Do you ever sit down to watch a movie and think, "Wait. I've seen this plot before"?
You’re not wrong—plenty of films borrow inspiration from others and follow similar character arcs and plot points (think the “Hero’s Journey”). But, did you know that a lot of your favorite romantic comedies are actually based on Shakespeare plays?
While you may not have been at the Globe Theatre to see a production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, you may have been in a theater for a viewing of Gnomeo and Juliet, which has a nearly identical plot. I guess Shakespeare does stand the test of time after all. (By the way, it’s not a romantic comedy, but The Lion King is Hamlet.)
I’m breaking down seven romantic comedies that are directly inspired by or based on Shakespeare’s works, plus some other movies inspired by classics.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
For the most obvious example on the list, we can turn to Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger’s 10 Things I Hate About You, which is based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew. The plot follows the original play pretty closely: a man is paid to try to turn an unruly, “tempestuous” woman into a respectable housewife (or in this case, girlfriend).
10 Things I Hate About You took its Shakespeare inspiration a step further with the characters’ last names: Stratford (referencing Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born) and Verona (a common Italian setting in many of Shakespeare’s works). The characters also study iambic pentameter in English class.
Deliver Us From Eva (2003)
Also inspired by The Taming of The Shrew is the 2003 film, Deliver Us From Eva. Starring Gabrielle Union (who was also part of the 10 Things I Hate About You cast) as Eva, the film similarly centers around a man who’s paid to date an “undateable” woman.
Unlike high-schooler Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You, Eva is a bossy health inspector who raised her three younger sisters. The rest of the plot remains pretty similar though: Eva and her suitor, Ray (LL Cool J) begin to actually fall in love until she finds out he was getting paid, but they all work it out in the end.
She’s The Man (2006)
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a play about two twins, Viola and Sebastian. Viola (disguised as a man) must help her new employer, the Duke, win the love of Olivia, but Olivia instead begins to fall for Viola (thinking she’s a man).
If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s also the plot of the movie She’s The Man. The 2006 adaptation of Twelfth Night takes place at a boarding school where Viola (Amanda Bynes) joins the boys soccer team disguised as her brother, Sebastian. She develops feelings for her teammate Duke (Channing Tatum), who is in love with Olivia, but Olivia has feelings for Sebastian (who’s actually Viola.)
She’s The Man contains all the confusion and misunderstanding of Twelfth Night while making the story accessible for a modern audience. It also featured a breakout role for Channing Tatum, who hadn’t yet climbed the ranks of Hollywood's elite.
Just One Of The Guys (1985)
This 1980’s teen romance movie is a more loose adaptation of Twelfth Night, where a young girl, Terri, enrolls in a rival high school to test her theory that her teachers don’t take her seriously because of her gender.
There is a gender-bending aspect of Just One of the Guys, of course, since Terri has to be disguised as a boy, but this film doesn’t follow Twelfth Night as closely as She’s The Man does.
Get Over It (2001)
Following the “play within a play” format of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Get Over It is the story of a high schooler who attempts to win his girlfriend back by joining the school play. You guessed it—the play is A Midsummer Night’s Dream (it’s very meta), but it’s an updated musical version called A Midsummer Night’s Rockin’ Eve.
Get Over It includes thematic elements from A Midsummer Night’s Dream like love, identity, and celebration, but leaves out other aspects from the original like the wedding, fairies, and ties to Greek mythology (though some of these still come up in the A Midsummer Night’s Rockin’ Eve).
Warm Bodies (2013)
The most recent Shakespearean adaptation on our list is Warm Bodies, a 2013 film that played on the cultural craze of Twilight and forbidden love between mortals and the undead. It’s Romeo and Juliet, but with a twist.
Twilight has a lot of similarities to Romeo and Juliet as well—creator Stephanie Meyer even mentions Romeo and Juliet in her description of New Moon’s plot on her website—but Warm Bodies replaces the vampire love interest with a zombie.
The zombie boy, R, falls in love with a human girl, Julie. When R meets Julie, his heart beats for the first time since becoming a zombie, and he saves her rather than eating her brains.
That theme of feeling something for the first time is central to Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s play about two young lovers from enemy families who are forbidden to see each other after meeting at a party. In addition to obvious connections (R and Julie sounds a lot like Romeo and Juliet), Warm Bodies also incorporates the rivalry between zombies and humans, much like the rivalry between the Montagues and Capulets.
Love Is All There Is (1996)
Another Romeo and Juliet adaptation is the 1996 romantic comedy Love Is All There Is. Set in the Bronx, this film tells the love story of Rosario and Gina (again, very similar to Romeo and Juliet), two young lovers from rival Italian families. If you haven’t heard of this film, you might be surprised to find out that Gina is played by a young Angelina Jolie.
Love Is All There Is also gets a little meta by having the characters perform in a local production of Romeo and Juliet.
Shakespeare isn’t the only literary genius whose works have been made into modern-day adaptations—you may not have heard of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, but you definitely know the premise if you’ve seen My Fair Lady, The Duff, Trading Places, Can’t Buy Me Love, Love Don’t Cost A Thing, She’s All That, or Addison Rae’s 2021 Netflix Original remake, He’s All That.
For info on new rom-coms, check out our list of 2022 movie releases.
She/her. Lover of female-led comedies, Saturday Night Live, and THAT scene in Fleabag. Will probably get up halfway through the movie to add more butter to the popcorn.
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