Since the early days of cinema, movies have been inspired by theatre. The first known film adaptation of Shakespeare dates from 1899. King John. Between 1907 and 1917, Alexandre Dumas’ play Camille has been adapted six times for the cinema. 1929 Coconutsthe Marx Brothers’ first film, was a filmed version of their hit show.
Today, Broadway draws more inspiration from films such as beetle juice, Back to the futureand groundhog day than the reverse. Nonetheless, the debt the film world owes the theater runs deep, as some of history’s most famous films wouldn’t exist without the plays that inspired them.
10/10 Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde immortalized a great performance
John Barrymore is a legendary actor of the early 20th century whose portrayals of Hamlet and Richard III made him one of the most respected performers of his time. From 1913 to 1941, Barrymore brought his incredible range and skill to the world of cinema, portraying classic characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Captain Ahab.
One of Barrymore’s best performances was in the 1920 film Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, based on a critically acclaimed stage version of the classic short story. Barrymore is the film’s biggest special effect, as it convincingly transitions from kind-hearted Jekyll to monstrous, deformed Hyde in one fell swoop, using only his body and expressions as a tool.
9/10 The definitive Dracula made Bela Lugosi an icon
Directed by Tod Browning in 1931 Dracula is perhaps the most famous depiction of the classic vampire. The film is notably the first sound adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel. For this version of Dracula, producer Carl Laemmle Jr. and screenwriter Garrett Fort chose to use the hit play by Hamilton Deane and John Balderston as the basis.
Laemmle originally wanted the film to be a vehicle for major horror star Lon Chaney, but after Chaney’s death, Laemmle went through a long list of possible replacements. He ultimately cast Bela Lugosi, who had played the role on Broadway and was in Los Angeles on a touring show. The film made Bela Lugosi a star and is one of the best-known versions of Dracula.
8/10 Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Was Mike Nichols’ directorial debut
The 1966 movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? began production just a few years after Edward Albee’s play of the same name made its Broadway debut in 1962. Ernest Lehman’s screenplay is very faithful to Albee’s original screenplay, a choice Lehman made despite the provocative and suggestive nature of the dialogue at the time. .
Despite protests from the MPAA and the Catholic Motion Picture Legion, the film was completed with its script largely intact, and it received near-universal critical acclaim. Virginia Woolf is one of only two films to be nominated in each category eligible for the Oscars.
7/10 Wait for the dark to be as scary as its source material
The 1966 play Wait until nightfall is one of the few examples of plays that are as scary as most horror films. The play is about a blind woman whose home is infiltrated by a gang of criminals looking for a hidden stash of heroin. The play’s climactic scene takes place almost entirely in darkness in one of the most famous suspense scenes in theater history.
Due to the play’s effectiveness, Warner Bros bought the rights and produced a film version which they released in 1967. The film stars Audrey Hepburn with Alan Arkin as Roat, the main villain . Although it has no supernatural elements, the film is considered a horror classic for its biting tension and one of the most perfectly executed scares of all time.
6/10 Sleuth is a minimalist masterpiece
Shortly after his original stage version won a Tony Award for Best Play in 1971, playwright Anthony Shaffer began work on a film adaptation of Detective. Like the play, the film takes place in a single location: the mansion of an aging mystery writer who invites his wife’s lover to “steal” jewelry.
The stars of the film, Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier, are the only people on screen for long periods of time, but the film never goes out of style thanks to its offbeat dialogue and clever twists. Like the play, the film was a critical success. The stars and the director have been nominated for Oscars.
5/10 Amadeus is a stage and screen classic
Amedee is one of the few instances where an adaptation of the scene to film is as widely acclaimed and appreciated as the play it is based on, despite being stylistically very different from the source material. Amedee, the 1979 play, is told primarily via Salieri’s narration to the audience, breaking down any semblance of a fourth wall. On the other hand, Amedeethe 1984 film, is grounded in realism and presents Salieri’s story as a confession to a priest.
Amedee, the film, swept the Oscars in 1985 and made F. Murray Abraham a star. Despite the film’s success, the play has not been overshadowed and continues to see successful productions. In 2018 the National Theater aired a brilliant production starring Adam Gillen as Mozart and Lucian Msamati as Salieri.
4/10 Talk Radio expands a one-man show
Actor, playwright and monologue Eric Bogosian expanded his personal show Talk Radio in an off-Broadway play with several characters in 1987. The play was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, although it lost to August Wilson’s classic play Fences.
The following year, the film adaptation of Talk Radio, directed by Oliver Stone, further developed the story of the original play. The film follows a “shock jock” in the vein of Howard Stern and, more importantly, Alan Berg, a controversial talk show host who was murdered by white supremacists in 1984. An angry, tragic and moving, Talk Radio is one of Oliver Stone’s lesser known but finest works.
3/10 Henry V made Kenneth Branagh a beloved director
As a director, Kenneth Branagh has made six films based on the works of Shakespeare. His first adaptation Henry V, was released in 1989 and is considered by critics to be his best. The film is made even more notable by the fact that Branagh was only 29 when he directed and starred in it, in addition to writing the adapted screenplay.
The film greatly expands the scope of the play. Branagh takes advantage of the medium to portray large-scale bloody battles that mostly took place offstage in the play. The film also benefits from first-time composer Patrick Doyle’s stunning score and Phyllis Dalton’s Oscar-winning costumes.
2/10 Hedwig and the Angry Inch cult classic of stage and screen
Adaptation Hedwig and the Angry Thumb, John Cameron Mitchell’s 1998 Off-Broadway musical, was no easy task. The play had only two named characters in its cast. The majority of the piece is a monologue by Hedwig, the East German genderqueer rock singersometimes punctuated by songs and some interactions between Hedwig and Yitzhak, her husband, who rarely speaks.
Nonetheless, the film blasts the world of the play, bringing Hedwig’s traumatic and tragic story to life with superb performances from Mitchell, Andrea Martin and young Michael Pitt. Mitchell’s writing style loses none of its experimental nature in the transition to film. Hedwig fans tend to love the movie and the musical equally, which makes angry thumb as much a cult classic of the stage as a cult classic of cinema.
1/10 Father and Ma Rainey’s black bottom was amazing
The most infamous stunt of the 2021 Oscars was the choice to make Best Actor the final award of the night. This raised expectations that the late Chadwick Boseman would be honored to close the ceremony. Instead, however, Anthony Hopkins in The father was the winner, which left announcer Joaquin Phoenix embarrassed on stage.
Boseman’s performance in August Wilson’s brilliant adaptation Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom undoubtedly deserves recognition. The film is a faithful adaptation that also gives historical context to Ma Rainey’s story. However, Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his own 2012 play, The father, is just as amazing. It’s a devastating portrayal of a man’s descent into dementia, and Hopkins plays the part with heartbreaking precision.