7 Modern Films Based on Classic Literature

7 Modern Films Based on Classic Literature

We all know that William Shakespeare’s play about star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet has spawned several film adaptations, both in it’s original form (the 1968 film starring Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting) and modernized versions which would appeal to more mainstream movie goers (1961′s West Side Story, 1996′s Romeo and Juliet starring Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes).

However, these are not the only films that were based on classic literature. Not counting the films that go by the same title as the novel these were based on (e.g.: Pride & Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Dracula, Gone with The Wind and so forth), here are 7 films that you probably never thought were based on classic lit.

10 Things I Hate About You & The Taming of the Shrew

The 1999 sleeper hit that catapulted unknown young actors Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger to stardom was based loosely on William Shakespeare’s play, The Taming of The Shrew and this is reflected in the film through, not just a similar storyline but in the use of names.

For example, the play is set in the city of Padua, and school where the film occurred is called Padua; Patrick Verona’s last name is the birthplace of Petruchio, one of the play’s main characters; and the names of Bianca and Kat were the names of the main characters in The Taming of the Shrew (Bianca and Katherina).

Cruel Intentions & Les Liaisons Dangereuses

In 1988, the film adaptation of the French novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos was released with Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer playing the lead roles. Eleven years later, the modern day version of the film was released, starring much younger actors namely Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Philippe, and Reese Witherspoon, to appeal to a much younger audience.

Although set in New York City instead of Rococo France, the basic precepts are the same. Merteuil (Close / Gellar) and Valmont (Malkovich / Philippe) use sex as a game, primarily to humiliate and degrade others. Unfortunately Valmont falls in love with the virtuous Madame Tourvel / Annette Hargrove (Pfeiffer / Witherspoon), an unsuspecting pawn in their game. This, unfortunately leads to tragic consequences. Watch the film (or read the book) if you want to know what happened next.

Easy A & The Scarlet Letter

Demi Moore portrayed Hester Prynne, the main protragonist in the film adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter. However, that’s where the similarity between the 1850 novel and 1995 starts and ends.

The 1995 film deviated from the original story and was widely panned by critics and did not do well at the box office. The 2010 comedy Easy A starring Emma Stone and Amanda Bynes, though still not completely true to the novel, was better received by the crowd and was a financial success. Both films focused on the ostracization of women who do not conform to the norms of society.

The Lion King & Hamlet

If you want your child to appreciate William Shakespeare’s work, make him watch The Lion King. Disney’s 1994 full length animation film was based loosely on Hamlet, Shakespeare’s play about a prince whose father is murdered by a scheming uncle in order to take control of his kingdom. Don’t worry, in Disney’s version the queen doesn’t marry the uncle, and the prince’s girlfriend doesn’t go crazy and drowns herself, and the prince doesn’t kill everyone before he himself dies. If you want to watch a film adaptation that’s true to the play, pick up Mel Gibson’s Hamlet (1990), or Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 version.

O & Othello

O is a 2001 American film that is based loosely, again, on William Shakepeare‘s tragedy, Othello. In both the play and the film, the main character (Othello / Odin) is lied to and manipulated by his “trusted” friend Iago (Hugo, in the film, portrayed by a then unknown Josh Hartnett). Iago / Hugo, through subtle inferences and by planting evidence, makes Othello / Odin believe that his loyal partner, Desdemona (Desi, in the film, played by Julia Stiles) was being unfaithful. If you want to watch a more mature version of the play, pick up Lawrence Fishburne’s 1995 version of Othello. Incidentally, Iago is portrayed by Kenneth Branagh.

Pretty Woman & Pygmalion

In 1912, George Bernard Shaw wrote a play called Pygmalion, which revolves around a bet Henry Higgins made with his colleague. Higgins said he can train a bedraggled Cockney flower merchant, Eliza Dolittle, to pass for a duchess at an upcoming ball or garden party. If the names sound familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard them before.

The musical, and subsequent film, My Fair Lady is based on Pygmalion … and so is Pretty Woman. Although, in Pretty Woman, there were no bets made and there weren’t any garden parties. The basic premise, however is still there: the transformation of a street-smart woman with visibly no knowledge of social graces into a fine lady.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs & Cyrano de Bergerac

a French dramatist and duelist who actually lived from 1619 to 1655. Like the main character in Edmond Rostand’s play of the same name (Cyrano de Bergerac), he was known for his fairly large nose. In the play, Cyrano was in love with Roxane, but he was hesitant to pursue her, so he helps his less articulate but better looking friend,

Christian de Neuvillette woo the fair lass instead. In 1990, a film adaptation starring Gerard Depardieu was released and this was filmed in French with subtitles in rhymed couplets. In 1987, Steve Martin and Darryl Hannah starred in a modern adaptation entitled Roxanne.

The 1996 film, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, is also somewhat based on the film – though not directly. Here, the main character is Abby (Janeane Garofalo) who, like Cyrano is somewhat insecure about her appearance and asks her prettier friend, Noelle (Uma Thurman), to go on a date with Brian (Ben Chaplin) in her place. Of course, all works well in the end (which isn’t what happened in the play).