Some movies are so good that the idea of them on stage seems destined. Take a cult classic, add some music, you’ve got a hit. Or put an intriguing plot up in front of a live audience and allow them to experience the journey first-hand.

On the flip side, some of the most popular movies and movie musicals actually originated as performances for the stage. The love for these stories and demand from those who didn’t have the opportunity to see them (or those who simply wanted to relive their favorite moments over and over again) led to performances that could be captured on film forever.

Then again, it could be argued that books make the best shows. What could be better than seeing your favorite character jump out of your imagination and onto the stage? 

Below, you’ll find a list of eight screen-to-stage, stage-to-screen and page-to-stage adaptations that we’ve been obsessing over lately. A few are from the last few years, while others stretch back 50 years or more. What other adaptations would you add to the list?

Adaptation: Screen to Stage
The Movie:
The 1989 film Heathers became an instant cult classic; written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehmann, it told the story of Veronica Sawyer, a seventeen-year-old high school senior whose life was made increasingly difficult by the existence of her “friends,” three girls all named Heather. A dark-comedy commentary on teenage suicide, the film starred young Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, and Shannen Doherty.
The Stage Musical: In 2010, a concert version of the would-be hit by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy was presented at Joe’s Pub in New York City. A Hollywood production would follow in 2013, leading to a five-month Off-Broadway run in 2014 that featured Barrett Wilbert Weed, Ryan McCartan, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alice Lee, and Elle McLemore. Though the story is the same and deals with teen suicide, alcohol and drug use, and gun violence, the music and dialogue allows it to be performed as a comedy.

Adaptation: Screen to Stage
The Movie: This black comedy directed by Jack Smight and adapted from William Goldman’s 1964 novel by John Gay was released in 1968. The story focuses on former actor/serial killer Christopher Gill, who takes on various disguises to lure in his victims and subsequently strangle them, painting a pair of lips on their foreheads with lipstick similar to that of his late mother’s. The film starred Rod Steiger, Lee Remick, George Segal, and Eileen Heckart. Legal later was nominated for a BAFTA for his performance.
The Stage Musical: The movie/novel were adapted into a musical by Douglas Cohen and premiered on Broadway to a sold-out, extended run in 1987; the show starred Stephen Bogardus, Liz Callaway, Peter Slutsker, and June Gable. It was revived in 1996 starring Adam Grupper, Paul Schoeffler, Alex Korey, and Marguerite MacIntyre. Audiences were drawn in by Christopher (Kit)’s charisma and adored Morris Brummell, the detective and hero of the show. This musical is the perfect murder-mystery story and thrilling comedy for any audience.

Adaptation: Stage to Screen
The Stage Play: Aaron Sorkin’s sister’s involvement with the US Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps served as the inspiration for the original play; this appointment brought her to Guantanamo Bay, where she would defend two Marines who were accused of hazing another Marine at the orders of a superior officer. The 1989 play features two lawyers who, while in the process of defending their clients, uncover a conspiracy led by their commanding officer. The lawyers are able to outsmart the commanding officer in court and their clients are acquitted of the murders.
The Movie: Perhaps one of Tom Cruise’s most well-known films, A Few Good Men was released in December 1992 and received an all-star cast; in addition to Cruise, the movie also starred Jack Nicholson (who utters the famous line “you can’t handle the truth!”), Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollack, James Marshall, JT Walsh, and Kiefer Sutherland. Reiner directed, and Sorkin adapted his play himself also with some assistance from William Goldman. Joshua Malina reprised his role from the original Broadway production and Sorkin can be seen in a small cameo role. The film as nominated for four Academy Awards (including Best Pictures) and five Golden Globes (including Best Screenplay).

Adaptation: Stage to Screen
The Stage Play: This 1983 play by August Wilson is the sixth of ten plays in his “Pittsburgh series.” The show is centered around Troy Maxson, a black man living in the 1950s who was a former Negro league baseball player as a young man, but who ended up in jail for accidently committing murder while taking part in a robbery. Troy works as a trash collector, but is unable to actually drive a garbage truck because of the racial barrier in the city at the time. Troy’s son Cory expresses interest in pursuing a football scholarship, which Troy does not support because he fears his son will be discriminated against; in order to stop Cory, Troy contacts his coach and tells him that Cory will no longer be playing football. The argument between father and son ultimately results in Troy kicking Cory out of the house. It is revealed that troy has been cheating on his wife, Rose, with a woman named Alberta, who later dies giving birth to the child. Though they are now estranged, Rose takes the child in and agrees to raise her. The story concludes with Cory, who has since joined the Marines, and Rose reuniting at Troy’s funeral, where they offer forgiveness for Troy’s misdeeds. In 1987, the play won both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.
The Movie: The 2016 film of the name same was penned by August Wilson before his death in 1995 and was directed by Denzel Washington. It stars Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, and Saniyya Sidney. Within weeks of being released it was declared one of the top ten films of 2016 and received multiple Golden Globe nominations. Another one of Wilson’s Pittsburgh plays, The Piano Lesson, was made into a movie in 1995; more plays in the cycle are expected to be made into movies following Fences’ success at the box office.

