I love movies based on plays – most of the time. Some of them really fall flat. I mean, there are certain films based on plays are just awful. The good ones, however, are really good. They expand on an already rich plot line and you get more visualization. Often the actors in plays are arguably better because they don't depend on decadent sets and effects, but sometimes the addition of excellent scenery adds to the experience. So keep reading, see if my favorite movies based on plays match yours, and share your own!
1. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
When you're looking for movies based on plays, it's often a good idea to look to the past. With some very fantastic exceptions, actors were better decades ago. They really took their craft to heart and many were classically trained on the stage. They also weren't as afraid to get ugly or crazy. I mean, you see Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra or something, and you can hardly believe the same woman plays self-destructive Martha. There's a hysteria in this film that comes right through the screen, which is no doubt partly due to the volatile relationship between the two leads.
2. William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet
Yeah, I put Baz Luhrmann's version here. Don't hate me, I love Franco Zeffirelli's version as well; Leonard Whiting was charismatic and randy and Olivia Hussey was appropriately doe-eyed and romantic. However, I watched Romeo + Juliet make teens get interested in Shakespeare. In high school, my two best guy friends couldn't get through the plays in class without making our teacher want to hang herself, but they got so into this movie that they went around quoting lines spoken by Tybalt and Mercutio. It's decadent, modern, and beautiful where the 1968 version is classic and truer to the theatre.
I'm probably going to get some hate for not focusing on the 1948 version of Hamlet starring Sir Laurence Olivier, and I fully accept it – but hear me out, okay? I love that version – in the same way I love the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet. It's a wonderful, classic take on what's probably my favorite Shakespearean play. However, Kenneth Branagh's 1996 version is a modern miracle. Hamlet is still Hamlet but he's brought to life in a new, inventive way that only Branagh could carry off. I love the ensemble cast as well, especially Kate Winslet as the beautiful, mad Ophelia, but it's Kenneth's Hamlet that makes this my favorite adaptation. For the record, I cannot stand the Mel Gibson version.
4. A Streetcar Named Desire
I love this play. I even love simply reading the play. Tennessee Williams – who also, thankfully, helped with the screenplay – is one of my favorite playwrights, alongside Oscar Wilde. His irreverence mixes so well with his decadence. No one believed Vivien Leigh could carry off the fragile, damaged Southern gentility of shattered Blanche Dubois – but people had their doubts she could be a good Scarlett, as well. Marlon Brando was just a dream himself – and his secret hatred of Stanley Kowalski actually made his performance that much more believable.
I think this has to do with my love for Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, to say nothing of the gorgeous Viola Davis. I found the play captivating, but the starkness of the film moved me – I can't say more, but definitely in a different way. I think the subject matter deserved a more in-depth look, and it received that on the big screen.
6. Glengarry Glen Ross
I think the success of this movie is based partly on the fact that David Mamet stayed on board with the screenplay as well. The stellar cast, composed of such amazing actors as Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Jack Lemmon, and Alec Baldwin, certainly helped. These men are true actors and were all able to carry the mood of the play onto the screen and make it look real, which was of course Mamet's aim in the first place. This is also a case where parts of the movie surpass the original play – I'm talking about that famous Baldwin scene, of course.
I could have put a million other titles in this spot, because there are so many wonderful adaptations, but I love Amadeus. I adore the play but the movie makes a point of focusing more on Mozart, which lots of critics dislike. It makes the movie stand alone from the play, in a way, but I can't help it. Tom Hulce is just divine.
The stories are fantastic on the stage or on the screen, but as movies, they're more accessible to people who don't always have access to quality theatre productions. After all, can you really find fault with bringing Shakespeare to the masses? I could watch these movies over and over – and frequently do. But what about you? Let me know about your favorite movies based on theatrical productions!