Screen adaptations of various forms of art have been going on for decades. Whether it be the newest trend in adapting comics or graphic novels to the big screen, or some more traditional forms of adaptations like written novels or stage plays. We’ve previously listed off our favorite on-screen adaptations of books, now we’re thinking about stage to screen adaptations. We’ll each give our top three picks, and we’d love to hear some of your additions as well!
I feel like I need to include a cautionary note here on my picks. I’m horribly un-cultured on this particular topic. I only know of a couple of movies off the top of my head what movie’s I’ve seen that were originally screenplays. I don’t seek out stage plays that are adapted for the big screen. I can count on one finger the number of plays I’ve gone to see, and it may or may not have involved Disney characters on ice skates. So, fair warning, these are by no means the best stage to screen adaptations, they’re just films I’ve seen that happen to originally be stage plays.
Annie: The 1982 film is based on a 1976 musical, which made it as a Broadway production the following year. This tale of a street-smart orphan who is able to pierce through the rough exterior of millionaire Daddy Warbucks is a definite classic. It’s a beloved story which contains beautiful messages about drawing strength from hope, and the impact of love. I thought the orphan girls in the 1982 film had great chemistry together and Carol Burnett was great as Miss Hannigan. Those roles will be difficult to emulate in this year’s remake starring Jamie Foxx, which looks good based on trailers. In particular, I can’t wait to see if scenes and songs like this are remade true to the original film, or if they’re redone completely…
The Sound of Music: The hills are alive! This is one of probably two or three films I’ve seen that I knew beforehand was originally a play. It actually kind of ran the gauntlet. The 1965 film was based on the 1959 play, which was based on a 1949 book titled The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. Not a unique pick by any stretch, but this classic is one that stays in your mind for a good while after seeing. As a kid, all I remembered were the catchy songs. As an adult, you remember the songs as well but also the backdrop of the approach of the Nazi state, rumors of wars and tyrrany, and choices made that would test family loyalties and tear families from their homes.
Doubt: Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep are both terrific in the 2008 film, and I remember being convinced of Amy Adams’ talent while watching this. A lot can be said of the notion of doubt from a theological perspective, as well as within the fold among believers, which is what this film deals with. I was surprised how much I liked it, almost as surprised as when I found out it was originally a play entitled Doubt: A Parable, featured at The Manhattan Theatre Club in 2004. The play made it to Broadway the following year and won the Pullitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.
Henry V: (1989) (starring Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm, and Emma Thompson; adapted for the screen and directed by Kenneth Branagh) Many of Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted for the screen—and some of them several times. The reason I chose this particular Shakespeare adaptation for my top slot is this: Shakespeare’s work is all about the language, and can be effectively told on stage with little to no sets or backdrops. However, Branagh treats Henry V is a war movie (which it essentially is)—bringing the words of the Bard to life on the screen on an epic scale. The story of King Harry’s conquest of France—the siege, the journey, the decisive battle—is portrayed in a manner that can only be achieved through film.
Perhaps the high point of the story is Henry V’s famous Saint Crispin’s Day speech (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother…”), wherein King Harry rallies his troops, outnumbered five to one, just before the Battle of Agincourt…
Arsenic and Old Lace: (1944) (starring Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, and Peter Lorre; directed by Frank Capra) Definitely a contender for the title of “Funniest Movie Ever Made,” this stage-to-screen gem is one of my personal favorites. Cary Grant is comically brilliant. It also takes place on Halloween, so if you are looking for a seasonal entertainment treat next month, I highly recommend this movie.
Harvey: (1950) (starring James Stewart and Josephine Hull; directed by Henry Koster) Something of a comedy of errors, Harvey is a story of family, friendship, and an invisible 6-foot-tall rabbit. James Stewart is absolutely perfect as Elwood P. Dowd, and this movie makes me smile—as well as reflect on my own life.
Trying to pick a favorite movie that originated as a play is extremely difficult. There are so many great ones. I finally just decided to go with Genres: Classic plays, dramas, and musicals.
