Best Movies Based on Stage Plays, Ranked – MovieWeb

These movies were originally intended for the stage.
Movies and television shows have had a variety of inspirations throughout the years. While television shows across the world have looked towards their histories and recreated familiar storylines in the classroom with a dramatic flair, others have looked to literature to adapt for the screen. Books turned into movies have provoked a variety of reactions, ranging from anger, despair, and pure excitement. But there is a specific medium that has enchanted audiences for centuries now, one that also uses acting as its source of conveying messages and meanings: theater.
Some of the most respected and well-known movies in cinematic history found their source material in stage plays and musicals. Whether it was Tennessee Williams or Lorraine Hansberry, theater makers found a new form of accessibility through the newly invented medium of film. Shakespeare is not the only one who found his moment to shine; in the 50s and 60s several movies, ones that were big hits when they were released, had a prominent life on Broadway as well. These are the best movies based on stage plays ranked.
Released in 1957, 12 Angry Men was a play staged for live television written by Reginald Rose. Sidney Lumet directs the film adaptation, which takes place in a single room and has 12 male characters. They represent a jury in the middle of a trial, and their task is to decide where a teenager should be convicted of murder. That’s the extent of the plot: the men are forced to confront their ethics and moral questions as they debate what they should do regarding the trial. Who they are as people outside the room does not matter in this plot, only what they can and will do shortly.
Andrew Garfield stars in Tick, Tick…Boom!, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut for Netflix. The movie adapts the musical written by the playwright Jonathan Larson, who, in the 90s, became famous for writing Rent. Larson wrote Tick, Tick…Boom! based on events from his own life, and originally performed where he portrayed the character that represents him, Jonathan. The movie and stage show discuss artistry, how he chases after his dreams and neglects his relationships in the process, and what it means to feel like one is running out of time.
The 1984 movie Amadeus is adapted from the 1979 stage play of the same name, written by Peter Shaffer. The movie starred F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce as Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Although it is a fictionalized take on Mozart’s life story, it begins with weaving these two stories. Salieri, after meeting the young prodigy Mozart when he comes to court, does not think highly of him. The two begin an extensive rivalry, which will last until Mozart’s untimely death.
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Lorraine Hansberry became the first Black woman to be put on Broadway when she came out with the play A Raisin in the Sun, which was based on her personal experiences growing up in the shadow of racial segregation in neighborhoods directly over her. The 1961 film adaptation of the show came not long after its Broadway run, depicting life for a family that wants to escape from the house they’ve lived in for years. They hope to escape their circumstances with the life insurance policy of the patriarch, who died recently, but a plethora of problems, including their negligence and segregation, will try to stop their plans.
Henry V is one of the classic Shakespeare plays that touch upon a certain period of English history. Kenneth Branagh directed this 1989 film adaptation and starred in the leading role of King Henry V, landing him Oscar nominations for both Best Director and Best Actor. Told in a similar vein as the stage play, the movie touches upon King Henry V’s story immediately after the events of the Battle of Agincourt, which was a triumphant English victory against the French. Some creative liberties were taken when it came to the screenplay and content of the movie, which is now considered one of the finest Shakespearean adaptations so far.
Stephen Karam adapted his stage play, The Humans, for the screen in 2021. The play previously had runs Off-Broadway and on Broadway. It is Thanksgiving, and a family gathers at the New York City apartment one of the daughters just bought with her partner. Her father doesn’t approve of the apartment, as it triggers his trauma with 9/11 due to its vicinity to where it happened. The dinner only gets worse from there, as each family member comes to the table with their resentment and secrets, making the affair boil with tension throughout the movie.
At the height of Tennessee Williams’ career, a film adaptation of his play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof came out in 1958. Paul Newman portrays a man trying to relive the good old days when he was a varsity athlete in high school and a track star. He breaks his ankle in the process, then must go to Mississippi with his wife (Elizabeth Taylor) the next day to celebrate his father’s birthday. While there, he is haunted by how his life has turned out, as he’s a depressed alcoholic with no kids and a lack of an estate. At the same time, his father is diagnosed with cancer and is disappointed at how his son turned out.
Related: Great Movies That Inspired Stage Musicals
The 1942 movie Casablanca is now considered one of the most iconic movies from the classic Hollywood era, and some may even say it is one of the best movies to ever come out. Set in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, an American runs a nightclub in the middle of World War II. Refugees from the war flock there in droves to get out of Europe, and despite claiming he’s neutral, the owner leans more towards helping them. But when he starts to get involved with his love for a woman or helping her husband politically, he’s some difficult decisions to make soon.
The play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was one of the most successful plays by the playwright Edward Albee. The film adaptation came out four years after the play did, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and George Segal. An associate professor at a New England college returns home from a party with his wife with another young couple. They get into a fight in front of the couple, slowly sucking them deeper into their failing relationship and forcing them to witness the bitterness between the two. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? can claim the fact it is one of the only movies to be nominated for every single Oscar category.
Stephen Sondheim’s West Side Story put him on the map when it came out in 1957, establishing him as one of the big players and leaders of American theater from that point onwards. The 1961 version is a classic for an entire generation, but the 2021 edition of the movie updates to contemporary standards, including actually casting Latinx actors in Latinx roles. Steven Spielberg directed the 2021 adaptation, turning a new chapter for West Side Story decades later.
Kenneth Branagh is best known for his Shakespeare films in the nineties, and Hamlet is hands down one of the best movies he has appeared in. The 1996 edition of Hamlet is not for the faint of heart, as it runs over four hours long, and has an excellent cast to keep the momentum going. With an updated setting of the 1800s, but with the classic Elizabethan English script still utilized, Branagh stars as the doomed but furious prince Hamlet of Denmark, who swears to avenge his father’s murder.
Adapted from one of Tennesee Williams’ most famous plays, A Streetcar Named Desire came out in 1951 and starred some of the biggest names of the era. Set in New Orleans, where Williams resided for several years, a high school English teacher named Blanche DeBuois has arrived. She meets her sister and her sister’s husband at their apartment, but clashes with the husband’s personality. As the story progresses, Blanche opens up more, and it seems like she wasn’t entirely honest about her reasons for being there, as she has lost the family’s estate due to financial problems, among other things.
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