Best Movies Based on Plays - Part 1

Posted on 26 Feb 00:00


Humans are created with the free will to choose what they want to do. Even when it comes to wrong and right, human beings can choose between what they deem as right and what they consider wrong. The other thing that separates humans from animals is the need to be happy. Human beings are created with the inherent need to be happy, and they will do anything to satisfy this desire. We engage in activities like watching films to find joy. This article discusses seven movies based on plays.

1.  A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

This film is based on the play ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ written by Tennessee Williams in 1947.

Plot: At the center of the movie is a southern belle, Blanche DuBois. She has experienced a series of personal losses. Blanche seeks refuge with her sister and brother-in-law in a dilapidated New Orleans apartment building. When DuBois arrives at her sister's place, she has to cope with her crude and unwelcoming brother-in-law. This leads her to a mental breakdown languishing in a hospital.

Director: Elia Kazan.

Main CastMarlon Brando (Stanley), Vivien Leigh (Blanche), and Kim Hunter (Stella).

Awards and Nominations: A Streetcar Named Desire won four Oscars (Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Art Direction – Black-and-White), the Best British Actress British Academy Film Award, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture. This movie was nominated for several roles, including Best Actor, Best Motion Picture, and Best Director Academy Award nominations.                   

Trivia: This film helped Marlon Brando's rise to fame. People barely knew Brando at the time of casting. However, after his role in the 'A Streetcar Named Desire', Brando rose to prominence and received the first of his four Academy Award nominations.

2.  Amadeus (1984)

Based on the play: 'Amadeus' play written by Peter Shaffer. Peter Shaffer wrote the play in 1979.

Plot: The setting is the latter half of the 18th Century in Vienna, Austria. The film tells a fictionalized story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart from the time he left Salzburg. The movie depicts the fictional rivalry between Mozart and Italian composer Antonio Salieri at the court of Emperor Joseph II.

Director: Miloš Forman

Main Cast: F. Murray Abraham (Salieri) and Tom Hulce (as Mozart).

Awards and Nominations: For his wonderful performance, Abraham Murray won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Of all the eleven Oscar nominations the film received, Amadeus won eight awards, including Best Actor (Murray), Best Picture, Best Director (Forman), Costume Design (Theodor Pištěk), and Adapted Screenplay (Shaffer). The film was also nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Editing but lost in both categories to The Killing Fields. Golden Globes also nominated Amadeus for six awards, and Amadeus won four, including Best Picture- Drama and Best Actor (Abraham Murray). Forman was nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award for his work, and he won the award.

Trivia: 'Amadeus' the film, is one of the movies with the highest number of Oscars. It was nominated for eleven Oscars, and it won eight.

3.  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Based on the play: 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' written by Tennessee Williams. The play was performed in 1955.

Plot: The film’s plot is about Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman), who injures himself while drunkenly revisiting his high school sports-star days, and his fierce wife, Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor), as they visit his family's Mississippi plantation for the 65th birthday of his hot-tempered father, Big Daddy (Burl Ives).

Director: Richard Brooks.

Main Cast: Elizabeth Taylor (Maggie "the Cat" Pollitt), Paul Newman (Brick Pollitt), Burl Ives (Harvey "Big Daddy" Pollitt), and Judith Anderson (Ida "Big Mama" Pollitt).

Awards and Nominations: 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Motion Picture, but it lost all these awards to other films. The British Academy Film Awards also nominated it for three awards, Best Film from Any Source, Best Actor, and Best Actress. Of these nominations, it did not win any of these awards. Golden Globes nominated Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for Best Motion Picture- Drama and Best Director – Motion Picture. Once again, the movie did not win any of these award nominations. However, it won the National Board of Review Award for Top Ten Films, a Top Female Dramatic Performance Laurel Award, and the Hall of Fame- Motion Picture by Online Film & Television Association.                            

Trivia: Although the film did not accrue many awards, it was a modest commercial success. With a $2.3 million budget, it grossed $17.6 million.

4.  Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Based on the play:  'Arsenic and Old Lace' written by Joseph Kesselring.

Plot: The plot of 'Arsenic and Old Lace' is a black comedy about multiple murders. The film features a drama critic  (Cary Grant) whose world gets turned upside down when he takes his new wife to his childhood home to meet his family and discovers that his two aged aunts are completely mad and have 'compassionately' poisoned twelve lonely elderly bachelors and buried them in the cellar.

