Finding a movie that actually has an original plot is pretty hard these days. Everything is either a sequel, a remake, a ‘re-imagining,’ or a straight-up rip off of an existing film. Movie adaptations of books and TV shows are springing up all over the place, and totally fresh ideas are hard to find. That doesn’t mean that these films aren’t worth a watch, however; gems like the Ghostbusters remake and the Star Wars sequels make this process of recycling slightly worth it. In among these pretty obvious rip-offs / homages / unnecessary follow-ups, there’s one sub-genre of film that doesn’t get much attention. I speak of the wide range of movies that borrowed their plots from pieces of classic literature. Some are pretty obviously based on these kinds of books: it’s pretty clear where Bride and Prejudice got it inspiration from, for example. However, some films include subtle references that are easy enough to miss. Here’s a roundup of some popular movies that have surprisingly classic origins.
17. The Lion King
The Shakespeare buffs among you may have noticed that the plot of everyone’s favorite lion-based Disney movie is kind of familiar. Basically, we might as well just callThe Lion King “Hamlet, But With Animals and Elton John songs.” Let’s compare the two plots, shall we? Hamlet focuses on a prince whose uncle murders his father, the king. Did somebody say Simba, Mufasa, and Scar? Of course, the evil uncle eventually meets his own demise – just like Scar. The slight difference is that at the end of Hamlet, pretty much everyone else ends up dead too. Couldn’t have that in a Disney film, could we? Instead, Simba and the gang get their happy ending. N’awwww.
16. The Twilight Saga
If you paid close attention to the plot of each movie in the Twilight saga, you may have noticed that they’re all based on a piece of classic literature. The first film has loose links to Pride and Prejudice, what with the whole “guy and girl initially hate each other but fall in love” thing. New Moon is blatantly Romeo and Juliet, hence Edward pulling his “I think Bella is dead so it’s time for me to die by sunlight” stunt. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights inspired Eclipse, presumably in terms of Bella having to choose between two dudes. But is Edward or Jacob based on Heathcliff? Finally, author Stephanie Meyer has claimed that Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the basis of Breaking Dawn, although the link there is less clear. Any ideas how that one works? I’ve got nothing.
15. She’s The Man
This iconic teen film is actually a remake of a remake of a Shakespeare classic. It’s directly based on both the 1985 film Just One of the Boys and the Bard’s play Twelfth Night. The movie’s plot remains pretty much identical to that of its 17th-century predecessor – aside from the modern-day twists, of course. Viola is a teenage girl who finds herself having to masquerade as a boy… But things get complicated when she falls for her male alter ego’s roommate. It’s a story of romance, deception, and comedic misunderstanding, and it’s never going to get old. One of Amanda Bynes‘s finest!
Clueless was one of the best teen flicks of the ’90s, but did you realize that it’s an adaptation of a Jane Austen classic? Everyone’s favorite ditzy rich girl Cher Horowitz represents Emma, the heroine of her eponymous Austen novel. Both Cher and Emma enjoy a bit of matchmaking, with varying levels of success. They both make a new BFF who they decide to reinvent to improve her dating/marriage prospects. They both know a douchebag called Elton, and they both fall in love with a swoon-worthy older guy who’s ALMOST like family (but not really, because that would make things weird). As Austen adaptations go, Clueless is among the best.
13. From Prada to Nada
With a title like From Prada to Nada, you’d never expect that this 2011 rom-com has classic literature at its roots. However, turns out it’s actually based on Jane Austen’s classic novel Sense and Sensibility. In hindsight, that actually makes a lot of sense! The film follows two sisters who suffer a drastic change of circumstances following their father’s death. They have an annoying but well-meaning set of relatives who help them out in their time of need. Both sisters fall in love, suffer heartbreak, but eventually end up happy. Yep – that’s Sense and Sensibility, all right – but with a Latin American twist!
12. Bride and Prejudice
Five points if you can guess which classic novel inspired this Bollywood sensation! That’s right – it’s Jane Eyre! Just kidding… Bride and Prejudice is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel of practically the same name (Bride, Pride, same thing really). However, the action takes place in modern-day India rather than Regency England. While Darcy is still a rich white dude, Elizabeth Bennett becomes Lalita Bakshi, a feisty young woman living in Amritsar. This new setting adds the added nuance of racism into the plot, with Darcy initially seeming quite intolerant towards Indian culture. Don’t worry – it’s all a big misunderstanding, and he’s not actually a massive xenophobe. What a relief!
11. West Side Story
Classic movie musical West Side Story is basically just Romeo and Juliet, but in 1950s New York City. The two rival gangs – the Jets and the Sharks – blatantly represent the Capulets and the Montagues. Tony and Maria are the star-crossed lovers whose romance ends in tragedy (although at least one of them survives). After a whole series of terrible events, the two groups decide to reconcile their differences before anyone else dies. Yup, we’re definitely still in Romeo and Juliet territory. Sure, there’s a lot more singing than in the original Shakespeare play, but we’re not complaining.
10. 10 Things I Hate About You
What child of the ’90s didn’t love this light-hearted, relatable teen movie? 10 Things I Hate About You is basically a cult classic and launched the careers of Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Julia Stiles. However, it also had some unexpected Shakespearean origins. The film is a modern reworking of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, with an American high school replacing the original 16th-century setting. The movie’s clever script and strong acting won praise from critics, and the plot is actually surprisingly faithful to the original story. It even stuck a few direct quotes in there, most memorably Gordon-Levitt’s dramatic declaration “I burn, I pine, I perish.” While that might just sound like angsty teenage speak, it’s genuine Shakespeare. Who knew?
