Best Movies Based on Plays – Part 4

Posted on 19 Mar 00:00


Some of the best movies are the ones based on plays. This is because the plays adapted for movies generally have a solid plots and engaging story lines. These two things are most important in making a movie a great one, and are not limited to any specific genre. Comedy, crime-thriller, drama, fantasy, musical and romantic movies in this category are all worth watching. Here are few of such movies.

1.  Closer (2004)

Plot:  A romantic drama written by Patrick Marber. The movie is based on Marber’s award-winning play from 1997 titled 'Closer'. It was directed and produced by Mike Nichols. This film’s theme is infidelity and its effects on relationships. This movie is based on the relationship between an American stripper Alice (Natalie Portman) and Dan (Jude Law), an English man. Alice leaves her career as a stripper and decides to move to London. She bumps into Dan on the street and while she is looking at him a car hits her. Dan takes Alice to the hospital and they begin dating. Dan writes a novel on Alice's life, and after one year of dating, he is bored with her. He begins flirting with Anna (Julia Roberts), a photographer. Pretending to be Anna in a chat room, Dan accidentally sets a meeting between Anna and Larry (Clive Owen). As time goes by, Dan’s relationship with Anna as well as with Alice begins to disintegrate and he must choose between the two of the women.

Based on the play:  'Closer', written by Patrick Marber.

Director: Mike Nichols.

Main Cast:  Julia Roberts (as Anna Cameron), Natalie Portman (as Alice Ayres / Jane Jones), Jude Law (as Daniel "Dan" Woolf), and Clive Owen (as Larry Gray).

Awards and Nominations: The 'Closer' film received two Academy Awards nominations, the Best Supporting Actress and the Best Supporting Actor, but it did not win any of the awards. BAFTA Awards also nominated the movie for three awards in which it won none. The BAFTA Awards nominations were; Best Adapted Screenplay (Patrick Marber), Best Supporting Actor (Clive Owen), and Best Supporting Actress (Natalie Portman). Of all the three nominations, only Clive won. The Golden Globes nominated the Closer film for five awards, including the Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Natalie Portman won the BAFTA Award for the Best Supporting Actress, while Clive Owen won the Best Supporting Actor BAFTA Award.

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: None.

2.  August: Osage County (2013)

This is a tragic comedy directed by John Wells. The movie was written by Tracy Letts and is based on Tracy’s play which won the Pulitzer Prize. 

Based on the play:  August: Osage County written by Tracy Letts.

Plot: This movie is about three sisters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Karen (Juliette Lewis), and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) who visit the home of their father for his funeral. The other person residing in that home is Violet (Meryl Streep), their mother. Violet is a pill-popping cancer patient with an acid tongue. The sisters and their other relatives must bear Violet as she knows no limits and spits her venom on everyone, telling them accurately what she thinks of them, having no consideration of people’s emotions.

Director: John Wells.

Main Cast: Meryl Streep (as Violet Weston, the family matriarch who suffers from cancer), Sam Shepard (as Beverly Weston, the family patriarch), and Julia Roberts (as Barbara Weston-Fordham, the Weston’s oldest daughter).

Awards and Nominations: Meryl Steep received the Best Actress Academy Award nomination. Julia Roberts received the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination, with the two losing their awards. Chris Cooper won the Best Supporting Actor award from AARP Annual Movies for Grownups Awards. At the Hollywood Film Festival, Julia Roberts won the Supporting Actress of the Year Award, while the film's ensemble cast won the Ensemble Cast of the Year Award. The movie received numerous other nominations from the Screen Actors Guild Award, Writers Guild of America Award, Satellite Awards, and other organizations.

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie:  Tracy Letts did not make any major changes in the play while coming up with the film’s screenplay.

3.  Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)

This is a1990 tragicomedy film that was directed and written by Tom Stoppard. The movie is based on Tom’s own play with the same name. The movie’s story is based on two minor characters from Shakespeare’s novel Hamlet, Rosencrantz (Gary Oldman) and Guildenstern (Tim Roth). 

Based on the play:  Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead written by Tom Stoppard.

Movie Plot: the film has a plot that is similar to the play’s plot. It is a portrayal of two minor characters from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They find themselves on the road to Elsinore Castle at the behest of the King of Denmark. While the duo visits their friend, Hamlet, they engage in an ongoing philosophical debate about free will versus predestination, each trying to prove their positions through misbegotten experiments. Meanwhile, the clueless friends attempt to make sense of the peculiar goings-on in the castle. 

Director: Tom Stoppard.

Main Cast: Tim Roth (as Guildenstern), Gary Oldman (as Rosencrantz), and Iain Glen (as Prince Hamlet).

Awards and Nominations: the critics' reaction to the film tended towards the positive, with an overall rating of 61% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 31 reviews.  There were some negative comments too; for example, Roger Ebert states that "the problem is that this material was never meant to be a film, and can hardly work as a film." At the Venice Film Festival, the movie won a Golden Lion Award. It also won the Fantasporto Directors' Week Award. Oldman was nominated for the 1991 Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead for his exemplary work in the film.

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: Stoppard kept the resulting film closely similar to the play from which he adapted the movie. The only change is one less cast member. The play had eleven characters, the film had ten characters.

4.  The Crucible (1996)

This is a1996 historical drama written by Arthur Miller and directed by Nicholas Hytner. The movie was adapted from Miller’s play of the same title written in 1953. The play was inspired by the Salem witchcraft trials. 

Based on the play:  The Crucible written by Arthur Miller.

