Best Movies Based on Plays - Part 10

Posted on 30 Apr 00:00


Watching movies is one of the many activities that bring us much joy on a regular basis. When we watch films, we experience a sense of escapism.  This article discusses seven popular classic movies based on plays.

1.  The Iceman Cometh (1973)

Based on the play:  The Iceman Cometh, written by Eugene O’Neill.

Plot: This film begins as the sad-sack patrons of a New York City bar await the arrival of salesman and drinking buddy, Theodore Hickman. The regulars know him as Hicky, a man who is passionate about what he does. He encourages his fellow alcoholics to give up their pipe dreams and embrace harsh reality. As Hickey makes his case for letting go of all delusions, much to the resentment of his friends, secrets from his own past are revealed.

Director: John Frankenheimer.

Main Cast: Lee Marvin (as Theodore "Hickey" Hickman), Fredric March (as Harry Hope), and Robert Ryan (as Larry Slade).

Awards and Nominations: Robert Ryan received the highest number of awards and nominations. The National Board of Review awarded him the Best Actor Award. At the National Society of Film Critics, he won a Special Award for his wonderful performance as Larry Slade. The film was screened at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, but it wasn't entered into the main competition.

Film Length: 'The Iceman Cometh' is the first movie to have an intermission. The film lasted three hours and fifty-nine minutes and was broken into two with an intermission between the two parts.

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: The play and the resulting film differed in casting and setting. The play had a bigger cast of about nineteen characters, while the film had only sixteen characters. While O’Neill set the play in 1912 at Harry Hope's Saloon in New York, the film was set in a different place.

2.  Incendies (2010)

Based on the play:  'Incendies' was written by Wajdi Mouawad.

Plot: This film’s storyline centers on Canadian twins who travel to their mother's native country in the Middle East to uncover her hidden past amid a bloody civil war. Before she dies, the mother of the twins leaves separate letters to be given to the children when she passes away. The siblings travel to the Middle East separately after the mother dies. They each experience acts of brutality, uncover their startling family history, and have revelations about themselves. In the movie, the country with the civil war is not revealed. However, the events in the film are a true reflection of the Lebanese Civil War, specifically, the story of prisoner, Souha Bechara.

Director: Denis Villeneuve.

Main Cast: Lubna Azabal (as Nawal Marwan), Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin (as Jeanne Marwan), and Maxim Gaudette (as Simon Marwan).

Awards and Nominations: In 2011, 'Incendies' was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It also won eight Genie Awards, including Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Sound. During the March 2011 Adelaide Film Festival, Incendies was awarded the International Award for Best Feature Film. Denis Villeneuve won the Best Canadian Feature Film at the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Audience Award at the Vilnius International Film Festival. The film received numerous accolades and was a tremendous commercial success, grossing $16 million with a $6.5 million budget.

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: Denis Villeneuve tried to be faithful to the play and retained the story structure and characters. However, he replaced all the dialogue, even envisioning a silent film, abandoning the idea due to expenses.

3.  The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

Based on the play:  'The Deep Blue Sea' was written by Terrence Rattigan.

Plot: 'The Deep Blue Sea'  tells the story of the wife of a judge who engages in an affair with a former RAF pilot. This new relationship throws her life in turmoil, after which she finds herself torn between true love and passion.

Director: Terrence Davies.

Main Cast: Rachel Weisz (as Hester Collyer), Tom Hiddleston (as Freddie Page), and Simon Russell Beale (as Sir William Collyer).

Awards and Nominations: Rachel Weisz won the Best Actress Award at the 2012 New York Film Critics Circle Awards and was nominated as the Best Actress at the 39th Evening Standard British Film Awards. She also received the Golden Globe Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Award and the British Actress of the Year Award at the 33rd London Film Critics' Circle. At the 33rd London Film Critics' Circle, Simon Russel Beale received the Supporting Actor of the Year Award nomination.

4.  A Shot in the Dark (1964)

Based on the play:  A Shot in the Dark written by Harry Kurnitized. Harry adapted the play from Marcel Achard’s L'Idiote French play.

