Ranked: The Best and Worst Movies Based on Plays and Musicals

  • Publish Date: June 14, 2012
  • Comments: ↓ 3 user comments

10 worst films adapted from the stage (past 20 years)

You've seen the best; now, check out our list of the critics' least favorite movies based on plays and musicals from the past two decades, listed from bad to worse:

10. Love's Labour's Lost 35 (2000) Add to Netflix Queue
Directed by Kenneth Branagh

"These are good people, yet the director has them carrying on like community theater actors playing to the balcony. It isn't fair to them, and it isn't fitting for Shakespeare."

—Robert Horton, Film.com

While actor-writer-director Kenneth Branagh has had much success adapting Shakespeare to the big screen (most memorably with 1989's Henry V), his attempt to turn the lesser-known Love's Labour's Lost into a Hollywood musical romance was his one out-and-out failure. Branagh took many liberties with Shakespeare's original story—most notably, transplanting the action into the 1930s—and asked actors not normally known for their singing and dancing (Alicia Silverstone, anyone?) to tackle songs by Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. The results were so (predictably) disastrous that it cost Branagh his contract with Miramax.

9. Chelsea Walls 34 (2002) Add to Netflix Queue
Directed by Ethan Hawke

"Works equally poorly as a tourist brochure and as a drama."

—Keith Phipps, A.V. Club

For his feature directorial debut, actor Ethan Hawke chose Nicole Burdette's adaptation of her own play that spends a day with the various artists residing in New York's famed Chelsea Hotel. Despite a soundtrack from Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and a decent ensemble cast featuring Uma Thurman, Steve Zahn, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Sean Leonard, and Natasha Richardson, the movie was a critical failure, dismissed by most reviewers as boring and pretentious.

8. Red Roses and Petrol 33 (2008) Add to Netflix Queue
Directed by Tamar Simon Hoffs

"[A] bland-as-boiled-cabbage adaptation."

—Aaron Hillis, Village Voice

Based on the play of the same name by Irish writer Joseph O'Connor, this dark comedy takes place in Dublin as family members gather for the wake of family patriarch (played by Malcolm McDowell, who appears in video diaries left behind by the dead man). Though the film received some encouraging responses when it toured the global film festival circuit, American critics didn't have a lot of nice things to say about Tamar Simon Hoffs' straightforward adaptation. (Her daughter, Bangles member Susanna Hoffs, contributed to the soundtrack, along with Flogging Molly).

(tie) 6. Down to Earth 32 (2001) Add to Netflix Queue
Directed by Chris and Paul Weitz

"An astonishingly bad movie."

—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Don't blame the source material. Harry Segall's play Heaven Can Wait produced the Oscar-winning 1941 comedy Here Comes Mr. Jordan and the terrific, Warren Beatty-starring 1978 remake Heaven Can Wait. But despite the presence of star Chris Rock and a new screenplay co-written by Rock and Louis CK, this comedy about a black comedian who dies in a car accident but is given a second chance at life in the body of a rich white man proved to be a poor vehicle for Rock's talents, and the worst of the three films directed together by brothers Chris and Paul Weitz (American Pie), though Paul managed to earn even worse reviews for 2010's Little Fockers 27.

(tie) 6. Repo! The Genetic Opera 32 (2008) Add to Netflix Queue
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

"There probably aren't enough futuristic Goth rock musicals, but Repo! The Genetic Opera is weak on a couple of things a musical needs: music and lyrics."

—Kyle Smith, New York Post

With a cast that includes Paris Hilton and Skinny Puppy's Nivek Ogre and a dystopian, futuristic storyline about organ transplants, the Goth horror-musical Repo! The Genetic Opera was never going to be for everyone, but critics especially seemed to dislike the film. Nevertheless, it developed a cult following. The film has its origins in the play The Necromerchant's Debt by Terrance Zdunich and Darren Smith, who also wrote the film's screenplay and music—all 64 songs' worth.

5. The Bachelor 31 (1999) Add to Netflix Queue
Directed by Gary Sinyor

"So unremittingly vulgar and inept it makes 'The Best Man' and 'Runaway Bride' look like masterpieces by comparison."

—Lou Lumenick, New York Post

Based on the 1916 play Seven Chances and the ensuing Buster Keaton 1925 silent comedy of the same name, The Bachelor centers on an immature man (Chris O'Donnell) who stands to inherit a fortune if only he gets married within a day's time. The rom-com also stars Renée Zellweger and such acting legends as Mariah Carey and Artie Lange, though with a script this weak, the filmmakers probably should have stuck with the silent treatment.

