Adapting a play into a film seems like it wouldn’t be difficult. But only the best of films have done it well. The top ten list of the best films that were based on plays includes movies that are classics in their own right. That’s how well they adapted to a new medium, and how iconic characters and stories can be!
10. You Can’t Take it With You- It seems like it’s an unwritten law that every high school and every community theatre will do the play You Can’t Take it With You at some point. After all, it is completely innocuous, controversy free, and pretty damn charming. The film, which was directed by Frank Capra and stars a very young Jimmy Stewart features a lot of the same early 20th century wholesomeness. But it also encapsulates the screwball comedy as a genre, is still laugh out loud funny at times, and never feels like it’s forcing a play onto the screen.
9. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof- This sultry adaptation of Tennessee William’s great play features Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman being extremely attractive around and at each other. It also features Burl Ives giving an amazing monologue that actually isn’t in the play (the basement scene is amazing). The biggest flaw with this film is it completely glosses over the homosexuality of Skipper, and possibly Brick (Newman). It’s kind of the point of the play, and you can pick up on it if you’re savvy. But for the most part, you might wonder what everyone is so upset about! Still, the powerhouse performances of everyone in the cast make you forget any problems pretty quickly.
8. Rope- Imagine a body is hidden somewhere on the stage. Imagine you, as an audience member know where it is. Imagine the family and friends of the body are in the room, and so are the men who killed him. Imagine that premise being adapted by Alfred Hitchcock. Now go rent it.
7. The Laramie Project- The HBO film of this documentary style play is based on the tragic murder of Matthew Shepard. It is difficult to talk about in a complimentary way, not because the movie is bad (very much the opposite), but because the events that inspired it are so horrible that it is hard to discuss. It is on this top ten list for a reason, and it is not to be missed.
6. Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead- If you have never read Tom Stoppard’s classic take on Hamlet, then you are in for a treat. The film version stars Gary Oldman and Tim Roth as the title characters, and a young Iain Glenn (Ser Jorah Mormont from Game of Thrones) as Hamlet. The play is an existential Waiting for Godot-esque take on Shakespeare’s classic and it is hilarious and tragic in all the right ways.
5. Angels in America- The play is one of the best plays ever written by anyone, and the film version stars Emma Thompson, Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Mary Louise Parker, Patrick Wilson and the amazing Justin Kirk as Prior. All these amazing stars are in it for a reason, and it holds up to a lot of scrutiny. It will make you laugh and cry and feel that intense catharsis.
4. Dangerous Liaisons- The sexy play is also a very sexy movie with a great cast and some delightful intrigue. If the idea of watching Glenn Close and John Malkovitch verbally spar about whose reputation that they’re going to ruin by seduction and scandal appeals to you, then you really need to see this film.
3. ‘Night, Mother- Starring Ann Bancroft and Sissy Spacek, ‘Night, Mother is a play about a woman who lives with her mother and tells her that she is going to kill herself at the end of the night. With such powerhouse performers in the film (it is just the two of them), the movie leaves you sobbing and breathless.
2. Amadeus- This film won a lot of oscars, like best picture. It is a master stroke on the part of director Milos Forman. You might not even notice that it was a play, it certainly doesn’t feel like one. Instead it feels like a sweeping drama on a huge scale. The music pushes it forward to the beautiful final scene between Mozart and the man who he doesn’t know hates him. It’s gorgeous.
1. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? If you haven’t seen this movie, or read this play, or seen this play, or any combination thereof, stop everything right now and watch it or read it. Right now. Edward Albee wrote a masterpiece when he wrote this play, and Mike Nichols (in his directorial debut) creates a film that feels immediate and hilarious and heartbreaking and tense all at once. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are revelatory as the married couple at the center of the action, particularly Taylor, who gained weight for a role that she was too young to play.