Plot:  'A Shot in the Dark' is about a police inspector, Jacques Clouseau, as he investigates the murder of Mr. Benjamin Ballon's driver, Miguel, at a country estate. Inspector Jacques Clouseau is the first official on the scene, and he is charged with the responsibility to investigate the murder case. All evidence suggests Maria Gambrelli, the maid, is the murderer. However, Clouseau is attracted to the beautiful Maria, he releases her from jail, and secretly follows her. However, people keep being murdered. Each time a murder occurs, innocent Maria seems to be the killer. All this time, his tolerance-challenged boss Charles Dreyfuss is on the brink of insanity over the handling of the investigation.

Director: Blake Edwards.

Main Cast: Peter Sellers (as Jacques Clouseau), Elke Sommer (as Maria Gambrelli), George Sanders (as Benjamin Ballon), and Herbert Lom (as Charles Dreyfuss).

Awards and Nominations: 'A Shot in the Dark' received mixed reviews. Some critics gave the film positive remarks while others made negative reviews. The American Film Institute (AFI) recognized the movie in the 2000: AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs, in which it emerged 48th. 'A Shot in the Dark' was also one of the Nominated Mystery Films in the 2008: AFI's 10 Top 10.

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: None.

5.  Hamlet (2000)

Based on the play:  Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare.

Plot: In the modern day film, Hamlet, a filmmaker, decides to avenge his father's death after he suspects his uncle has something to do with it, while he is hopelessly in love with the enchanting but forbidden Ophelia.

Director: Michael Almereyda.

Main Cast: Ethan Hawke (as Hamlet), Kyle MacLachlan (as Claudius), and Diane Venora (as Gertrude).

Awards and Nominations: The 2000 Hamlet received mixed critical reviews. Metacritic gave a 70% approval rating with 32 reviews, while Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 59% approval rating based on 93reviews. During the 2000 National Board of Review, the film received Special Recognition for Excellence in Film-Making. John de Borman was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography at the 2001 Film Independent Spirit Awards.

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: Elsinore Castle, the seat of power of Denmark's crown in the play, is re-imagined as Hotel Elsinore, the headquarters of Denmark Corporation in the film.

6.  Lantana (2001)

Based on the play:  'Speaking in Tongues' written by Ray Lawrence.

Plot: Suburban Sydney is the setting of 'Lantana', the film's focus is on the complex relationships between the characters in the movie. The film’s focus is the disappearance and death of a woman whose body is shown at the start of the film but whose identity is revealed later. The film's name derives from the Lantana plant, an invasive species of shrub prevalent in suburban Sydney, which is attractive on the surface but a tangle of deadwood on the inside. In the movie, the Lantana plant is a symbol of relationships, particularly marriage. Its tangled branches are a playground and shelter for children but a trap for adults.

Director: Andrew Bovell.

Main Cast: Anthony LaPaglia (as Detective Leon Zat), Geoffrey Rush (as John Knox), and Barbara Hershey (as Valerie Somers).

Awards and Nominations: 'Lantana'  received positive reviews from critics and had a ‘certified fresh’ score of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 106 reviews with an average rating of 7.38/10. Because of the positive reviews, the film accrued many accolades, including the eight AACTA Awards. The AACTA Awards included the Best Film (Jan Chapman), Best Director (Ray Lawrence), Best Adapted Screenplay (Andrew Bovell), Best Actor (Anthony LaPaglia), Best Actress (Kerry Armstrong), and Best Supporting Actor (Vince Colosimo).

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: None.

7.  The Winslow Boy (1999)

Based on the play:  'The Winslow Boy' written by Terrence Rattigan.

Plot: 'The Winslow Boy' is set in London before World War I and portrays a family defending the honor of its young son at all cost. The son is expelled from Osborne Naval College for stealing a postal order, and the father has to fight to defend him, or else he will be shunned by his peers, and lose all honor. 

Director: David Mamet.

Main Cast: Nigel Hawthorne (Arthur Winslow), Rebecca Pidgeon (Catherine Winslow), and Jeremy Northam (Sir Robert Morton).

Awards and Nominations: Jeremy Northam won the Best British Performance Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. He also won the British Actor of the Year Award by the London Film Critics' Circle.


Films will likely always be an important activity at the center of society. And, plays often provide film makers with a rich supply of interesting themes and characters.

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