Unlikely Films Based on Shakespeare Plays – Part 2

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is arguably Shakespeare’s best known production, in fact it could even hold the title for the most famous play in history. It’s a somewhat timeless love story that revolves around two feuding families constantly at war with one another named the Capulets and the Montagues. Somehow amidst the continuous fighting and hatred Romeo of the Montague family falls madly in love with the young Juliet of the Capulets, though of course their love is forbidden. The two defy their family’s orders and marry in secret, despite their efforts though tragedy awaits them in a famously tearful finale. It should come as no surprise then that this play has been adapted to the silver screen time and time again, odds are we’ve all had to watch some version of it at school.

For this there are two movies you may not have known were adaptations. The first of these is the iconic 1961 musical West Side Story, a film set in the streets of the iconic city of New York. Instead of feuding families here we have warring gangs that go by the name of ‘the Sharks’ and ‘the Jets’. The story though different follows Romeo and Juliet quite closely though with an updated ending that see’s love snatched from the title characters’ counterparts Tony and Maria in a similarly tragic but less self-involved way. And of course, this has musical numbers.

The second film you may not have guessed to based on this classic is the 2000 action flick Romeo Must Die starring Jet Li. This film is more loosely based on its inspiration and follows ex-cop from China who moves to the US in order to avenge the death of his brother, a member of a Chinese gang. He was killed by an opposing African-American gang. Whilst on his revenge mission he falls for a member of the opposing gang and together they must fight the odds. Like I say it’s a loose adaptation though the bare bones are there and it’s certainly a different take for anyone interested. It is also considered Jet Li’s breakout role in American Cinema.


Hamlet is another one of Shakespeare’s most loved plays and is sort of like a critic’s choice amongst his works. It’s a powerful piece about a Prince Hamlet of Denmark whose Uncle has murdered his father in order to take the throne for himself. Hamlet is then visited by the ghost of his father who calls upon him the avenge him and claim the throne. It’s obviously far more complex than that description gives it credit, it’s actually Shakespeare’s longest play. This play is truly iconic and has been noted as one of the worlds most filmed stories, so naturally there are a lot of options here. Perhaps the most surprising though Disney’s smash hit The Lion King. Again, it’s a loose adaptation though does contain the foundations of the story, particularly in the main character Simba’s plight with his cruel murderous Uncle Scar. Naturally it still has the feel of a Disney film with its songs and humour however there are some real moments of tragedy in this that would be at home in any of Shakespeare’s most moving tales.


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