Director: Frank Capra.

Main Cast: Cary Grant (Mortimer Brewster), Josephine Hull (Aunt Abby Brewster), and Jean Adair (Aunt Martha Brewster).

Awards and Nominations: This movie is generally perceived as a shoe-in for an Academy Award. However, the Academy Awards Committee ignored it despite its great critical and audience reception. The American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Laughs ranked at number 30. Many critics praised this funny movie for its wonderful dialogue and brilliant acting by the principals and supporting cast alike. At the 2013 International Film Music Critics Awards, this movie was nominated for the IFMCA award, but it lost.

Trivia: The production team for 'Arsenic and Old Lace' initially planned to release the film on September 30, 1942. However, the play from which the movie was adapted was a tremendous hit. This forced the film’s production team to postpone the release until 1944. The play was a solid hit for three and a half years.

5.  Casablanca (1942)

Based on the play:  'Everybody Comes to Rick's'. Murray Burnett and Joan Alison wrote this play in 1940, although this play was staged.

Plot: The film's plot takes place in a World War II setting and focuses on an American expatriate who must choose between his love for a woman and helping her and her husband, a Czech resistance leader, escape from the Vichy-controlled city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Germans.

Director: Michael Curtiz.

Main Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund), and Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo.

Awards and Nominations: Casablanca received eight Academy Award nominations and won three for Best Director, Outstanding Motion Picture, and Best Screenplay. The National Board of Review Awards nominated Casablanca for two awards, Top Ten Films, and Best Director Award, which Michael Curtz won. Other nominations include the Best Actor & Best Director New York Film Critics Circle Award nominations and Saturn Awards nomination for Best DVD Classic Film Release. The US Library of Congress also selected Casablanca for preservation in the National Film Registry as it was deemed aesthetically, historically, and culturally significant.                                

Trivia: This film has gradually and consistently grown to the point that its memorable lines, lead characters, and pervasive theme song have all become iconic. It consistently ranks near the top of lists of the greatest films in history.

6.  Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Based on the play: 'Glengarry Glen Ross' was written by David Mamet in 1984.

Plot: This film’s plot is about what happens in the lives of four salesmen in two days when the corporate office sends a trainer to ‘motivate’ them. The movie demonstrates how the salesmen become desperate when the trainer tells them that everyone will be fired, except the top two salesmen.

Director: James Foley.

Main Cast: Al Pacino (Richard Roma), Jack Lemmon (Sheldon "Shelley" "The Machine" Levene), Alec Baldwin (Blake), and Alan Arkin (George Aaronow).

Awards and Nominations: 'Glengarry Glen Ross' received many nominations. Jack Lemmon was nominated for Best Actor by the National Board of Review, and he won the award. The Golden Globe nominated Al Pacino for the Best Supporting Actor Award but did not win it. Al Pacino other nominations, including an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, which he lost to Gene Hackman for Unforgiven. In the 470th greatest film in their ‘500 Greatest Movies of All Time’ list.

Trivia: This film imitates the play from which it was adapted in being profane, leading the cast to refer to the film jokingly as ‘Death of a F_ _ _ _in' Salesman.’

7.  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Based on the play:  'Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf' written by Edward Albee.

Plot: The plot features a late-night gathering at the home of George, a college history professor, and his wife Martha, the daughter of the university's president. The late-night gathering's guests are Nick, a new biology professor at the school, and his wife, Honey. However, over the course of the evening, the mood changes as the hosts verbally and viciously assault each other to the horror of their guests.

Director: Mike Nichols

Main Cast: Elizabeth Taylor (Martha), Richard Burton (George), and George Segal (Nick).

Awards and Nominations: Of the thirteen Academy Awards nominations it received, the film won five awards for Best Art Direction – Black-and-White, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography – Black-and-White, and Best Costume Design– Black-and-White. The British Academy Film Awards nominated the movie for three awards, Best Film, Best British Actor, and Best British Actress. The film won all these awards. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf received numerous other awards and nominations from various organizations, including Laurel Awards, Grammy Awards, and the National Board of Reviews.   

Trivia: 'Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf' is one of only two films to be nominated in every eligible category at the Academy Awards, the other being 'Cimarron'.


Among the best movies in history are those based on plays. In some cases, there is a small discretion between the original play and the resulting film. Many of these movies remain great and captivating today. 

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