10 Great Films Based on Plays (Part II)

I enjoyed so much compiling the Great Films Based on Plays list last year that I thought that a sequel was in order. As Part I, this list is in no particular order and excludes adaptations of Shakespearean plays.

I. Doubt [2008]

Play: Doubt: A Parable [2004] by John Patrick Shanley 

Did he, or didn’t he?” This is an adaptation of a play about an uncertainty regarding one priest’s moral standing at a Catholic school in Bronx. Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman find themselves on the opposite sides in this drama, and the viewer never quite knows whom to believe, with so many shifting perspectives shown. Doubt is not only a clever, thought-provoking film, its nuanced direction and acting, including from Amy Adams, will ensure full engagement.

II. Death of a Salesman [1985]

Play: Death of a Salesman [1949] by Arthur Miller

“The difference between dream and reality is the true hell” (Patricia Highsmith). This is actually a TV film, but Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich are so good in their respective roles, and this is such a moving adaptation, it will be a crime not to include it here. Based on one of the greatest plays of all times, Death of a Salesman is a quintessential film about the “Fall of the American Dream”, focusing on one family whose high hopes and dreams clash violently with the reality.

III. Sleuth [1972]

Play: Sleuth [1970] by Anthony Shaffer 

Laurence Olivier is in the role of a games-obsessed man who invites his wife’s lover (Michael Caine) to his home. What follows is one unprecedented “battle of wits”. This film of many surprises and twists is a delightful adaptation of the play, and the stars are giving some of their career-best performances.

IV. Amadeus [1984]

Play: Amadeus [1979] by Peter Shaffer

This film by Miloš Forman One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) is the winner of an Academy Award, but is actually an adaptation of a play by Peter Shaffer, who dramatized a story about Mozart and Salieri, which in turn was based on Pushkin’s short play Mozart and Salieri.


V. Deathtrap [1982]

Play: Deathtrap [1978] by Ira Levin

Deathtrap shares some similarities with Sleuth mentioned above, and both star Michael Caine. Ira Levin was the author known for such twisty horrors as Rosemary’s Baby and Sliver, and in this equally twisty film, Levin must have been inspired by Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques and its novel She Who Was No More by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac to come up with this tale of one unlikely murder and its consequences. The film also stars Christopher Reeve and Dyan Cannon.

VI. Glengarry Glen Ross [1992]

Play: Glengarry Glen Ross [1984] by David Mamet 

This Pulitzer-prize winning play was adapted for a film by its author David Mamet, who also wrote such adapted screenplays as The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) and The Verdict (1982). Allegedly, Mamet was inspired by his previous work experience, and the film follows the lives of four Chicago real estate agents who are more than willing to engage in a number of unethical acts to sell real estate to prospective buyers. In this film, Alec Baldwin also somehow managed to make that one scene with him almost epic.

VII. Beasts of the Southern Wild [2012]

Play: Juicy and Delicious [2012] by Lucy Alibar

This story is about a father and his daughter living a rather vagrant’s lifestyle in a secluded community near New Orleans. The flood threatens the area, and six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) soon discovers the magical world beyond others’ worldly concerns. This is one spectacular film, but few know that its origin was a fantasy play by Lucy Alibar.

VIII. Dial M for Murder [1954]

Play: Dial M for Murder [1952] by Frederick Knott

In this story, a husband “orders” the murder of his wife, but few things go according to the plan. Grace Kelly shines as the said wife Margot, while Ray Milland plays the psychopathic spouse. Hitchcock has crafted an intricate thriller with psychological games going on in the background, and it was supposed to be all in 3D.

IX. Alfie [1966]

Play: Alfie [1963] by Bill Naughton

Michael Caine was never as mischievously charming as he was in Alfie. In this film, he plays a self-centred, narcissistic man who comes to realise the wrongs and loneliness of that never-ending loop that is his lifestyle. This classic film of British cinema is from the director who definitely knows how to handle both tragi-comedy and irony – Lewis Gilbert.

X. The Browning Version [1951]

Play: The Browning Version [1948] by Terence Rattigan

This film has recently formed part of my list Back to School: 10 Incredible Films, but because I think it is rather underrated and underseen, I am mentioning it here again. Andrew Crocker-Harris (Michael Redgrave) gives a delicately-moving performance in this story of a teacher, whose final days at a boarding school make him reconsider his whole existence.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. msjadeli says:

    I see you are a Michael Caine fan 🙂 I’ve seen 7 of the 10 and no, I had no idea they were based on plays. So interesting that Beasts of the Southern Wild is set in New Orleans. I saw it years ago and remembered it as being set in Africa. It was a danged good movie and I wonder how it played on a stage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Beasts of the Southern Wild is set in Louisiana, and I also wonder how it may be realised on stage.

      Liked by 1 person

    The film had a cast to die for.
    This scene, features what one might politely call a ‘dressing down’ (language warning)

    Liked by 1 person

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