From Stage to Screen – AccessReel’s Top 10 Adaptations

From Stage to Screen – AccessReel’s Top 10 Adaptations

Film may be a more popular art-form then theatre, but screenwriters often use stage productions as source material. It wasn’t an easy task, but Access Reel’s Sian Dhu reveals her top 10 films adapted from the stage.



10th Place

Driving Miss Daisy (1989).

Director: Bruce Beresford

Just squeezing into the top 10 is this loveable story starring an even more loveable Morgan Freeman. Driving Miss Daisy follows the relationship of a fussy Jewish woman and her African-American chauffer.

Based on the play of the same name, the film won four Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Nowadays a tale of this sort seems conventional, but Driving Miss Daisy still stands as an example ‘warm and fuzzy’ film at it’s best.

9th Place

Casablanca (1942)

Director: Michael Curtiz

This film only just sneaks into the list and could even be disregarded entirely under the technicality that it was based on an un-staged play.

Casablanca is a romantic drama set in World War II about a man “torn between love and virtue”.

The film is dated and would forgivably muster a collective yawn from a modern-day audience, yet it is undoubtedly a classic.

It was awarded an Oscar for Best Film and it’s characters and dialogue has become iconic over the years. Casablanca constantly ranks near the top of ‘Greatest Films of all Time’ lists.

However, it was not expected to be so.

Despite it’s A-list stars and writers, the studio viewed the film as being just one of the many solid yet “unspectacular” flicks Hollywood churned out that year. Production ran behind schedule and they went through an assortment of writers. It’s long-standing success came as a surprise!

8th Place

A Few Good Men (1992)

Director: Rob Reiner

A courtroom drama about a rookie lawyer defending two Marines accused of murdering a fellow Marine.

Nominated for four Oscars, this film was impressive in it’s time and though it would’t quite stir the same emotional reaction in audiences today, it is still a great adaptation with the play’s author, Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, Moneyball), penning it for screen himself.

The film has just enough grandeur added to make it fill the big screen, while retaining all the best parts from the play.

A pat on the back to Mr Sorkin!

7th Place

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1996)

Director: Baz Luhrmann

The second most commonly adapted Shakespearian play behind Hamlet (which has been translated to the big screen 61 times and adapted for TV 21 times!), Romeo and Juliet tells the woeful tale of young love that is not to be.

Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of the story is similar to all his films: noisy and colourful.

His bold decision to completely modernize the story while retaining the original dialogue resulted in an edgy and fascinating film.

Sure the young American stars don’t always get the delivery of the ‘Old English’ lines quite right, but as there are few who can honestly say they really understand what Shakespeare goes on about all the time, this minor detail is easily overlooked.

In summary, not everyone’s cup of tea, but ultimately a fabulous adaptation exposing Shakespeare to the modern day youth on mass.

6th Place

Alfie (1966)

Director: Lewis Gilbert

A British film surrounding a self-centered womanizer, Alfie plays out very much like a play with the lead character ‘breaking the fourth wall’ by directly speaking to his audience. Though this is common in plays, it’s a technique rarely used in film hence Alfie’s significance in this list.

The film also went against convention abandoning opening credits. Similar to a play, the movie jumps straight in.

5th Place

Frost / Nixon (2008)

Director: Ron Howard

A dramatic retelling of the post-war television interviews between talk show host David Frost and the Former American President Richard Nixon.

The play was written by Peter Morgan, who also wrote the screenplay and then co-produced the film, thus ensuring the movie is faithful to it’s source material.

Films translated almost directly from plays can be accused of being too ‘stagey’. Frost Nixon is no different, yet it works for this style of story-telling. The film demands a certain patience from it’s viewers (much like plays do) yet this impatience to get to the climax is reflective of what is actually happening in the story, thus only empowering the film further.

4th Place

The Sound of Music (1965)

Director: Robert Wise

Need I discuss this choice? Love it or hate it, you know this movie has earned it’s place on this list!

3rd Place

The Producers (2005)

Director:  Susan Stroman

Does this really count? An idea of Mel Brooks’ initially toyed with as an unrealized book and a play, The Producers first came to fruition as a 1968 film (it was Brooks’ film Directorial debut).

The Producers was then adapted into a Broadway Musical by Mr Brooks in 2001, who then adapted into a new musical film again in 2005!

A comedy surrounding a failing Broadway Producer who stages a Nazi musical in an attempt to make his fortune tweaking the books through an intentional ‘flop’, this film is definitely guilty of being too ‘stagey’.

Susan Stroman directed the musical and the film. It appears she has simply lifted the play from the theatre to a sound stage and got the actors to do their thing as per usual with the small addition of a camera crew….

This results is a film that has a restricted appeal. It feels like a traditional stafe musical, thus turning off many mainstream viewers – but as a theatre-buff, I loved it!

2nd Place

Amadeus (1984)

Director: Milos Forman

A fictional interpretation of Mozarts death, the films tells of the average composer Antonio Sallieri who, torn between obsessive admiration and utter jealousy of Mozarts talent, drives Mozart to an early death.

A powerful play that became a powerful film. The screenplay was written by the original playwright Peter Shaffer, yet he doesn’t allow himself to be burdened by the original minimalistic source material. He utilizes the spectacle of film to it’s fullest.

1st Place

The Birdcage (1996)

Director: Mike Nichols

Based on the musical La Cage aux Folles, The Birdcage is a fine example of how a stage script can be taken and revolutionised for screen.

What is a fun stage musical becomes a hilarious movie that is arguably ‘better’ than it’s source material.

The film gets rid of unneeded characters and musical numbers, and changes the setting of the bulk of the action from a restaurant to the home of the gay lead characters. This lends itself to much more humour and makes the film more personal.

A fantastic cast is led by a brilliant Robin Williams and a deliciously camp Nathan Lane, and supported by a scene stealing Hank Azaria.

The Birdcage is a perfect example of how a play script restricted by the limitation of theatre can be taken and built on for screen.


So, there’s my list. What’s your thoughts? Insert your arguments and abuse here….

Sian's love for movies spawned from having a tight mother whose generosity stretched only to hiring movies once a week for entertainment. As a pre-teen Sian spent more pocket money then she earned on cinema tickets and thus sought a job at the cinema. Over the next decade she rose to be one of the greats in her backwater, six-screen cinema complex, zooming through the ranks from candy bar wench with upselling superpowers, to pasty projectionist, to a manager rocking a pencil skirt. Sian went on to study Journalism at university though feels her popcorn shovelling days were far more educational