20 Movies Based on Shakespeare Plays

By Maeve Maddox

For me, April is Shakespeare’s month. I’ll be writing several Shakespeare-related posts this month, starting with Shakespeare in the movies.

According to tradition, William Shakespeare was born and died on Saint George’s Day, April 23. I find it poignant that one of his characters, Cassius, also dies on his birthday:

This day I breathed first: time is come round,
And where I did begin, there shall I end; –Julius Caesar V, iii

A popular academic pastime has been–and continues to be–arguing that someone other than the man from Stratford wrote the plays because the “real” Shakespeare was too uneducated and homebound to have come up with such language, geographical references, and classical allusions. It’s one of the oldest conspiracy theories in existence.

The official Shakespeare canon includes 16 comedies, 10 histories, 12 tragedies, 154 sonnets, and five longer poems.

Writers have been mining the Shakespearean canon for 420 years and show no signs of exhausting it. Movie makers have been at it for 111 years. The first known film to make use of a Shakespeare play was a British production made in 1899. Only a two-minute scene survives, showing Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree acting the death scene of King John from the play of the same name.

Hollywood has produced at least 250 films based on the plays or on characters or plots from the plays. Of Hamlet alone, close to 100 movie and TV adaptations have been made since 1907. Not just English-speaking movie makers raid the canon. Ran, for example, is a Japanese movie that sets King Lear in feudal Japan and turns Lear’s daughters into sons.

Here are some movie titles followed by the name of the Shakespeare play that inspired them:

A Double Life (1947) Othello
A Thousand Acres (1997) King Lear
All Night Long (1962) Othello
Catch My Soul (1974) Othello
Forbidden Planet (1956) The Tempest
King of Texas (2002) King Lear
Kiss Me Kate (1948) The Taming of the Shrew
Let the Devil Wear Black (1999) Hamlet
Men of Respect (1991) Macbeth
My Own Private Idaho (1991) Henry IV and Henry V plays
Ran (1985) King Lear
Romeo Must Die (2000) Romeo and Juliet
Scotland, PA (2001) Macbeth
She’s the Man (2006) Twelfth Night
Strange Brew (1983) Hamlet
The Boys from Syracuse (1940) Comedy of Errors
Tower of London (1939) Richard III
Were the World Mine (2008) A Midsummer’s Night Dream
West Side Story (1961) Romeo and Juliet
Yellow Sky (1943) The Tempest

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39 Responses to “20 Movies Based on Shakespeare Plays”

  • JoAnna

    Don’t forget Ten Things I Hate About You, which mirrors Taming of the Shrew!

  • Exal

    Also The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino 😉

  • Prashant Badiger

    Shakespeare’s plays have always been a inspiration for movies, theaters.

  • Prashant Badiger

    Even the movie ‘O’ is inspired by Othello

  • Tom Connolly

    The Merchant of Venice! Al Pacino! Jeremy Irons!

  • Ed Buckner

    “Big Business” with Bette Midler and Lilly Tomlin looked much like “A Comedy of Errors” to me.

  • ShelleyD

    Give me the “ocular proof”!

  • Samantha

    The Lion King is based on Hamlet! Just with more songs and less death.

    Bonus: Timon and Pumba = Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

    Watch Lion King 1 1/2. Seriously, it’s just like the existential Tom Stoppard play. It’s the Lion King story from Timon and Pumba’s point of view.

  • S.D.

    McLintock! (Taming of the Shrew)

  • Naomi . C

    I think people are highly over-using shakespear plays, at the very least they could make them at a bette grade… the re-makes were O.K. but a little corny…

  • Jazi

    Is there anything that was based on As You Like It?

  • barbara

    I loved Much Ado About Nothing with Denzel Washington. Is there any other movie scripted from it?

  • Justine

    romeo and juliet still makes me cry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Garrison

    Forbidden Planet! A retelling of The Tempest. The ship’s captain falls for the girl, her jealous father attempts to prevent her from leaving . . . even Caliban, Prospero’s monsterous slave is represented as Morbius’s “Monster from the Id.”

    I think of it as The Tempest as told by Freud.

  • S.L.

    The Princess Bride was based on As You Like It. It’s one of my favorite stories, I can even quote form it.