9. Apocalypse Now
Critics consider this Academy Award-nominated epic war film to be one of the greatest movies of all time. Set in the midst of the Vietnam War, it chronicles one soldier’s quest to assassinate his insane commander, Colonel Kurtz. The film draws extensively from two different classic pieces of literature, the first being the Joseph Conrad work Heart of Darkness. Most of the plot comes from this work, although producers changed the setting from colonial Africa to 1960s Vietnam. Other heavily influential works include the poetry of T. S. Eliot (which is actually quoted by Kurt during the film), Dante’s Divine Comedy, and the works of ancient author Virgil. So many literary allusions in one film!
8. Easy A
This smart, funny teen comedy was a hit back in 2010 and helped to propel lead actress Emma Stone into the limelight. Easy A chronicles the misadventures of Olive, a teen whose lie about losing her virginity quickly spirals into a full-blown slut-shaming experience. She agrees to pretend to sleep with various guys to improve their reputation, and eventually stitches a bright red ‘A’ to her clothes to let the world know she’s a loose woman. Sound familiar? The movie is partially inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter, a novel that chronicles the struggles of an actual ~fallen woman~ named Hester Prynne. The movie actually directly references the novel a couple of times, in case the links weren’t clear enough already!
7. Edward Scissorhands
Director Tim Burton is famous for his creepy, gothic films, and Edward Scissorhands is apparently his favorite of the lot. This cult classic starring Johnny Depp is loosely inspired by Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel Frankenstein. Scissorhands is the result of a human-building experiment, but is, as you’d expect, missing actual hands. His inventor passes away before he can give Edward real hands, so he’s stuck with blades on his arms forever. The movie also draws inspiration from other gothic classics like The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and various fairy tales. The result is a wonderfully dark film that deserves its place in cinema history.
6. Independence Day
Independence Day may be infamous for its excessive patriotism, cheesy speeches, and stereotypical disaster movie characters, but it smashed box office records upon its release. The plot is fairly straightforward: aliens invade Earth, Earth has to fight back, and the aliens are eventually defeated. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s directly based on another alien-based classic: H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. The producers of the film did modernize many details based on real-life technological advances – we didn’t have nukes back in 1898, after all. However, the basic premise of the story remains intact. 2016’s follow up Independence Day: Resurgence was basically just another retelling of the same plot, and consequently didn’t do very well at the box office. Oh dear.
5. Pretty Woman
Along with When Harry Met Sally, 1990 flick Pretty Woman sparked a resurgence in the romantic comedy film genre. It’s easy to see why: the movie is an escapist modern fairy tale that ends in two flawed individuals finding happiness together. It’s actually really similar to George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, the work that also inspired the classic movie My Fair Lady. Julia Roberts‘s character undergoes a visual and emotional transformation. She blossoms from a ‘fallen woman’ into a sophisticated ‘lady,’ and the male lead, Richard Gere, falls for her as a result of this. They all live happily ever after. It’s very sweet, if slightly problematic with those white-knight tendencies.
4. Warm Bodies
This zombie-based rom-com puts a new spin of Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet story. Plot twist: the male lead is already dead! Instead of ending in death and tragedy, this post-zombie-apocalypse love story ends in Romeo – or ‘R’ as he’s called in this version – coming back to life through the power of love. Juliet – well, Julie – manages to remain alive for the whole film, although her original beau Paris (Perry) isn’t quite so lucky. Still, if R hadn’t eaten Perry’s brain, he might never have fallen for Julie! Everything happens for a reason! This adaption is actually really smart and is one of the most creative modern reworkings of this play out there.
3. Get Over It
This teen comedy about a popular guy trying to win back his estranged girlfriend didn’t gain many fans when it was released back in 2001. In fact, one reviewer described it as “a lobotomised updating of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” In all honesty, they weren’t entirely wrong. There’s a lot of confusion between the characters, and a LOT of messed-up romantic situations. To drive the point home even more, the main characters actually stage their own version of the original Shakespeare play. However, the film is a bit hard to follow at times and has quite a few inexplicable musical numbers. All things considered, it’s a pretty poor interpretation of Shakespeare; the Bard is probably rolling in his grave.
2. She’s All That
This late-’90s classic adapted George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion for the teenage market. Set in a Californian high school, it sees Freddie Prinze Jr.’s Zack try to transform dorky art student Laney from an unpopular girl to prom queen within the space of six weeks. Obviously, romantic entanglements and misunderstandings ensue, and Laney discovers Zack’s real plan. The plot closely follows that of the original… aside from a scene in which Prinze Jr. appears basically naked. It’s a welcome addition, let me tell you. Apparently, She’s All That is in line for a remake, so we might get to see this classic tale re-enacted once again on screen.
1. The Bridget Jones Films
The links between classic rom-com Bridget Jones’s Diary and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice are fairly obvious. The two leads initially hate each other, and Bridget (Elizabeth Bennett) has a dalliance with the sexy but treacherous Daniel (Wickham). She then realizes that Mark Darcy (yep, he’s an actual Mr. Darcy) is the one for her, and all is well… Until the second movie. If you look closely, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason actually resembles another Austen classic! This time, it’s Persuasion, a tale that focuses on two separated ex-lovers eventually reuniting after numerous mishaps and misunderstandings. Bridget Jones’s Baby is the exception to this rule: it’s not linked to any Austen novel and is instead just an excuse for us to enjoy more of Bridget’s antics. Fair enough.