Tic, Tic … BOOM! & 9 other films framed like a play



Films based on plays are nothing new, with some being as recent as films like Ma Rainey’s black background, but only a certain selection really captured the same amount of theatricality in their presentation. While there are a few classic movies like those inspired by the works of Shakespeare, it takes a special breed to recreate a true theatrical experience.

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It is difficult but certainly not impossible to create a film that resembles a play. Sometimes this even happens unintentionally with creative cinematography and literal directing. But whether the filmmakers like it or not, there are several films that really define the term “theatrical”.

ten The Hateful 8

Sam Jackson with two guns in The Hateful Eight.

While Quentin Tarantino’s biting western isn’t a play, it could and very well be. Besides the opening scene on the stagecoach, the entire film could be staged as a murder mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie’s work. It’s very easy to compare The Hateful Eight to a room like The mousetrap and And then there was none.

The Christie’s movie and plays take place in a secluded location, like Monkwell Mansion or Minnie’s Haberdashery, and involve a group of suspects with a murderer among them being arrested one by one. If treated well, a true theatrical adaptation of this brutal affair would sell out in no time.

9 Lorenzo

This Disney short is more like a ballet (or in this case, a tango) that tells a story through dance. Lorenzo weaves a dark, comical story of a spoiled fat cat whose tail is subjected to an evil dancing curse. Forced to tango and merengue with a piece of his possessed body, Lorenzo has to move and mambo against his will, until he’s forced to take matters into his own hands.

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The short is very funny, but it also takes an unusually dark turn for a Disney project towards the end. Without getting into the spoilers, it’s quite shocking to see what a desperate cat is capable of. Not only is the short film framed as a stage act in its angles and choice of music, but it even ends with a curtsy from the actors as the curtain closes.


8 Bird man

The theater theme never really leaves Bird man in terms of location and presentation. Former superhero actor Riggan Thompson tries to make a name for himself on Broadway, his entire artistic fight and inner monologues with his superhero alter-ego are featured in the tone and delivery of a dramatic read.

Not only that, but the film is shot in one continuous take, showing the ins and outs of a theatrical production as Riggan deals with his internal critiques, portrayed by Birdman. It’s not just a dramatic comedy, it’s a fame and reputation character study.

7 Fancy

The wizard Mickey leading a broom carrying water

It might sound strange, but there’s a reason Walt Disney himself dubbed Fancy “the concert function.” The film, like a staging such as an opera, symphony or other classical performance, begins with the assembly of the orchestra before the opening. Everything that follows is essentially an act of production.

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Along with Deems Taylor’s narration, Mickey Mouse himself even comes out of character to congratulate Maestro Stokowski. The show even has an intermission between the production halves. Needless to say, Walt knew exactly what he was doing.

6 red Mill

The film is both Oscar nominated and worthy of cult film status, but it could be argued that modern musical films like Sweeney todd and even La La Land be inspired a little by Red Mill. In a way, Baz Luhrman’s beloved jukebox musical brought back the Broadway archetype that fans know and love today.

Although it draws inspiration from other mediums like silent films and circus acts, it is undeniable that the musical motif of the stage is the star of the show. The fantastic sequences often resemble Broadway sets, the score, acting and presentation are all grand and grand and over the top, and it all comes together in magical harmony as a true theatrical production should. It’s no wonder he finally came full circle and got a Broadway adaptation.

5 Cabaret

It should come as no surprise that a film literally titled Cabaret would take more than a few clues of cabarets and burlesque acts. Based on the musical of the same name and choreographed by legendary Bob Fosse, the film Cabaret holds up well and goes to great lengths to capture the elements of a seedy late 1930s cabaret. However, this only happens when the perspective shifts inward from the Kit Kat Klub.

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That being said, opening the movie up with the macabre Emcee’s intro song, sprinkling a few acts on stage, and ending with the drawing of a curtain sells the stage acting effect.

4 The pirates of Penzance

Based on the Gilbert and Sullivan opera of the same name, the film adaptation of Pirates of Penzance is one of those movies that knows it’s a movie, only it’s more like an opera trying to be a movie. While the cinematography and camera work is certainly cinematic quality, the sets, performances, and acting all feel like something taken straight out of a staged version of the musical.

It’s cheesy, it’s overkill, but it’s all so self-aware that it makes it a cutting edge comedy. With performances like Kevin Kline and Angela Landsbury, one shouldn’t expect less than theater.

3 Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus Christ Superstar 2000

The two film adaptations of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera deserve a mention, but both offer totally different flavors to the table. The original from the 70s Jesus Christ Superstar literally opens with a group of hippies in the Holy Land preparing to put on a passionate play, but the 2000 remake feels more like a filmed staging of the musical.

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But whichever version a viewer decides to choose, there’s no denying that the directors recognized that it was first a musical and then a movie. Both versions feature different aspects of the stage production, with the original building on the counter-culture movement and the remake trying to be more like a musical theater experience with its directing, songs and dancing. The two are separate but equal parties who understood the mission.

2 Tic, Tic… Boom!

Jonathan sings on the piano on stage in Tick, Tick ... Boom!

One of the most recent entries in the musical film genre is that of Netflix Tic, Tic … Boom!, and it serves as an ingenious hybrid both on stage and on screen. The film oscillates between the life of composer Johnathan Larson and the performance of his monologue in front of a crowd at the New York Theater Workshop.

In doing so, the film not only offers a strong adaptation of the stage production, but a brilliant mix of mediums. Larson’s life, work, struggles, and awesome songs are all well represented visually and musically, but without sacrificing the element of storytelling found in the middle of the stage.

1 Chicago

Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago

Of all the musicals to receive a film adaptation, Chicago was to be one of the most difficult to adapt. However, Rob Marshall took original staging into account when creating his Oscar-winning adaptation. Like the aforementioned musical, Chicago mixes its cinematic elements with its theatrical elements to create the best of both worlds.

On one side of the coin, the film’s dramatic and dialogue-rich moments are treated like a normal movie, but it becomes a broadway-style feel when Chicago songs and musical numbers come out to play. Accompanied by a jazz band and a cheering audience, the film is a shining example of what a musical film can be.

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