Movie Plot: John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a married man who has an affair with Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder). After he decides to end the affair, Abigail gathers other local girls and forms an occult rite to pray for the death of John’s wife Elizabeth (Joan Allen). Upon the discovery of the dark ritual a trial is initiated against the girls. Accusations start piling up and an actual witch hunt begins. Soon Elizabeth is suspected of practicing witchcraft and John’s efforts to save her make the situation worst for Elizabeth.

Director: Nicholas Hytner.

Main Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis (as John Proctor), Winona Ryder (as Abigail Williams), Paul Scofield (as Judge Thomas Danforth), and Bruce Davison (as Reverend Parris).

Awards and Nominations: Joan Allen won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress and the Empire Awards for Best Actress. Paul Scofield won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The Academy Awards nominated Joan Allen for the Best Supporting Actress and Arthur Miller for Best Adapted Screenplay. Other numerous nominations came from other organizations, including the Golden Globes and the Awards Circuit Community Awards.             

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: None.

5.  On Golden Pond (1981)

This is a drama that was directed by Mark Rydell. The screenplay was written by Ernest Thompson who adapted it from his own play , On Golden Pond, written in 1979. 

Based on the play:  On Golden Pond written by Ernest Thompson.

Movie Plot: Norman Thayer (Henry Fonda) is a, cantankerous retiree who spends summers with his conciliatory wife, Ethel (Katharine Hepburn), at their vacation home in New England.  The home is built on the shores of idyllic Golden Pond. Their grown daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda), arrives to see her parents before embarking on her journey to Europe. With her is her new fiancée and his teenage son Billy (Doug McKeon). After she leaves Billy behind to develop a bond with Norman. When Chelsea returns, she is hurt and a bit jealous at how easily her father and Billy get along, unlike the lifelong unease between her and Norman, which she longs to repair.

Director: Mark Rydell.

Main Cast: Katharine Hepburn (as Ethel Thayer), Henry Fonda (as Norman Thayer Jr.), and Jane Fonda (as Chelsea Thayer Wayne).

Awards and Nominations: On the Golden Pond film was a tremendous commercial and critical success. Reviewers praised Rydell's direction, Thompson's screenplay, and the cast's performances. At the same time, the film grossed $119.3 million domestically, becoming the second highest-grossing film of 1981 in North America. It received ten nominations at the 54th Academy Awards, including for the Best Picture, and won three; Best Actor (for Fonda), Best Actress (for Hepburn), and Best Adapted Screenplay. The British Academy Films Awards nominated the movie for six roles, including the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award that Katherine Hepburn won.

6.  Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

This is a 1959 Southern Gothic mystery. It is based on the 1958 play of the same name written by Tennessee Williams. The movie was produced by Sam Spiegel and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. 

Based on the play:  'Suddenly Last Summer' written by Tennessee Williams.

Movie Plot: After she witnesses the violent accidental death of her cousin during a trip to Europe, the young socialite Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor) is left traumatized and committed to an asylum. Holly’s aunt, Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn), wants her to hide the events of her cousin’s death and bribes a young doctor, John Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) to carry out a lobotomy on her. John decides to uncover the real state of Holly’s state of mind before carrying out the procedure.

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Main Cast: Elizabeth Taylor (as Catherine Holly, the traumatized girl), Katharine Hepburn (as Violet Venable, Holly’s aunt), and Montgomery Clift (as Dr. John Cukrowicz, the psychiatrist).

Awards and Nominations: the Academy Awards nominated Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor for the Best Supporting Actress role. Oliver Messel, William Kellner, and Scott Simon were nominated for the Best Art Direction. Taylor and Hepburn were nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama and the Laurel Award for Top Female Dramatic Performance. Taylor won both awards.

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: as Gore Vidal attempted to construct the narrative as a small number of very long scenes, resulting in a change from the plays original structure.

7.  Angels in America (2003)

This is a romantic fantasy HBO miniseries that was directed by Mike Nichols. It is based on the 1991 Pulitzer-prize winning play, Angels in America, written by Tony Kushner. The movie stars Al Pacino (Roy Cohn), Meryl Streep (Hannah Pitt / Ethel Rosenberg / The Rabbi / The Angel Australia), Patrick Wilson (Joe Pitt), Mary-Louise Parker (Harper Pitt), Emma Thompson (Nurse Emily / Homeless woman / The Angel America) Justin Kirk (Prior Walter / Leatherman in the park) and Jeffrey Wright (as Mr. Lies). 

Based on the play:  Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes written by Tony Kushner.

Movie Plot: the setting of the movie is 1985. The storyline revolves around six New Yorkers whose lives intersect. At the film’s center, there is the fantastical story of Prior Walter, a gay man living with AIDS who is visited by an angel. The film explores a wide variety of themes, including Reagan era politics, the spreading AIDS epidemic, and a rapidly changing social and political climate. This movie also depicts the struggle for social acceptance of their sexual preferences in the 1980s.

Director: Mike Nichols.

Main Cast: Al Pacino (as Roy Cohn), Meryl Streep (as Hannah Pitt / Ethel Rosenberg / The Rabbi / The Angel Australia), and Patrick Wilson (as Joe Pitt).

Awards and Nominations: Angels in America film was a tremendous critical success that garnered many accolades in the form of awards and nominations from many organizations. It won the National Board of Review Award for Best Film Made for Cable TV, American Film Institute Award for Top 10 TV Programs of the Year, Broadcast Film Critics’ Award for Best Picture Made for Television, and four Golden Globe Awards, including Best Miniseries or Motion Picture – Television, among other awards and nominations from various organizations. 

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: the major difference between the play and the film is the shortening of the name to 'Angels in America' from the name of the play 'Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes'.


Some of the world’s best movies were adapted from successful plays. The ones listed here have unparalleled direction, dialogue, cinematography, and story lines.

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