Famous Films You Never Knew Were Based on Shakespeare Plays


In a time where nothing is original and remakes are everywhere, it is important to look at some of the best reimaginings of written works. Shakespeare's importance cannot be understated, and these adaptations of his plays are truly worth watching.

1. '10 Things I Hate About You' (1999), 'Deliver Us from Eva' (2003), and 'The Taming of the Shrew'

10 Things I Hate About You is often regarded as one of the greatest movies of the 90s — as it should be. It captured the reason we all loved Heath Ledger, and marked the beginning of America’s love affair with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In the film, Cameron (Gordon-Levitt) falls in love with the most popular girl in school, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), but because of her strict father’s rules, he must find someone who is willing to date her sister Kat before he is allowed to take Bianca out.

The film closely follows the plot of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, including the characters' names and a plot in which an unpleasant girl is "tamed" by her love. In the play, Katherina is set up with Petruchio by her sister’s potential suitors, and he essentially breaks down her spirit and forces her into submission. Bianca’s storyline is much less confusing, as it avoids the disguises and cuts out a suitor, but it really wouldn’t be Shakespeare without a little head-scratching.

Deliver Us from Eva is another film adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. In the film, three brothers, each dating one of the Dandridge sisters, decide that in order to be truly happy in their relationships, they must get the fourth Dandridge sister married off — a seemingly insurmountable task due to her unpleasant personality and incredibly high standards. There is also a (SPOILER ALERT) fake death involved, which is one of Shakespeare’s favorite plot devices, but the many plot changes make it hard to recognize as an adaptation.

2. 'She’s The Man' (2006) and 'Twelfth Night'

Quite possibly Amanda Bynes’ greatest work, this interpretation of Shakespeare’s famous comedy is one of my favorite movies — and not just because Channing Tatum appears shirtless in it. Viola (Bynes) decides to disguise herself as her twin brother Sebastian to play soccer at a different school after her school cuts its team. While disguised as a man, she falls in love with Duke, who is in love with Olivia, who falls in love with "Sebastian." There are other subplots as well, but that’s the gist. It’s hilarious and definitely worth watching, even just to remind yourself that Bynes wasn’t always crazy. It mirrors the general plot of the play, in which Viola disguises herself as a young man after being shipwrecked, and meets up with Duke Orsino, who is in love with Olivia, who falls in love with "Cesario," who is really Viola, who has fallen in love with the duke. The subplot is slightly different, but the plot and names are incredible similar.

3. 'The Lion King' (1994) and 'Hamlet'

You probably did know that The Lion King is Hamlet, but I only found out recently, and it was really exciting for me. Simba is Hamlet, Timon and Pumba are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Scar is the uncle, Nala is Ophelia, and Mufasa is Hamlet’s father. There’s even a ghost sequence.

Hamlet realizes his uncle killed his father in order to take over the throne, and Hamlet tries to prove it. Simba goes through the same thing, but we get a montage of him growing into a remarkably attractive lion, eating bugs with his best friends, and a strangely sexual romp in the forest with his childhood best friend.

4. 'A Thousand Acres' (1997) and 'King Lear'

Technically, this is an adaptation of a book that's an adaptation of the play. In the movie, a man decides to divide his farm between his three daughters. Caroline decides to move to New York, and doesn’t want her share, but Ginny and Rose accept it. Their father goes mad, and Rose reveals that he was sexually abusive. Ginny and Rose both fall for their neighbor (Colin Firth, who instantly makes any movie better just by appearing in it). Then their father uses Caroline to sue the other two girls, and it ends in tragedy. Pretty depressing.

In the play, King Lear divides his land between Goneril and Regan, disowning Cordelia when she fails to prove her love for him. There is an illegitimate son involved, and a few other subplots, but no sexual abuse. The ending is pretty different as well, but the general concepts are similar, and there is an obvious connection between the characters' names.

5. 'Men of Respect' (1990) and 'Macbeth'

Perhaps none of Shakespeare’s plays lend themselves more readily to a Mob-style adaptation than Macbeth. In the play, a Scottish general kills the king in order to gain the throne, but descends into murderous tendencies in order to stay in control and keep his authority. In the movie, a man kills an important enemy of the crime family he belongs to, earning his boss' great respect. He then kills the boss, but can’t stop murdering anyone he perceives as a threat. Both the play and the movie include the line "no man of woman born," and both protagonists are killed by someone born through Cesarean section.


6. 'The Lion King II' (1998) and 'Romeo and Juliet'

The sequel to one of Disney’s most popular films took a page from its predecessor, and based its plot on a famous Shakespearean play. In The Lion King II, Simba’s daughter Kiara falls in love with a lion from Scar’s descendants’ pride, The Outsiders, and they must overcome the animosity between their families in order to be together. The cartoon lacks most of the violence of Romeo and Juliet, of course, but the family rivalry plotline remains.

In Shakespeare's most well-known work, Romeo falls in love with Juliet, the daughter of a rival family, and the two contrive a plan to be together that goes horribly awry. They both end up dead.