The classic works of Shakespeare have been adapted to the screen since the early days of cinema, ranging from authentic retellings to nearly unrecognizable interpretations to versions that stay true to the source with innovative modernizations. Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing," which hits theaters on June 7, is something of the latter -- a contemporary update of the Bard's comedy starring a cast from commercial television, yet with the original Shakespearean dialogue intact.
While Whedon's "Much Ado" is clearly a Shakespeare adaptation, there are plenty of movies that we may not have known were based on the writer's classic plays. From Disney favorites to rom-coms to award winners, Shakespeare has inspired nearly every genre with stories that have given way to a variety of interpretations.
Think you know a Shakespeare story when it's revamped for the screen? Take a look at the movies that have been teaching you classic literature all along.
Gallery | 16 Movies You Didn't Know Were Based on Shakespeare
- 'The Lion King' (1994)
Kids were exposed to the Bard long before they entered high school. The not-so-original Disney "The Lion King" is really just Shakespeare's "Hamlet" in the animal kingdom. Just think about it: Simba's Uncle Scar kills Mufasa to become King, then a grown-up Simba seeks vengeance on Scar, after seeing a vision of his father's ghost, of course. And don't forget the comical Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-esque Timon and Pumbaa, who even star in "The Lion King 1 1/2," which can be seen as a loose adaptation of Tom Stoppard's "Hamlet" spin-off "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead."
- '10 Things I Hate About You' (1999)
Take Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" and throw in some teen rom-com cliches and you've got Heath Ledger attempting to woo an ill-tempered Julia Stiles. The film mirrors the Shakespeare comedy in which Petruchio (an outcast played by Ledger) strives to court the stubborn Katherina (a moody Stiles) all to help her younger sister Bianca get permission to date. Also note that their character names remain the same in the film: Pat, Kat, and Bianca.
- 'Ran' (1985)
Akira Kurosawa's last epic film "Ran" takes the story of "King Lear" and transports it to 16th-century medieval Japan. In the film the Japanese warlord divides up his land amongst his three sons (as opposed to King Lear's three daughters in the play), leading two of them to turn against him. Pride and control lead to the ultimate downfall and death of the warlord, just as they did for King Lear.
- 'West Side Story' (1961)
Replace the Shakespearean dialogue with the street slang of 1950s New York, add music and dancing, and Romeo and Juliet just became Tony and Maria. In "West Side Story," the famous Capulet-Montague rivalry is modernized as the Sharks versus the Jets and the Puerto Ricans versus the Polish-Americans. Who knew Shakespeare's famous tragedy could translate so well to hoodlums doing choreography?
- 'She's the Man' (2006)
In "She's the Man" the region of Illyria from "Twelfth Night" becomes Illyria High School, where Amanda Bynes's Viola dresses up as her twin brother Sebastian all for the love of sports. Once Viola's disguise gets her on the boys soccer team, the crazy, comedic love triangle Shakespeare scribed over 400 years ago unravels. Viola-as-Sebastian falls for Duke (Channing Tatum) while helping him woo Olivia, who in turn falls for Viola thinking her to be the real Sebastian.
- 'Strange Brew' (1983)
"Hamlet" has been appropriated into a variety of unexpected modern settings, but none as hilarious and bizarre as a brewery that concocts mind-controlling beer tested on mental patients. Canadian fictional characters Bob and Doug McKenzie (played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) embark on a "Hamlet"-esque adventure at the Elsinore brewery (which looks like a castle) where the ghost of the previous owner visits them in a video game. "Strange Brew" may not be what Shakespeare had in mind, but it's definitely one wild interpretation.
- 'O' (2001)
Shakespeare probably didn't realize that "Othello," his intense tragedy of love, jealousy, and racism, would translate so well to the lives of modern teenagers. 2001's "O" revamps the story around a high school basketball team where Desdemona is Julia Stiles's Desi who's dating Mekhi Phifer's Odin, a.k.a. Othello. Josh Harnett's jealous Hugo (a.k.a. Iago) convinces Odin into wrongly believing that Desi hasn't been faithful, driving Odin into a rage killing both Desi and himself.
