Best Movies Based on Plays - Part 12

Posted on 21 May 00:00


Time spent with family creates special memories that can last a lifetime. One particular family bonding experience is watching movies together. The first film was shot in 1888 and lasted for 1.66seconds. It was a silent one, and there was no theme or plot; just images. Today, one can watch any film, with any theme of interest, and last an hour and more. 'The Wolf of Wall Street' and 'Dances with Wolves' are among many of the longest films, lasting beyond three hours. Listed here are just a few classic and well received movies based on plays.

1.  Secret Honor (1984)

Based on the play: 'Secret Honor', written by Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone.

Plot:  The movie was filmed at Michigan University and depicts a fictional account of the disgraced Nixon who struggles to gain insight into personal behavior. The film's setting is a New Jersey home in the late 1970s. In this fictional account, the president tries to offer a solitary, stream-of-consciousness reflection on his life and political career. He takes ninety minutes to recall his controversial life with rage, suspicion, sadness, and disappointments.  In his account, the president attempts to give the ‘true’ reasons for the Watergate scandal and why he opted to resign. With his only companions being a four-screen closed-circuit TV setup, the portraits on the walls, a bottle of Chivas Regal, and a loaded pistol, he is alone in his study room where he dictates his thoughts to a tape recorder. The tape recorder is his only audience, and he speaks to it actively. In his recording, he sometimes addresses an imaginary judge in a court of public opinion, at other times speaking to an aide named Roberto, and sometimes he just talks to himself. The mixed tangents of thoughts and expressions often take a shift from family to people who helped him ascend to power or those who brought him down. Nixon recalls his mother fondly, Dwight Eisenhower with hatred, Henry Kissinger with condescension, and John F. Kennedy with a mixture of appreciation and rage.

Director: Robert Altman.

Main Cast: Philip Baker Hall (as the former president Richard M. Nixon).

Awards and Nominations: Roger Ebert found the film appealing and gave it four stars out of the possible four. Ebert’s report read this way, “one of the most scathing, lacerating and brilliant movies of 1984. Hall played his role ‘with such savage intensity, such passion, such venom, such scandal, that we cannot turn away’” Ebert then ranked the film sixth in his year-end list of best films in 1984. At the 1995 Berlin International Film Festival, Robert Altman won the FIPRESCI Prize Award.

2.  The Seagull (2018)

Based on the play:  'The Seagull' written by Anton Chekhov in 1895.

Plot: This film is set in Russia in the 1900s and features an aging actress named Irina Arkadina as she pays a summer visit to her brother Pjotr Nikolayevich Sorin and her son Konstantin at a country estate. At some point, Irina brings her lover Boris Trigorin on board as she visits the brother and the son. Boris is a successful novelist. Nina, a free and innocent girl on a neighboring estate, who is in a relationship with Konstantin, falls in love with Boris and a series of intriguing events occur.

Director: Michael Mayer.

Main Cast: Annette Bening (as Irina Arkadina, an actress and the mother to Konstantin and lover of Boris), Saoirse Ronan (as Nina Zarechnaya, a young actress and lover of Konstantin), Corey Stoll (as Boris Trigorin, a successful author and Irina's lover), and Elisabeth Moss (as Masha, daughter of Polina and Shamrayev)

Awards and Nominations: In 2019, at the Women's Image Network Awards, Leslie Urdang won the WIN Award for the Outstanding Film Produced by a Woman. Chlotrudis Awards nominated Jane Musky for the Best Production Design, but she lost the award. The film received mixed critical reviews. For example, Rotten Tomatoes gives it an approval rating of 68%, based on 122 reviews, while for Metacritic, the film has a lighted average score of 58 out of 100, based on 31 critics.

Major Differences between the Play and the Movie: The changes made in the play in the film production include adjusting the number of characters. The film has fewer characters than the original play.

3.  American Buffalo (1996)

Based on the play:  'American Buffalo' written in 1975 by David Mamet.

Plot:  This film’s plot follows three inner-city losers who plot the robbery of a valuable coin in a seedy second-hand junk shop, causing the explosion of long-repressed feelings of betrayal and bitterness.

Director: Michael Corrente.

Main Cast: Dustin Hoffman (as Teach), Dennis Franz (as Donny), and Sean Nelson (as Bobby).

Awards and Nominations: the records did not mention any special awards and nominations that the American Buffalo film garnered.

Soundtracks: American Buffalo is one of the films with the highest number of soundtracks. In its production, twenty soundtracks were used, including Doomed Relationships (for 1:29miutes), Sacred Vows (for 1:36minutes), Concupiscence (for 49seconds), Leprechaun (for 2:03minutes), and Drive Away (for 1:09minutes).

