The 25 Best Movies Adapted From Plays

9. Odd Couple (Gene Saks, 1968)


A neurotic, clean freak news writer, Felix Ungar, is kicked out by his wife and wanders in a depressive state. He goes to see his friend Oscar Madison, a divorced, chain smoking alcoholic sports journalist. The two become roommates, but after short time their extremely different personalities clash and Oscar throws Felix out. Regardless, they maintain a friendship despite the conflicts of characteristics.

The Neil Simon play originally premiered on Broadway in 1965, with Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney as Felix. When it came to the film adaptation in 1968, the studio heads kept Matthau, but went with Jack Lemmon instead of Carney because the former had a bigger box office draw. Since its insurgence, “The Odd Couple” has had many adaptations and revivals on stage along with television.


10. Cactus Flower (Gene Saks, 1969)

Cactus Flower

To avoid commitment, Julian, a confirmed bachelor and dentist, tells Toni, a beautiful and wild younger woman that he is married. She attempts suicide, but is saved by her neighbor and she decides to meet with Julian’s soon-to-be ex-wife. The spinster receptionist of the dentist gets drafted by Julian in an attempt to convince Toni that she is better off with somebody else.

Based on a French play (Fleur De Cactus), the Abe Burrows’ comedy debuted in 1965 and was hit on Broadway for the next three years. The film was one of the Top 10 grossing features when it was released in 1969. It was the first major role for Goldie Hawn which won her two awards for Best Supporting Actress.


11. Macbeth (Roman Polanski, 1971)


A trio of witches receive a prophecy that General Macbeth is to be the King of Scotland. Obsessed with this vision, he kills his predecessor and seizes the throne with his manipulative wife. Over time, he becomes consumed with guilt and paranoia, which leads to more bloodshed and madness.

The Scottish Play, otherwise known as “Macbeth” was first performed in the early 1600s. It would be one of Shakespeare’s darkest scripts and riddled with controversy and curse. In 1971, Roman Polanski would direct a very bloody and sexualized film version, which was a Hugh Hefner production. A commercial failure upon its release that has since become revered as a faithful adaptation.


12. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972)

Die bitteren Tranen der Petra von Kant

A successful, arrogant German fashion designer, Petra, has a masochistic relationship with Marlene, her long suffering, but loyal secretary and collaborator. A conflict erupts when Karin, a younger woman who aspires to be a model enters their world. Petra falls in love with Karin, but Marlene remains devoted despite the problematic situations.

An original play written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder made its big screen debut in Germany, 1972. While most of the scenes take place in Petra’s claustrophobic apartment, the performances, cinematography and costumes are utterly captivating. Humorous, yet heartbreaking and haunting, the film/play is a work of a brilliant mind who left this world too soon.


13. The Ruling Class (Peter Medak, 1972)


A high official in the House of Lords dies from autoerotic asphyxiation and relatives assemble for the reading of the will. They discover one son, Jack Gurney (Peter O’Toole), a paranoid schizophrenic who believes that he is Jesus Christ, while living in a mental institution. A half-brother, Charles, who is trying to seize control of the estate, hatches a plan to have his mistress, Grace Shelly, marry Jack, so they can reproduce a sane heir to succeed him. Through various forms therapy, sanity is regained, but much to the dismay of Charles, who still wants to steal the lordship from the Gurney family.

Upon appearing in the original stage play from 1968, Peter O’Toole acquired the rights and director Peter Madak was persistent about developing it into a feature. Peter Barnes, the writer of both, did a few major changes for the film’s adaptation. When it was released in 1972, “The Ruling Class”, described by the lead actor as “a comedy with tragic relief”, was a commercial failure and received mixed reviews. Regardless, O’Toole would win the Best Actor award from the National Board of Review and the film was nominated for a few other awards.


14. Play It Again Sam (Herbert Ross, 1972)

Play it Again, Sam (1972)

Recently divorced Allan Felix is a neurotic film magazine writer is looking to start dating again. He begins to have an affair with Linda, the wife of his best friend, Dick. Desperate and confused, Allan seeks out advice from the ghost of Humphrey Bogart as his character Rick Blaine in “Casablanca”.

Woody Allen wrote the original Broadway play that debuted in 1969, starring in the lead role alongside Diane Keaton. The pair along with Tony Roberts (Dick) and Jerry Lacy (Bogart) would reprise their roles for the film version three years later. Both productions were well received and it was the beginning of several films and a romantic relationship between Allen and Keaton.


15. La Cage Aux Folles (Edouard Molinaro, 1978)

La Cage aux Folles

An aging gay couple, the butch Renato and cross-dressing performer Albin, own a nightclub for transvestites in San Tropez. Laurent, the son of Renato has come home to inform them that he is engaged to a young woman whose parents are politically prominent conservatives. He insists that they disguise their mannerisms and lifestyle for the duration of their visit.

The original French play debuted in 1973 and by 1978 the film version was released featuring Ugo Tognazzi and Michel Serrault as the leads. For many years, it was the Number 1 Foreign Film in the United States that gave birth to two moderately successful sequels. Midway through the 1980s, Broadway developed it into a musical, which became a smash hit and productions would sprout up worldwide. “La Cage Aux Folles” (translation: “Birds of a Feather”) would become a popular American remake in 1995 known as “The Birdcage”.


16. Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984)


In Vienna, Austria, the aging and near death composer Antonio Salieri confesses to the poisoning of the musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He recalls his first their first meeting and the disappointment with the crude behavior of a composer so brilliantly gifted. Convinced that it’s a personal attack from god, Salieri becomes an atheist and takes great pleasure in Mozart’s failures to impress the Emperor and the aristocratic public, yet remaining silently envious of his beautiful musical compositions.

Inspired by the Russian play, “Mozart and Salieri” from 1830, Peter Shaffer adapted the vastly fictionalize play, “Amadeus”, which debuted in London, 1979. The following year, it would become a hit on Broadway and be nominated for several Tony Awards, winning for Best Play. Shaffer would do a revised version of the script for the 1984 film that would win multiple awards in six different countries.


17. Noises Off (Peter Bogdanovich, 1992)


A theatre troupe struggles with ego clashes among each other and a love triangle between the director, stage manager and a lead actress. Meanwhile, the play itself suffers at the competitive and vindictive hands of the cast members. Silent slapstick emerges from behind the scenes and is overshadowed by the train-wreck performances of the production.

Michael Frayan’s play debuted in London in 1982, receiving stellar reviews and ran for five years. By 1983, “Noises Off” appeared on Broadway and has become a staple for theatre companies on both sides of the Atlantic. The 1992 film version feature a script adaptation by Marty Kaplan, but received mixed reviews and didn’t do well with American moviegoers.