- 'Deliver Us from Eva' (2003)
Who knew LL Cool J was channelling the Bard in this 2003 rom-com? A modern version of "The Taming of the Shrew"'s Katherina is invoked by Gabreille Union, an uptight, know-it-all health inspector who takes it upon herself to mange her sisters' lives and relationships. The gentleman of Verona Petruchio is updated as cocky lady's man Cool J who is hired by the sisters' boyfriends to woo the stubborn Union.
- 'A Thousand Acres' (1997)
Another modern retelling of "King Lear," "A Thousand Acres" stars Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the three daughters of a retiring farmer. Like King Lear, the farmer decides to split his land amongst his daughters, yet two of them eventually turn against him -- however, in the film it is because of their recently resurfaced memories of abuse as children.
- 'Forbidden Planet' (1956)
Shakespeare goes to space! Instead of being stranded on an island, the father-daughter Prospero and Miranda characters from "The Tempest" are stranded on a planet in outer space in "Forbidden Planet." In the science-fiction classic, Shakespeare's story of magic and shipwrecked sailors is replaced by futuristic technology and a crew of astronauts.
- 'My Own Private Idaho' (1991)
Gus Van Sant's independent drama takes from both John Rechy's novel "City of Night" and Shakespeare's "Henry IV" and "Henry V." The film's Scott (Keanu Reeves) represents a modern Prince Hal, King Henry IV's son, as he similarly wastes away his time acting out rebelliously while awaiting his inheritance from his father. Apparently one of Van Sant's final rewrites had so much Shakespearean language that it was described as a literal restructuring of the plays.
- 'Scotland, PA' (2001)
The tragedy that strikes Dunsinane Castle, Scotland in Shakespeare's "Macbeth" gets transported to a Pennsylvanian fast-food establishment in "Scotland, PA." Instead of a trio of witches prophesying Macbeth's future, three stoner hippies appear to Joe "Mac" McBeth telling him that he will soon manage his fast-food restaurant as a new drive-thru. Joe goes on to kill his boss (although accidentally) and opens a successful drive-thru, which of course leads to more killings, as well as hippies and hallucinations.
- 'Big Business' (1988)
Although the Bette Midler-Lily Tomlin 1988 comedy may look like an extreme remake of "The Parent Trap" (twin-switcharoo and camping included), "Big Business" is actually a Shakespeare adaptation. One of his lesser known plays, "The Comedy of Errors," follows two sets of identical twins who get mixed up at birth and run into each other later in life. The mismatched Midler and Tomlin sisters discover their real twin siblings 40 years later in a big business deal in New York City.
- 'Romeo Must Die' (2000)
Shakespeare is quite popular among musical artists breaking into the film world. In"Romeo Must Die," R&B singer Aaliyah made her acting debut as Trish, a modern Juliet and daughter of an Oakland gang leader. When Jet Li's Han (a.k.a. Romeo) falls for Tris,h their love becomes hindered by war between race and crime.
- 'The Bad Sleep Well' (1960)
Shakespeare inspired the great Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa more than once. Through the lens of "Hamlet," "The Bad Sleep Well" critiques the corporate corruption of 1960's Japan, replacing the usurping of the throne with that of climbing the corporate hierarchy. Toshirô Mifune ("Seven Samurai") plays the modern Japanese Hamlet, determined to seek revenge on the man who manipulated his father into suicide.
- 'My Kingdom' (2001)
"King Lear" is reprised yet again in this 2001 British crime drama starring Richard Harris as Sandeman, a Liverpool crime boss. Tensions build amongst Sandeman's three daughters after one of them refuses to take over the family business and the other two fight for control. Yet the film diverges from the play when Sandeman encounters another problem: being hunted by the cops.
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