Stage to Screen
The Stage Musical: Jukebox musicals became all the rage in the early 2000s, and Rock of Ages was no exception. With a book by Chris D’Arienzo and music from Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Poison, and many more, the show delighted theatre audiences and rock music-lovers alike. The story focuses on Sherrie Christian, a new girl in town, and Drew Boley, a busboy-turned-rocker, who meet in Los Angeles in 1987. Through their interactions with rockstar Stacee Jaxx, bar/club owner Dennis Dupree, and German developers Hertz and Franz, the couple fights to be together and are some of the few characters who get a happy ending. The production has traveled across the United States, as well as to the UK, Japan, Australia, and other major international countries. It was recently adapted into youth versions by Samuel French.
The Movie: The 2012 film of the same name boasted an all-star cast, including Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti, Russell Brand, and others; there were multiple guest appearances from members of bands featured in the story, as well as Constantine Maroulis, the original Broadway Drew. A few musical numbers were rearranged, while others were completely cut from the show. Although the film was not a huge hit at the box office, the soundtrack peaked at number five on the Billboard 200 chart and Tom Cruise was praised for his portrayal of Stacee Jaxx. The film also aided in furthering the careers of Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta. 

Adaptation: Stage to Screen
The Stage Musical:
Richard O’Brien’s cult-classic film originated as a stage musical on London’s West End in 1973. At the time of its conception, O’Brien was an out-of-work actor who was fascinated by science fiction and B horror movies; he decided to combine these interests into a musical comedy. The show premiered at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs and starred Tim Curry, Patricia Quinn, Little Nell, Julie Covington, and O’Brien himself. The show went on to premiere in Los Angeles in 1974 and on Broadway in 1975. The story of Brad and Janet’s encounter with the transexual Transylvanians is performed regularly all over the world, mostly around Halloween time, and continues to gain fans of all generations.
The Movie: After the success of the stage show, Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien adapted the script for the screen (entitled The Rocky Horror Picture Show); the movie stars Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon, Tim Curry, and other members of the original London productions. The film made the show even more popular, leading to midnight features at movie theaters as well as inspiring fans to dress up as the characters and incorporate audience participation into the viewings. The movie is the longest-running theatrical release in film history. In October 2016, a live-on-tv version aired on FOX featuring Victoria Justice, Laverne Cox, Ryan McCartan, Annaleigh Ashford, Ben Vereen, and Tim Curry and directed by Kenny Ortega; it used O’Brien’s original script.  

Adaptation: Page to Stage
The Book: Mark Haddon’s 2003 mystery novel focuses on Christopher Boone, a teenaged boy on the autism spectrum who decides to investigate the death of his neighbor’s dog. He records all of his findings in a book,w hick his father confiscates. A neighbor informs Christopher that his mother, whom he believes to be dead, was having an affair with the dog owner’s husband. His father eventually confesses that he killed the dog after arguing the with dog owner, and Christopher discovers hidden letters from his mother. Afraid that his father may try to kill him too, Christopher leaves to find his mother and stepfather. Due to all of the strife with his parents, his mother leaves his stepfather and Christopher’s parents work out visitation. Christopher’s father gets him a golden retriever puppy and promises to mend their relationship; the story ends with Christopher succeeding in school and pleased that he solved the mystery of the dog’s death and has found his mother.
The Stage Play: Adapted by Simon Stephens, the play premiered in London in 2012 and transferred to Broadway in 2014; the Broadway production earned many awards, including the 2015 Tony Award for Best Play. The plot was changed slightly to incorporate a “play within a play” feel, in which the characters convey the story by reading Christopher’s book. The play has been praised for its representation of people on the autism spectrum, as well as for the set and lighting design. The Broadway production closed on September 4, 2016 after 800 performances and a national tour is in the works.

Adaptation: Page to Stage
The Book: Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is one of his major works and is considered a staple in world literature, having been studied by numerous writers and historians. The story weaves in the lives of five Russian families in the years leading up to the 1812 French invasion of Russian. Volume Two was eventually adapted into a musical that would become Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. In Volume Two, Natasha arrives in St. Petersburg where she meets Prince Andrei and falls in love with him. The prince’s family, however, does not approve of the pairing and convinces his son to wait a year before marrying Natasha. Andrei leaves to recover from his wounds, and Natasha travels to Moscow, where she meets Helene and Anatole. The siblings conspire against Natasha, and Anatole succeeds in seducing her and plans their elopement. In love with Anatole, Natasha informs Andrei’s sister Princess Maria that she is breaking her engagement to the prince. Sonya, Natasha’s cousin, finds out about the elopement and stops it. Helene’s husband, Pierre, realizes that he has fallen in love with Natasha. Natasha attempts suicide as the Great Comet shoot across the sky.
The Stage Musical: Dave Malloy’s adaptation of Volume Two of Tolstoy’s famous novel premiered in New York in 2012 (starring Philippa Soo as Natasha) and premiered on Broadway in November of 2016. The musical combines traditional Russian folk music with classical, indie rock, and EDM; there is only one spoken line in the entire piece, when Natasha and Pierre meet. Much of the book takes portions of War and Peace and incorporates them word-for-word. The Broadway premiere stars Josh Groban as Pierre and Denee Benton as Natasha – both actors made their Broadway debuts. Malloy has been praised for creating a breathless and ravishing quasi opera, a piece unlike anything that has been seen before.

Want to explore other adaptations? Check these out: Marjorie Prime, Barefoot in the Park, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, It’s A Wonderful Life or visit our Advanced Search page to find more!

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