  • Ann

    10 Things I Hate About You is loosely based off of The Taming of the Shrew.

  • rimple bhasin

    looking for shakespeare orginal classical julius caesar based movie

  • melissa

    i love shakespear 🙂

  • Michelle

    there was also ’10 things i hate about you’ based on the taming of the shrew – love that film <3

  • Christina

    Jazi-As you like it? isnt that also Twelfth night? She’s the man is based off of twelfth night we actually watched it in class along with the movie twelfth night (as you like it) as we were reading the play. Hope I helped 🙂

  • Cathy

    Shakespeare has also been adapted for younger viewers too. Lion King is Hamlet and Lion King 2 is Romeo and Juliet with a nicer ending for the kids.

  • Lindsay

    Lion King is the SAME story as Hamlet

  • b

    @Christina – Twelfth Night and As You Like It are definitely two different plays. You’re thinking of Twelfth Night’s subtitle, “What You Will.”

  • Kang

    I am searching the web to verify my memory when I find this page. I hope someone reading this can help. Some months ago I clicked into a film page (of either a movie database or a video store) that gives a synopsis of a jobless actor in Paris (or another European city) lying to his wife who had cancer and would die soon that he auditioned and got a playing part in a Shakespeare production in order to cheer her up. The actor maybe Jewish, the play maybe The Merchant of Venice, the film may involves antisemitism. I have been trying to look it up for weeks and cannot dig it up again. If anyone knows this film I will be appreciated.

  • Person

    I was working on a critical analysis paper for my play reading class when I suddenly realized that Aladdin is like Othello but with out the deaths at the end.

    Othello: Desdemona runs away from home, meets Othello, he tells her his story, she falls in love with him, they get married; Iago is upset that Othello has the power that he doesn’t have and comes up with a plot to pull them apart.
    Aladdin: Jasmine runs away from home, runs into Aladdin, he tells her his story, she falls in love with him; Jafar decides he wants to marry Jasmine because he wants the power and comes up with a plot to pull them apart

  • Citizen

    The Stratford upon Avon “guy” did not write the material we normally attribute to Shakespeare. I know that there are people who could not care less. I am also aware that people, who may not be aware of the contemporary realities, are also quite willing to display their ignorance through the use of usch phrases as “conspiracy theory”. I am not about to get into a debate, but attributing such material to someone who could not have possibly written it is a tragedy.

  • aunt_deen

    Oh, Citizen. If you don’t want to get into a debate, don’t post controversial statements. Dozens of candidates for the “real” Shakespeare have been proposed and not a single one can hold up to scrutiny. Just accept that genius can flower in quite humble places sometimes.

  • Monica

    don’t forget some of Disney’s movies have made references to them. Like Gnomeo and Juliet (Romeo and Juliet) Lion King 1 (Hamlet) and Lion King 2 (Romeo and Juliet)

  • Clara

    AWESOME guys, seriously! this thing with lion king shocked me, but it was TRUE!!! I just can ad some movies where many shakespeare phrases are used, like Willy Wonka and Star Trek VI.
    It’s amazing how shakespeare affects our world today!
    Thank you William!

  • Victoria

    She’s the Man is an adaptation of Twelfth Night “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness threshed upon them” is quoted. The tarantula is Malvolio, the school is Illyria, Viola is the main character and Sebastian is her brother.

  • Ye Olde Shakespeare Teacher

    How many phrases from Hamlet have become the titles of movies, bands, or TV shows?

    The Undiscovered Country (Star Trek)
    What Dreams May Come
    Etc.

  • Ye Olde Shakespeare Teacher

    Oh and yes, “The Stradford Guy” is the definitive creator of the plays, yet he did not pen them for publishing, so the arguement over who wrote Shakespeare is foolish and arbitrary. Tragedy is waisting time with needless semantical arguments.

  • Spotty

    “As you like it” is also extremely similar to “She’s the man”, I was reading about “As you like it” and had a major de ja vu moment, as I had recently watched She’s the man.

  • Paulina Angel

    One that has been overlooked was ‘Get Over It’ starring Ben Foster, Kirsten Dunst, Mila Kunis and Colin Hanks. That was based on ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream’.

  • Gene Ricky Shaw

    Don’t forget the Kurosawa film “Throne of Blood”, based on MacBeth.

  • Sasha

    When was this article/piece of work published?

  • Maeve

    Sasha,
    April 6, 2010

  • Sean

    “Any Given Sunday” is King Lear set in the NFL

  • KimburlyK

    As far as quotes:
    In Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    Giles: We happy few…
    Spike: We band of buggered.
    Always makes me smile:)

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