10 Big-Screen Faves You Probably Didn't Realise Were Based On William Shakespeare Plays

Who knew Shakespeare would have made his way into sci-fi, animated classics, romantic comedies and even zombie dramas?
10 Things I Hate About You, The Lion King and Anyone But You are all inspired by Shakespeare
10 Things I Hate About You, The Lion King and Anyone But You are all inspired by Shakespeare

Whether it’s Bridget Jones taking inspiration from Pride & Prejudice, Batman referencing Charles Dickens or Cruel Intentions being based on a game-changer from 18th century French literature, many of us probably don’t realise that some of our favourite films were actually based on classics from years (or even centuries) gone by.

And for many filmmakers, there’s no better inspiration than the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.

From beloved rom-coms and animated family favourites to a hit romantic comedy released in 2024, here are 10 movies you probably didn’t know were based on works by Shakespeare…

West Side Story

The tragic love story of Tony and Maria mirrors that of the characters in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, in which the sparring families the Montagues and Capulets become rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks.

West Side Story won 10 Oscars following its release in the late 1950s, eventually being remade by Steven Spielberg in 2021, with Ariana DeBose winning Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Maria, the same character which earned Rita Moreno a win the first time around.

10 Things I Hate About You

A pioneer of the late 90s teen comedy, 10 Things I Hate About You became a star vehicle for cast members Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (it also boasts Gabrielle Union, David Krumholtz and future Oscar winner Allison Janney among its supporting cast).

The clues are there (in this modern version Katherina becomes Kat, while Petruchio becomes Patrick), but it might have gone over your head that the whole story is a take-off of The Taming Of The Shrew. Notably, 10 Things I Hate About You takes place at Padua High School, named after the town in Shakespeare’s comedy.

She’s The Man

Sticking with the romantic comedy theme, who remembers She’s The Man from back in 2006, in which Amanda Bynes impersonates a male college student so she can join their soccer team, and winds up falling for Channing Tatum?

The play is inspired by Twelfth Night, right down to the characters’ names, the title of Illyria college and even select lines of dialogue – although we don’t remember there being any football in the Shakespeare version.

Get Over It

Those who’ve seen teen comedy Get Over It will know that much of the action centres around a high school play, which just happens to be a musical retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But the Shakespeare connections don’t stop there.

In fact, the film itself is also inspired by the Shakespeare classic.

While it’s not quite stood the test of time in a way that, for example, 10 Things I Hate About You has, it’s worth a watch for Kirsten Dunst along. And yes, that is Sisqó of Thong Song and Celebrity Big Brother fame in the supporting cast.

Strange Brew

Now considered a cult classic, Strange Brew is a comedy steeped in Canadian culture and humour, which took comedy characters Bob and Doug McKenzie to the big screen.

What many watching the action unfold might not have realised is that the action is loosely based on Hamlet, as evidenced by its many twists and turns, ghostly apparitions and references to the Elsinore brewery.

The Lion King

And while we’re on the subject of Hamlet – The Lion King actually marks Disney’s first time adapting the Bard, with parallels running between Shakespeare’s tragedy and this animated family favourite.

Disney carried on the Shakespeare themes with The Lion King’s oft-forgotten sequels, too. Follow-up Simba’s Pride takes inspiration from Romeo & Juliet, while the third film in the series, midquel The Lion King 1½, is based on the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which retells Hamlet from the title character’s friends’ perspectives.

My Own Private Idaho

Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho was released to critical acclaim in the early 90s, helping put Keanu Reeves and the late River Phoenix on the map.

Among its depictions of drug addiction, sexual exploration and sex work, the film is actually loosely based on an amalgamation of Shakespeare plays, Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, and Henry V.

Warm Bodies

Another rather left-field choice, Warm Bodies came out in 2013, and told the story of a young woman in a post-apocalyptic world who falls in love with a zombie.

It’s only when you take a look at the characters’ names – R and Julie – that you begin to spot it’s inspired by one of Shakespeare’s most beloved works.

Forbidden Planet

A pioneering piece of work within the sci-fi genre, Forbidden Planet is a journey of discovery set centuries in the future, combining space travel and incorporating robots and alien life forms.

But did you know it’s based on The Tempest? No, us neither.

Anyone But You

And finally, plenty of people were surprised to discover that the 2024 rom-com Anyone But You was inspired by the Shakespeare comedy Much Ado About Nothing.

In fact, the Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell is now the highest-grossing live-action adaptation of the British playwright’s work in history, surpassing Baz Luhrmann’s much-loved movie Romeo + Juliet.


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