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Shakespeare in cinema: the influence of great playwrights on films




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William Shakespeare was an English playwright and playwright who lived in the 16th and 17th centuries. At this time of the Renaissance, Shakespeare was an essential member of the Kings Men Theater Company. He and his business partners built their own theater in 1599, the famous Globe Theater, where they performed plays written by Shakespeare.

Hundreds of years later, Shakespeare’s plays are still being read and performed. In 2014, Guinness World Records published aitem honoring Shakespeare on the occasion of his 450th birthday by recounting ten world records related to the writer. He remains the best-selling playwright in the world, with sales of his works estimated at more than four billion copies since his death. Cinema, in particular, has a rich history of adapting its works and drawing inspiration from its plays. More than four hundred feature films and versions of TV films are adapted from his works.

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Shakespeare in the movie

Classic adaptations …

“Richard III”

Laurence Olivier has performed, directed and produced a handful of Shakespeare adaptations. Richard III did not receive so much Oscar nominations like his other Shakespeare films, but it stands up to modern viewing and is arguably its best because of it. Richard IIItells the story of Richards as he conspires to take the throne from his brother, King Edward IV. The British Film Institute declares that this filmmay have done more to popularize Shakespeare than any other work.

‘Romeo and Juliet’

Italian-British romantic tragedy was up for four Oscars in 1969, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won two Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Costume. The film is based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name and tells the story of two lovers from two families in conflict. Romeo and Julietis Shakespeare’s last film to datewho was nominated for best film.

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‘Midnight chimes’

Midnight chimesfocuses on Shakespeare’s recurring character Sir John Falstaff and his relationship with Prince Hal. Hal faces the decision to remain loyal to Falstaff or his father, King Henry IV. The film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and received a nomination for the BAFTA Award. The nomination was for Orson Welles, who plays Sir John Falstaff, in the category of best foreign actor. Welles also directed the film.


Kenneth branagh, like Laurence Olivier, has directed and starred in numerous Shakespeare adaptations. There are many interpretations of Hamlet in the movie, but the Branaghs version was the first full-length adaptation with a runtime of just over four hours. The film tells the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, as he navigates turmoil over the death of his father after returning home and finding his mother married to his father’s murderer, his uncle.

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‘Julius Caesar’

Julius Caesar is another Shakespeare adaptation that was nominated for Best Picture. The film tells the story of a powerful Julius Caesar in Rome as a group of his entourage plots to assassinate him. Marlon Brando, who played the role of Mark Antony, received a nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.Brando won two Oscars for his acting and was nominated for six other roles, but his portrayal of Antoine is one of his best performances. This version of the play is also one of the best adaptations of Julius Caesar nowadays.

Modern takes …

‘West Side Story’ (Romeo and Juliet)

Steven Spielberg remakes the 1961 classic and has a hard act to follow even with his pedigree as a filmmaker. The original won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. The only category it was nominated for but didn’t win for was Best Writing – screenplay based on material from another medium. West Side Storytells the story of two young lovers from rival gangs in New York. The roots of the story are in Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet.

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“ My own private Idaho ” (Henry IV and Henry V)

My own private Idahowas directed and written by Gus Van Sant based on Shakespeares Henry IV and Henri v. Phoenix River, in one of his last roles, starred alongside Keanu reeves. The two young actors portrayed two street con artists in Portland, Oregon, as they embarked on a journey of self-discovery while stumbling along the way. The film is a quirky indie and is a prime example of a creative adaptation and sublime acting.

‘Coriolanus’ (Coriolanus)

Ralph fienness The first film tells the story of a hero banished from Rome who allies with a nemesis to take revenge on the city. The film stars Fiennes and Gerard butler and is a modern account of a lesser-known Shakespearean play adapted by John logan.

“ 10 things I hate about you ” (The shrew of the shrew)

10 things I hate about youhas a stellar ensemble distribution comprising Ledger of health, Julia stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gabrielle Union, and Allison janney. The film is a modern adaptation of Shakespeares The Tamed Shrew and follows a younger sister who can’t go out on a date until her cranky older sister does. This romantic comedy offers depth and plenty of laughs. It’s a fun addition to this list.

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‘Ran’ (King Lear)

While not technically a modern take on Shakespeare, Ran enters because it was adapted in a non-traditional way. Akira Kurosawa directed and wrote the film based onShakespeare King Lear. The story is set in medieval Japan and follows an elderly warlord and the transition from his empire to his three sons. The transfer of power causes the sons to turn against each other and their father. Kurosawa has dived into Shakespeare’s realm in previous films, but it’s one of his best. It is also one of his last films. He received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director in recognition of his work on this brilliant film.

Honorable Mentions

Romeo + Juliet

Richard III


Henri v


A lot of noise for nothing



The king

Throne of Blood


Shakespeare’s influence on cinema has spanned the history of the medium. He will continue to be an inspiration for the stories as long as they are told. Wikipedia has alisting which refers to Guinness mention of over 400 film and television versions of Shakespeare’s plays. Our lists above are just a taste of the many great films adapted from his works.

There will undoubtedly be great adaptations that have crept through the cracks. Hopefully the films listed in this article give a solid account of Shakespeare’s adapted works and provide readers with a good starting point for exploring the many films based on his plays.

What’s your favorite adaptation of Shakespeare?

By Drew Alexander Ross

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