Classics: Many of Shakespeare’s plays have been transformed into film. My favorite though is Hamlet, like my co-writers, but my favorite version is Mel Gibson’s. The loss of a loved one can do major emotional damage on us, especially when we don’t have God. God is there to give us tremendous strength and courage. (Psalms 46:1, Eph 3:16, 6:10)
Dramas: Though there is music, Neil Diamond’s The Jazz Singer has been a favorite of mine for decades. It’s about a man trying to find his way between his family’s tradition and loyalty to God and living in a world following his dream of music. God is the only true path to take and seeking him in all you do will bring you spiritual greatness. (Matt 6:33)
Musicals: This is where I struggled. A couple of my bloggers took my top pick, so I wanted to really look at plays I know… I know a lot of musicals. So which is my favorite? Sound of Music, Godspell, Fiddler on the Roof, Phantom, Mama Mia, Hairspray, Grease, and West Side Story all sat on my list and I wanted to just talk about each and every one of them. (I wasn’t allowed to though, so I dropped their names in here anyway…) There are great lessons in all of them. However, I finally had to just ask myself which musical do I watch the most that was originally a play? Final decision… Little Shop of Horrors (1986). NO JUDGING! The deep down lesson to the play… Greed will destroy. Greed will cause you to do a great many things when you let it rule you.
Proverbs 1:19 “So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; It takes away the life of the owners thereof.”
Proverbs 15:27 “He that is greedy of gain troubles his own house; But he that hates bribes shall live”
In this story, an alien plant can make sure that a great many desires, from money to fame, come true for you. However, you must kill for it so that it can eat. You have to have a warped sense of humor to enjoy this movie, which I do. It’s a star studded cast and the one musical I watch a couple of times every year.
Les Miserables: Although this story originated from the book by Victor Hugo, many adaptations have been made for the stage with the first being in 1862 with the first film adaptation in 1897. The only retelling of this story I have seen was the 2012 movie staring Hugh Jackman and Russell Crow and I absolutely loved it. The music/singing is excellent. The story might be somewhat dark and sad, but it also has many strong spiritual themes, such as grace and forgiveness. From the 1st time I watched this, it became an instant favorite. This clip is of the song “Stars”. One of my favorites!
The King and I: I’ve been watching this ever since I was little, when my parents introduced it to me and my siblings. If only I had been able to grow up in Siam!
West Side Story: It wasn’t until a few years ago that I saw this. Despite my hesitation going in, by the end I really enjoyed it.
Arsenic and Old Lace: I don’t watch comedies very often. While there are exceptions, I generally find comedies to be shallow and uninteresting. Arsenic and Old Lace is one of those exceptions. Based on a 1939 play by Joseph Kesselring, it tells the story of a wiry film critic who, after marrying the woman he loves, discovers that his aunts are “mercy killing” old men in the neighborhood (unbeknownst to these men of course) with poisoned elderberry wine. Hilarity of all kinds ensues, and I erupt into belly laughter every time I watch it.
The Shop Around the Corner: Based on a Hungarian play, this 1940 film tells the phenomenal story of two co-workers in a shoe store who can’t stand each other, and start falling in love with anonymous pen pals . . . who just happen to be each other. This film is the ultimate standard for romantic comedies so far as I’m concerned. It also served as the inspiration for the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan film You’ve Got Mail.
Hamlet: There is so much about this movie to appreciate! The cinematography and colors are just brilliant in 70 mm. Branaugh gives one of his best performances that I’ve ever seen. The supporting cast is strong: Derek Jacobi, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Judi Dench, Richard Attenborough. What appeals to me the most is Branaugh’s decision-making with the adaptation. Two that come to mind are: 1) He chose not to incorporate the Oedipal relationship between Hamlet and his mother. I’ve always hated that decision by other directors. 2) He decorated the castle with two-way mirrors instead of tapestries so some characters’ grand monologues (like Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” piece) could be visually represented as an intimate conversation with oneself (in the mirror); and, also, others could spy on them in the process. Just brilliant. The tragic demise of the Prince of Denmark reminds me of two biblical truths: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God” (Romans 12:19) and “God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Check out this great scene:
A Few Good Men: This is one of my all-time favorite movies; let alone favorite stage-to-screen classics. Let’s run down the checklist: Tom Cruise, arguably at the peak of his career; the indomitably funny Kevin Pollak in a subdued but still funny sidekick role; Jack Nicholson in one of his best performances onscreen; and a brilliant script written by the great Aaron Sorkin (who also wrote the play).
Proof: Finally, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, and Jake Gyllenhaal is another wonderful little sleeper. It was directed by John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love” and “The Debt”). Paltrow does a great job of exhibiting understated crazy. And Gyllenhaal’s hair is oh so magical!
We’d love to hear from you! What are some of your favorite stage to screen adaptations?