Top 10 Movies You Didn’t Realize Were Based on Classic Literature



Top 10 Movies You Didn't Realize Were Based on Classic Literature

VOICE OVER: Emily - WatchMojo WRITTEN BY: Savannah Sher
Believe it or not, these are the movies you didn't realize were based on classic literature. For this list, we're looking at films that you may not have realized were inspired by classic plays or books, because of their modern setting. Our countdown includes “The Lion King,” “A Knight's Tale,” “10 Things I Hate About You,” and more!
What’s old is new again. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Movies You Didn’t Realize Were Based on Classic Literature.

For this list, we’re looking at films that you may not have realized were inspired by classic plays or books, because of their modern setting.

#10: “O” (2001)

One of Shakespeare’s best known tragedies, “Othello” doesn’t seem like the best fit for a high school adaptation, considering that the original is about Venetian soldiers. But the 2001 movie “O” attempted to do just that, making the major characters teenagers on a basketball team. Somehow, it actually works. We guess themes of jealousy and betrayal are just universal. All of the film’s major characters have names based on the ones Shakespeare created. Mekhi Phifer plays Odin, AKA Othello. Josh Hartnett is Hugo, based on Iago. And Julia Stiles is Desi, based on Desdemona.

#9: “A Knight's Tale” (2001)
“The Canterbury Tales”

Some entries on our list attempt to closely adapt classic stories to make them fresh and modern, but this one takes a different approach. There IS a tale in Geoffrey Chaucer’s work “The Canterbury Tales” called “A Knight’s Tale”, but the 2001 film doesn’t try to follow the story told in it. Instead, the filmmakers inserted Chaucer himself into the narrative. The film’s director Brian Helgeland, talks in the DVD commentary about how he imagined that the film took place during a six months that Chaucer went missing, and that this explains what he was up to all along.

#8: “The Lion King” (1994)

Up until “The Lion King” was released in 1994, all of Disney’s animated feature films had been based on prior work. This was meant to be their first original story, though they borrowed heavily from some well known tales for inspiration, including the biblical stories of Moses and Joseph. But they also borrowed elements from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, which is evident to anyone who is familiar with the play. For the uninitiated, “Hamlet” is about a prince who seeks revenge on his uncle for killing his father and seizing the throne. Yeah, sounds pretty familiar.

#7: “Pretty Woman” (1990)

Moviegoers love a makeover scene, and if you see a woman going from frumpy to fabulous in a film, it most likely owes something to George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion”. Inspired by a Greek myth in which a sculptor falls in love with his sculpture, Shaw’s play was adapted into the musical “My Fair Lady” about a phonetics professor and a flower girl. The idea of a man from a higher social station making a woman over also runs through the Julia Roberts classic “Pretty Woman”, in which a prostitute with a heart of gold is transformed into a respectable lady. From our perspective today, the concept seems a bit dated, but hey, it WAS made three decades ago!

#6: “She’s the Man” (2006)
“Twelfth Night”

The plays of the bard may have been written many generations ago, yet they clearly still have a modern appeal. Another modern Shakespeare adaptation on our list is the 2006 teen comedy, “She’s the Man”, starring Amanda Bynes, which takes inspiration from the farcical and comedic “Twelfth Night”. The play is full of love triangles, mistaken identities, and of course the primary character is a woman disguising herself as her twin brother. The motivations may be different in this more contemporary take, but the story still holds up.

#5: “Easy A” (2010)
“The Scarlet Letter”

2010’s “Easy A” was strikingly modern when it was released, tackling the issue of slut shaming long before it became such a pervasive issue in the cultural consciousness. But the story borrows from a much older work in order to tell a 21st century tale. The script wasn’t just inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, “The Scarlet Letter”, which is set in the puritanical 17th century, but references it heavily as well. Olive embraces her bad reputation and fashions herself a letter “A” (for adulteress) to wear on her chest, just like Hester Prynne is forced to do in “The Scarlet Letter” - except that Olive does it voluntarily and with pride.

#4: “Cruel Intentions” (1999)
“Les Liaisons dangereuses”

When “Cruel Intentions” was released in 1999 it seemed incredibly racy, but in fact the book that it was based on came out over 200 years earlier, in 1782. The French epistolary novel “Les Liaisons dangereuses” is about two wealthy aristocrats who use their powers of seduction to stir up drama and manipulate their enemies. The plot of the film and the novel follow remarkably similar trajectories until the ending, where not only does Sebastian’s character die, Kathryn’s character gets smallpox - destroying her beauty - and Annette’s character falls ill and dies as well. Yikes...

#3: “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (2001)
“Pride and Prejudice”

Technically, the film “Bridget Jones’s Diary” was based on Helen Fielding’s novel of the same name, but the book, in turn, was inspired by Jane Austen’s famed novel “Pride and Prejudice”. Fielding gave her male lead the same surname as the character in Austen’s work, and crafted a narrative about a headstrong young woman who ends up falling for a man she initially thought she hated. The ties between these two pieces of fiction run deep, considering that Colin Firth, who plays Mark Darcy in “Bridget Jones”, also played Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Austen’s novel. Not only that, the two projects also share a screenwriter, Andrew Davies!

#2: “10 Things I Hate About You” (1999)
“The Taming of the Shrew”

Do you think Shakespeare ever could have imagined that so many of his plays would end up being adapted into movies set in high schools? Well probably not, considering movies were a few centuries away from existing. But “10 Things I Hate About You” was another film that took inspiration from his work, adapting the comedy “The Taming of the Shrew”. The basic plot of the two works is essentially the same, but updated to have a much more modern perspective on women and relationships. Also, the movie has Heath Ledger, so it gets our vote if we had to pick a favorite!

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“Warm Bodies” (2013)
“Romeo and Juliet”

“A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” (2001)

#1: “Clueless” (1995)

“Clueless” seems so steeped in 90s teen culture with its valley girl phrases and trendy outfits that it almost feels impossible for it to be based on a novel published in the early 1800s. Now of course, “Clueless” doesn’t meticulously follow the plot of Jane Austen’s “Emma” but the basic principles are the same. All of the major characters have counterparts in the book, and what really remains in the upbeat spirit (and matchmaking prowess) of the story’s protagonist. There’s a reason this 1995 movie never seems to get old - it’s based on a work that has classic appeal!