From Stage to Screen: 10 Plays Turned Movies


Philip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut, Jack Goes Boating , arrives in theaters tomorrow. Hoffman joins John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega in the film as he did on stage — all three reprising their roles from Bob Glaudini’s original play. Though Beth Cole played Connie in the stage version, Amy Ryan is a great substitute on the screen capturing several of the film’s darkest, sweetest, and most hilarious moments.

Jack Goes Boating is a success for Hoffman, and we think he’ll continue excelling both in front of and behind the camera. This got us thinking about the other play-to-movie jumps, their varying degrees of success, and the actors who’ve benefited from a little time under the stage lights. Come with us now as we look back on 10 of our favorite musicals and plays turned movies.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire was first performed in 1947; he would co-write the screenplay only four years later. The play and movie are both classics — especially Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois and Marlon Brando as the terrible Stanley Kowalski. As frequently happens, almost all of the main players (with the exception of Leigh) came from the staged version.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, our second Williams play, had some powerhouse players as well. A young Paul Newman, opposite an even younger Elizabeth Taylor, brought this film to the top of 1958. Their rocky marriage is put under more strain when Newman (as Brick Pollitt) gets drunk, makes an ass of himself trying to reenact his high school sports days, and retreats inside, back to the bottle.

A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play about a black family struggling to hold onto any dream while surviving in Chicago’s South side, is a staple of American literature and performance. It only took two years for Hollywood to capture its brilliance on film. The play was the first on Broadway to have been written by a black woman and the first to have a black director. It would be two more years before Sidney Poitier would win his Academy Award (for Lilies of the Field ), but this performance shows him well on his way to the honor.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 of its time, began in 1975 London as a musical on Kings Road. It parodied the horror films and sci-fi fantasies of the day but also helped established Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick. We don’t know where Tim Curry, “Transsexual Transylvanian,” midnight sing-a-longs, or Time Warps would be without this hilarious classic.

A Few Good Men (1992)

A Few Good Men is just another example of Aaron Sorkin’s writing prowess. This painstakingly-constructed story about a marine’s mysterious death at Guantanamo Bay debuted on stage in 1989. It’s rumored that Sorkin only sold the movie rights after he got theater agent David Brown to commit to a stage production as well. The film, directed by Rob Reiner, and starring Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, and Jack Nicholson, was nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes, but sadly walked away from each ceremony empty-handed.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Oh sure. We could lead with an “always be closing” joke, but why spoil it for everyone? David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross (play, 1984; movie 1992) takes the audience into the world of four men navigating high-pressure real estate sales. The film’s all-star cast saw Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Price, and Al Pacino — who was Oscar and Golden Globe nominated for his part — cursing through this testosterone soaked ride.

Oh and Baldwin’s part was added just for the movie. Whoever had that idea should get something. Steak knives? A Cadillac?

Noises Off (1992)

Michael Frayne’s play Noises Off debuted in 1982. It dove into movie theaters in 1992, but the screenplay by Marty Kaplan and direction by Peter Bogdanovich couldn’t make a big splash. Though the premise and writing are funny, the hijinx of the stage don’t transfer easily to the movie. You’ll remember this from that time your high school/college drama department ruined it; the movie is still far above that. It’s worth renting simply for the cast members collected — Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Carol Burnett, and Michael Caine.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

We’d never be so crass as to call Hedwig and the Angry Inch the Rocky Horror of a new generation, but some have, and we won’t say that they’re so wrong. John Cameron Mitchell’s heart-wrenching, hard-rocking musical about Hedwig, victim of musical thievery and a botched sex change, arrived off Broadway in 1998 and hit the screen in 2001. Though it never achieved any kind of commercial success, it was a critical rave and the film won over 20 media awards.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street probably saw the biggest time gap between first production and movie premiere. Steven Sondheim’s 1979 musical took home an armful of awards (including several Tonys), but it wasn’t until 2007 that Tim Burton’s screen adaptation, starring Johnny Depp as the murderous barber and Helena Bonham Carter as his grim assistant Mrs. Lovett, arrived. The productions strength held for nearly 30 years as the movie took home several Golden Globes and received multiple Oscar nominations.

Frost/Nixon (2008)

Frost/Nixon, written for stage (2006) and screen by Peter Morgan, is a brilliant play. Though the factual accuracy of the covered events is debated — see also: incorrect — the questions about politics, politicians, and power raised by Michael Sheen (as David Frost) and Frank Langella (as Richard Nixon) in both versions are distant, if not unfamiliar, to a younger theater-going audience. Like so many plays, this one gets umph in its character development and relationships. A grand success.