Major differences between the play and the movie:  The only slight difference is Gregory Masher's role. In the play, he is the director, while in the film, he is the producer.

4.  Ah, Wilderness (1935)

Based on the play: 'Ah, Wilderness', written by Eugene O'Neill’ in 1933.

Plot:  Ah, Wilderness movie tells the story of small-town life in turn-of-the-century America and a young boy's problems facing adolescence. The year is 1906, and the setting is England, with the Miller family at the center. The Miller family consists of father Nat, the owner of the local newspaper, loving but always worried about, his wife Essie, and their four children, Yale student Arthur who is home for the summer, just graduated from high school, and class valedictorian, Richard, who is also heading to Yale in the fall, and precocious teenagers Tommy and Mildred. Essie’s brother, Sid, who lives with Millers. His is a binge drinker and cannot have a productive life, especially of marrying Lily (Nat’s sister), the woman of his dreams. Richard Miller (the adolescent) views himself as worldly wise bu not his family. On the 4th July birthday celebrations, a turn of events occurs in Richard and Sid's life, and  leaves a lasting impression on them and completely changes their lives.

Director: Clarence Brown.

Main Cast: Wallace Beery (as Sidney Miller) stars in the film as the prominent actor. The cast consists of many members and features Lionel Barrymore (as Nat Miller), Aline MacMahon (as Lily Davis), and Eric Linden (as Richard 'Dick' Miller), among other actors.

Awards and Nominations: Despite being an excellent movie, 'Ah Wilderness' film did not win any awards. It has not received any special award nominations.

5.  Romeo and Juliet (1936)

Based on the play: 'Romeo and Juliet', written by William Shakespeare.

Plot:  This film features the love story of two star-crossed individuals caught in tragedy. Two families are enemies, but things take a different turn when their children fall in love.

Director: George Cukor directed the 'Romeo and Juliet' the film.

Main Cast: Norma Shearer (as Juliet) and Leslie Howard (as Romeo) are the film’s starring actors. The supporting cast consists of several members, including John Barrymore (as Mercutio), Edna May Oliver (as the Nurse), and Basil Rathbone (as Tybalt), among other actors.

Awards and Nominations: 'Romeo and Juliet', the movie, received many award nominations, including the following Oscar nominations: Best Picture (Irving Thalberg), Best Supporting Actor (Basil Rathbone), Best Actress (Norma Shearer), and Best Art Direction. As late as 2002 (more than sixty years after production), the film was still famous since the American Film Institute nominated the film for AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions. The New York Times also selected the film as one of the ‘Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made,’ describing it as “a lavish production” that “is extremely well-produced and acted.”

Major Differences between the play and the movie:  George Cukor and Talbot Jennings cut much of the play, about 45%. Many of these cuts are common ones in the theater, such as the second chorus and the comic scene of Peter with the musicians, while others are filmic and designed to replace words with action or rearranging scenes to introduce groups of characters in longer narrative sequences.

6.  Alfie (1966)

Based on the play: 'Alfie' written by Bill Naughton.

Plot: This film features the title character, Alfie, who is a obsessive womanizer, caring about nobody, until a turn of events forces him to question his uncaring behavior, his loneliness, and his priorities. Alfie is attracted to women but still cheats on them and uses them for domestic purposes, always referring to them as 'it.' Despite all this, Alfie frequently breaks the fourth wall by speaking directly to the camera, narrating, and justifying his actions. His words often contrast with his actions.

Director: Lewis Gilbert.

Main Cast: Michael Caine (as Alfie Elkins), Shelley Winters (as Ruby), Millicent Martin (as Siddie), Vivien Merchant (as Lily Clamacraft), and Jane Asher (as Annie).

Awards and Nominations: Alfie garnered several awards and nominations from Academy Awards, British Academy Film Awards, Golden Globe Awards, and the Cannes Film Festival. They include the Best Picture and Best Actor Academy Awards nominations, the Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles Award that Vivien Merchant won from the British Academy Award Films, and the Special Jury Prize Award that Lewis Gilbert won.

Differences Between the Play and the Movie:  There are no major differences between the movie and the play that forms the film's adaptation.


As shown here, one can see that movies based on plays cover a wide range of genres, providing entertainment choices for everyone. Movies have long been a great source of entertainment for all audiences, and will remain so in the future.

Movie Buffs Forever stocks classic movies on DVD from the 1940's to the early 2000's. Browse our vast collection of old, rare and out of print classic movies on DVD. 

Why We Still Love DVDs