Best Movies Based on Plays - Part 8

Posted on 16 Apr 00:00

Some popular activities include acting, reading novels, swimming, water skiing, and watching movies. Watching films is at the top of the list for many.  Most times when people watch movies, they tend to form an attachment with the characters. This is due to the emotional effects films impart on the watchers. Films influence our behavior, the way we dress, etc. One type of movie that people enjoy watching are movies based on plays. Like other films, these movies entertain watchers and impart lessons on them. This article considers seven of the best movies based on plays.

1.  Doubt (2008)

Based on the play:  'Doubt: A Parable' written by John Patrick Shanley.

Plot: This film is set in a Roman Catholic elementary school named St. Nicholas. It features a nun who leads the school as she starts an investigation of the school's father for paying too much attention to the only black student in the school. 

Director: John Patrick Shanley.

Main Cast: Meryl Streep (as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the parish school principal), Philip Seymour Hoffman (as Father Brendan Flynn), Amy Adams (as Sister James, a teacher at the school), and Joseph Foster (as Donald Miller, the school's first black student).

Awards and Nominations: Doubt was a critical success. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 79% approval rating with the site's consensus comment reading, "Doubt succeeds on the strength of its top-notch cast, who successfully guide the film through the occasional narrative lull.” Metacritic gave Doubt a 68% approval rating. The film received four Academy nominations; Meryl Streep (Best Actress), Best Supporting Actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams &Viola Davis), and Best Adapted Screenplay (John Patrick Shanley). Viola Davis won the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress. The film won the National Board of Review and Houston Film Critics Society Awards for Best Cast.

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: in creating the film, John Patrick Shanley shortened the play’s name to 'Doubt'.

2.  Henry V (1944)

Based on the play:  'Henry V', written by William Shakespeare around 1599.

Plot: Henry V is about English king Henry V and his military campaign in France in 1415. It was created to provide morale and boost the confidence of the British military troops in World War II. The action moves from a performance of the play, Henry V, in 1600, transitioning to the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, then back to the play.

Director: Laurence Oliver.

Main Cast: Laurence Olivier (as King Henry V of England), Renée Asherson (as Princess Katherine), and Robert Newton (as Ancient Pistol).

Awards and Nominations: Laurence Oliver won a Special Academy Award for his outstanding achievement as actor, producer, and director in bringing Henry V to the screen. The film also received four Academy nominations; Best Actor (Laurence Olivier), Best Score (William Walton), Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color (Paul Sheriff & Carmen Dillon), and Best Picture (Laurence Olivier).

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: the most significant change in the play to create the film is about the name. The movie's on-screen title is 'The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fifth with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France'. This title was derived from the title of the 1600 quarto edition of the play. In the resulting film, Oliver changed the spelling from ‘Agin Court to Agincourt. The director also intentionally left out some of Henry's harsher actions as portrayed in the play. These include Henry’s remorseless beheading of the three Southampton Plot traitors, his threat to unleash his troops to rape and pillage Harfleur if the city refused to surrender, the cutting of the throats of French prisoners during the battle at Agincourt, and his refusal to stop the hanging of his old friend Bardolph for looting.

3.  Biloxi Blues (1988)

Based on the play:  'Biloxi Blues' written by Neil Simon, who also wrote the film's screenplay.

Plot: The story centers on Eugene Morris Jerome, a 20-year-old Jewish Brooklynite who is drafted into the United States Army during the last year of World War II and is sent to Biloxi, Mississippi, for basic training. While there, he learns to cope with fellow soldiers from all walks of life, falls in love, and loses his virginity in less than ideal circumstances, he experiences all of these things in addition to having to cope with an eccentric drill instructor.

Director: Mike Nichols.

Main Cast: Matthew Broderick (as Pvt. Eugene Morris Jerome) and Christopher Walken (as SFG. Merwin J. Toomey).

Awards and Nominations: the film was a modest critical and commercial success. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 78% approval rating, while Metacritic gave it a 61% approval rating, and it grossed $51million against a $20million budget. The documentation revealed no awards or nominations for 1988 Biloxi Blues.

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: there is no significant change in the play to create the film. Broderick, Miller, and Mulhern reprised their roles in the movie.

4.  Lost in Yonkers (1993)

Based on the play:  'Lost in Yonkers' written by Neil Simon.

