Even if you weren’t a theater kid like myself who owned an excessively large copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, you probably read a Shakespeare play or two in school. While Shakespeare was a playwright born in the 1500s, the plot twists, characters, and tropes within his stories are still ingrained in our current culture. His plays are constantly being referenced and remade into movies and shows. Romeo and Juliet alone has inspired many new takes, including West Side Story and the Broadway musical & Juliet. Shows like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and Succession are all full of Shakespearean drama, often mirroring Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear.
If you’re a romantic comedy enthusiast (same), Shakespeare’s wide range of comedies like Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Taming of the Shrew created a path that eventually led to the modern-day rom-com. Shakespeare certainly knew how to write a friends-to-lovers storyline and a tangled love triangle. Here are some rom-coms that took inspiration from Shakespeare and created something new:
1. Anyone But You
Anyone But You, starring Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell, is based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The movie loosely follows the play’s storyline but with a modern twist. Beatrice and Benedict are the main characters in Much Ado About Nothing, and their counterparts in Anyone But You are named Bea and Ben. In the play, Beatrice and Benedict immediately dislike each other. In the movie, Bea and Ben also don’t get along, but they pretend to be together in a plot to avoid one relationship and attract another. The movie proves that the “friends posing as a couple” trope has been going strong since Shakespeare’s days.
2. She’s The Man
This movie, starring Amanda Bynes and the one and only Channing Tatum, was inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The play tells the story of twins Viola and Sebastian, who get separated at sea. Viola lands in a place called Illyria and pretends to be her brother under the name Cesario. She falls in love with a duke named Orsino, and shenanigans ensue as she attempts to keep her identity hidden. The movie retains most of these character names and plotlines (although Channing’s character is simply named Duke) but sets the story in a high school called Illyria. Even though high school didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s time, the updated storyline works as a teen rom-com.
3. 10 Things I Hate About You
This movie was nothing short of iconic in its time period, starting the rom-com trend of remaking Shakespeare’s plays. The movie stars Julia Stiles and the late Heath Ledger in their break-out roles. The plot is based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and follows the storyline of the play more closely than any of the other adaptations on this list, but takes place in a high school. In the movie, Julia plays Kat, whose younger sister Bianca is not allowed to date until Kat does. When a handsome newcomer enters their school, he’s enlisted by Bianca’s suitors to attempt to date Kat. The story culminates with a dance, grand gestures, and a game of paintball, much like I think Shakespeare would have intended.
This movie is a recent take on Romeo and Juliet from the perspective of Rosaline, who is briefly mentioned by Romeo at the beginning of Shakespeare’s story. In the play, Romeo says he loves Rosaline but then meets Juliet… and we never hear about Rosaline again. If you like shows like Dickinson and The Buccaneers, this movie has a similar vibe, with modern dialogue and music set in a period piece. It’s funny, clever, and sheds new light on the main characters we’ve come to see so often portrayed as star-crossed lovers. It’s also the perfect movie to watch in a marathon with friends, especially if you’re going for a Shakespeare theme.
5. Deliver Us From Eva
Like 10 Things I Hate About You, Deliver Us From Eva is also based on The Taming of the Shrew. The movie stars Gabrielle Union and LL Cool J, who play Eva and Ray. Unlike many of the other adaptations, this one is set in adulthood. Eva is a health inspector who is known for her uncompromising values, aligning with the role known as Kate in Shakespeare’s version. In the play, Kate has one sister, but in the movie, Eva has three sisters whose partners attempt to orchestrate a relationship between Ray and Eva. The movie came out just early enough in the 2000s to still have those ’90s rom-com vibes, which is always a plus.
6. Get Over It
If you’ve ever read or seen Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you’ll know it’s full of constantly changing love triangles due to a love potion and the meddling King and Queen of the fairies. Get Over It is loosely based on the original play and includes a very meta plotline where the main characters put on a musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at their high school. The movie stars Kirsten Dunst and Ben Foster, and for those of you who are Only Murders in the Building fans, Martin Short gives a very Martin Short performance as the director of the high school play.
7. Slings & Arrows
The Canadian series Slings & Arrows is a delight and constantly resurfaces on my rewatch list. It’s a comedy that revolves around a Shakespeare theater company, and the story begins when a company member returns to the theater to replace his mentor as artistic director. The show has three seasons, each one focusing on a different production: Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear. There are even some Romeo and Juliet moments and plenty of on-and-off stage comedy and romance. It’s also the series that Rachel McAdams starred in just before Mean Girls and The Notebook, and you might recognize a younger Luke Kirby, who eventually goes on to be in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
8. Mean Girls
While Mean Girls is by no means a direct adaptation of any Shakespeare play, there are some references to Julius Caesar. In the original Mean Girls, when Gretchen is fed up with Regina, she reads a personal essay in class about Julius Caesar, noting how mean Caesar is to the character Brutus. In the speech, Gretchen is clearly actually talking about herself and Regina. She talks about Brutus stabbing Caesar in the back, which happens in the play when a group of senators feel that Caesar has gained too much power, much like Regina. While the plot of Mean Girls is set in high school, the high stakes and power struggles rival any Shakespeare drama.
9. Big Business
Big Business is a movie that’s kind of like The Parent Trap if the twins were doubled and the main conflict revolved around corporations versus small towns. The story is based on The Comedy of Errors, a Shakespeare play that follows two sets of twins who don’t know that their identical twin exists. In Big Business, four babies are accidentally swapped at birth, separating the identical twins from each other. One set of twins grows up in New York City, and the other grows up in the country. The twins are played by comedy royalty Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler, doubled by classic 1980s split-screen movie magic. Of course, as the twins find out about each other and realize they have opposing goals, Shakespearean chaos ensues.
10. Warm Bodies
This one’s for the Romeo and Juliet fans who also love zombie thrillers and rom-coms. Warm Bodies is a movie that follows a zombie named R and a human named Julie as they form a relationship while dealing with the rivalries between their kind. R is played by Nicholas Hoult, who later goes on to star in The Great. Unlike Shakespeare’s version of Romeo and Juliet, which is pretty much all drama, there are some comedic moments in Warm Bodies, along with the typical zombie-scary stuff you might expect to see in a post-apocalyptic thriller.
11. Love in the Villa
While not a direct adaptation, Love in the Villa is filled with references to Romeo and Juliet and takes place in Verona, where the play itself is set. The movie stars Kat Graham as Julie, who is also Bonnie in The Vampire Diaries. Julie had a Verona trip planned with the person she thought would soon be her fiancé, but when they break up, she goes on the trip to Italy anyway. Unfortunately, someone is already living in the Verona villa she rented, and that someone is irritating yet attractive. The initial frenemy-to-lovers plot is actually more similar to Much Ado About Nothing, but the setting is absolutely gorgeous and will have you picturing what it might have been like in Romeo and Juliet’s time.
12. Letters to Juliet
OK, so the title gives this one away, but in my opinion, there can never be too many movies set in Verona that are inspired by Romeo and Juliet. Letters to Juliet stars Amanda Seyfried as Sophie, who travels to Verona with her fiancé, played by Gael García Bernal. In Verona, Sophie finds an old letter addressed to Juliet, asking for advice about a star-crossed lover. She decides to find the woman who wrote the letter in order to reunite her with her lost love. In the process, she meets the woman’s grandson, and a classic love triangle emerges. Like Love in the Villa, there are beautiful shots of Verona and references to Romeo and Juliet that confirm Shakespeare’s stories are still alive and well.