Henry IV and Henry V

    My Own Private Idaho is a combination of three separate stories, including Shakespeare's Henry IV and Henry V. Complete with bard-like dialogue, the character of Falstaff is reinvented as Bob Pidgeon (William Richert), mentor to young street hustlers Scott (Keanu Reeves), and Mike (River Phoenix).

    11. A Thousand Acres (1997)

    Touchstone Pictures

    Based on: King Lear

    In King Lear, an elderly father divides his estate between his three daughters. In A Thousand Acres, that father is Larry Cook (Jason Robards), and his three children are Ginny (Jessica Lange), Rose (Michelle Pfeiffer), and Caroline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). In this adaptation however, the older sisters aren't villains but rather just adults coming to terms with their traumatic past.

    12. O (2001)

    Chickie the Cop/ Daniel Fried Productions

    Based on: Othello

    With the main cast of soldiers replaced by students, Shakespeare's story of manipulation, jealousy, and murder is moved from Venice to a high school. The character's names also shows how closely O stayed to the original source material. For example Othello (Mekhi Phifer) is renamed Odin, and his enemy, Iago, is called Hugo (Josh Hartnett).

    13. Deliver Us From Eva (2003)

    Baltimore Spring Creek Productions

    Based on: The Taming of the Shrew

    Deliver Us From Eva is a derivative of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, that sets itself entirely in African-American culture. Starring LL Cool J and Gabrielle Union, the titular "shrew" this time round is a health inspector who loves to stick her nose in her sister's love lives.

    14. Ran (1985)

    Herald Ace

    Based on: King Lear

    Director Akira Kurosawa presents an original retelling of King Lear through the fusion of Japanese and European elements in Ran. The elderly king dividing his estate among his daughters is replaced by a Japanese warlord handing his empire off to this three sons.

    15. Strange Brew (1983)


    Based on: Hamlet

    Strange Brew presents an interesting adaptation by featuring two unemployed brothers named Bob and Doug who venture to Elsinore Brewing in order to get free beer. And if you remember anything about Hamlet, you'll recall that Elsinore is the name of the Danish castle in which the story takes place in.

    16. Just One of the Guys (1985)

    Columbia Pictures

    Based on: Twelfth Night

    While the references to Shakespeare aren't as obvious in Just One of the Guys, the film does still have some clear commonalities with Twelfth Night. For example, the main character, Terri (Joyce Hyser), is an aspiring teenage journalist who feels that her articles aren't being taken seriously because she is a girl. To remedy this, Terri disguises herself as a boy when she starts attending a rival high school.

    17. Men of Respect (1990)

    Arthur Goldblatt Productions

    Based on: Macbeth

    The story of Macbeth retold as a gritty, mob drama feels like an obvious choice. Standing in as Macbeth, Mike Battaglia (John Turturro), plans a hostile mob takeover at the urging of his Lady Macbeth-esque wife, Ruthie (Katherine Borowitz).

    Ever wonder what Romeo and Juliet would be like in 2018? Find out with BuzzFeed’s limited series on Instagram! Follow @delightsandends, @hopeless.romeo, @juliet_bythebook, @queen_tybalt, and @mercutie_yo for the drama.

    TV and Movies

    Get all the best moments in pop culture & entertainment delivered to your inbox.

    Newsletter signup form