Plot: This film is set in 1942. When their mother dies, 15-year-old Jay Kurnitz and his 13-year-old brother Arty move from the Bronx to Yonkers to temporarily live with their strict, stern Grandma Kurnitz and her daughter Aunt Bella so that their father Eddie can take a traveling sales job and pay off his late wife's medical debt. Bella, still childish in her late 30s, lives with her mother, Grandma. When Edie, the boys' father, takes them to Grandma, she refuses to accept them until Bella steps in and threatens to leave if Grandma will not take the boys. Jay and Arty must learn to cope with Grandma's harsh treatment.

Director: Martha Coolidge.

Main Cast: Richard Dreyfuss (as Louie), Mercedes Ruehl (as Bella), and Irene Worth (as Grandma).

Awards and Nominations: The critics received the film positively, with Rotten Tomatoes a 71% approval rating. The records did not share any awards and nominations that Lost in Yonkers received.

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: the play and the resulting film have no significant difference.

5.  Becket (1964)

Based on the play:  'Becket' or 'The Honour of God' written by Jean Anouilh.

Plot: This film features the debauched King Henry II as he installs his longtime court facilitator, Thomas Becket, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, assuming that his old friend will be a compliant and loyal lackey in the King's ongoing battles with the church. However, Becket unexpectedly finds his true calling on the pastoral side and aligns himself against the king's selfish wishes, causing a rift and an eventual showdown not only between the two men, but also the institutions they represent.

Director: Peter Glenville.

Main Cast: Richard Burton (as Thomas Becket), Peter O'Toole (as King Henry II), John Gielgud (as King Louis VII), and Donald Wolfit (as Gilbert Foliot).

Awards and Nominations: Becket won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (Edward Anhalt). During the 1965 BAFTA Awards, it won three awards for Best Color Photography, Best Set Design in Color, and Best Costume Design. The 1964 National Board of Review of Motion Pictures granted the film the Best Film Award. During the 1964 Golden Globe Awards, the movie won Best Drama and Best Actor in a Drama (by Peter O'Toole) awards. The film received eleven Academy nominations, including Best Costume Design, Best Director (Peter Glenville), Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Score, and Best Sound (John Cox).

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: one of the major differences between the play and the film is the naming. The play is called Becket or the Honour of God, while the movie is called Becket, a shortened form of the play’s title.

6.  Hedda Gabler (1981)

Based on the play:  'Hedda Gabler' written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1890.

Plot: The plot of 'Hedda Gabler' features a frustrated wife whose former lover arrives. The former lover’s arrival gives this woman the ammunition she needs to callously manipulate the unfortunate people in her orbit.

Director: David Cunliffe.

Main Cast: Diana Rigg (as Hedda Gabler), Alan Dobie (as Judge Brack), Denis Lill (as George Tesman), and Kathleen Byron (as Aunt Juliana).

Awards and Nominations: the records did not reveal any awards or nominations that the 1981 Hedda Gabler received.

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: The film incorporated a few aspects of modernism in the play to create the film. These inclusions include dressing styles and modern perception of issues.

7.  Vanya on 42nd Street (1994)

Based on the play:  'Uncle Vanya' written by Anton Chekhov.

Plot: the film’s storyline is about New York actors as they rehearse Chekhov's ‘Uncle Vanya’ play in a dilapidated theatre. The movie is a distanced and intimate version of the original play.

Director: Louis Malle.

Main Cast: Wallace Shawn (as Vanya), Julianne Moore (as Yelena), Larry Pine (as Astrov), and Brooke Smith (as Sonya).

Awards and Nominations: most critics gave Vanya on 42nd Street positive reviews. For instance, Roger Ebert, in his Chicago Sun-Times review, gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars and said this about Louis Malle, ‘is the master of a visual style suited to tightly-encompassed material. There is not a shot that calls attention to itself, and yet not a shot that is without thought.’ Due to the positive reviews, the film received several awards and nominations. Julianne Moore won the Boston Society of Film Critics BSFC Best Actress Award. BSFC nominated the film for four other awards, Best Film, Best Actor (Wallace Shawn), Best Actress (Brooke Smith), and Best Director (Louis Malle)

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: The play and the resulting movie have no major variations. This owes to the fact that the movie resulted due to the play’s performance in a rehearsal version. The only slight difference is titling, whereby the play is called Uncle Vanya while the resulting film is titled Vanya on 42nd Street.


Among entertainment sources watching films ranks near the top. Watching movies is a form of escapism. This article discussed seven films of the best movies based on plays.

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