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”

  • KimburlyK

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

  • Sean

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

  • Maeve

    Sasha,
    April 6, 2010

  • Sasha

    When was this article/piece of work published?

  • Gene Ricky Shaw

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

  • 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’.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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