(tie) 3. The King and I 29 (1999) Add to Netflix Queue
Directed by Richard Rich

"It's a puzzlement how so many pros could have so wrecked one of the most beloved, hummably familiar movie musicals in the Rodgers and Hammerstein repertoire."

— Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

The Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical based on the book Anna and the King of Siam was successfully adapted to the screen in 1956, with Yul Brynner memorably portraying the king. This second, animated adaptation? A bomb. Aimed at much younger audiences, Warner Bros. G-rated film retained much of the original score but had nothing to offer adults and suffered from sub-par animation, resulting in a film so bad that it convinced the estates of the famed composers to bar any future animated works based on their musicals.

(tie) 3. The 24th Day 29 (2004) Add to Netflix Queue
Directed by Tony Piccirillo

"This drawn-out 'Day' feels like a cross between the claustrophobic play it once was, and the R-rated 'After-School Special' it wants to be."

—Dave Kehr, The New York Times

Adapting his own play, Tony Piccirillo cast Felicity's Scott Speedman as a married man who discovers that he's HIV positive and decides to kidnap his one previous male sex partner and give him a blood test, with a plan to murder him if he too tests positive. A better director may have been able to overcome the "ludicrous" plot (in the words of the Post's Megan Lehmann), but Piccirillo was clearly not that director.

2. The Women 27 (2008) Add to Netflix Queue
Directed by Diane English

"Is there anything more depressing than when middlebrow filmmakers decide to remake bona fide classics that did not, under any circumstances, need to be remade?"

—M. E. Russell, Portland Oregonian

A remake of George Cukor's 1939 film based on Clare Boothe Luce's hit Broadway play (both also titled The Women), this 2008 dramedy stands as veteran TV producer Diane English's (Murphy Brown) only feature film, either writing or directing, and it centers on a variety of Manhattan socialites and fashion industry types played by the likes of Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, and Bette Midler. The film takes its title seriously; there's not a single male in the entire picture, though, oddly, Mick Jagger is a producer. Unfortunately, it makes Sex and the City look good in comparison.

1. Spinning Into Butter 20 (2009) Add to Netflix Queue
Directed by Mark Brokaw

"What seemed sharp and pointed onstage comes across pedantically in the film, which treats its subject with a clumsy heavy-handedness."

—Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter

Speaking of Sex and the City, Sarah Jessica Parker is the champion of our worst stage-to-screen adaptation, serving as producer and star of Spinning Into Butter, based on Rebecca Gilman's play of the same name about a racially motivated hate crime at a New England liberal arts college. Stage director Mark Brokaw had a rough transition into filmmaking, with critics dismissing the film as trite and obvious, though the play itself has also been criticized for its clumsy approach to a sensitive issue.

Even more

Here are even more adaptations from the past two decades that didn't qualify for either the best or the worst lists.

The Winslow Boy199979
A Dangerous Method201176
Rabbit Hole201076
East Is East200074
The History Boys200674
The Dinner Game199973
Water Drops on Burning Rocks200073
Death and the Maiden199472
Strictly Ballroom199372
The Birdcage199672
The Woodsman200472
War Horse201172
Real Women Have Curves200271
10 Things I Hate About You199970
Little Voice199868
Marvin's Room199668
Off the Map200568
An Ideal Husband199967
Finding Neverland200467
The Ides of March201167
8 Women200264
Peter Pan200364
Stage Beauty200464
The Cat's Meow200263
The Merchant of Venice200463
A Few Good Men199262
A Midsummer Night's Dream199961
Taking Sides200361
William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet199660
Love! Valour! Compassion!199759
Romy and Michele's High School Reunion199759
The Shape of Things200359
The Grey Zone200258
The Triumph of Love200258
Funny Money200757
You've Got Mail199857
Dinner for Schmucks201056
The Big Kahuna200056
Die, Mommie, Die!200354
The House of Yes199754
Why Did I Get Married?200754
A Good Woman200653
Gnomeo and Juliet201153
Private Romeo201253
The Producers200552
Mamma Mia!200851
A Perfect Murder199850
For Colored Girls201050
Madea Goes to Jail200950
Scotland, Pa.200249
Kingdom Come200148
The Fantasticks200048
Sordid Lives200147
Miss Julie199946
Madea's Big Happy Family201145
Madea's Family Reunion200645
Meet the Browns200845
My Kingdom200245
She's the Man200645
The Libertine200544
M. Butterfly199343
Meet Joe Black199843
The Tempest201043
Psycho Beach Party200042
Mambo italiano200341
The Phantom of the Opera200440
The Sisters200640
Just a Kiss200239
The Jimmy Show200239
Diary of a Mad Black Woman200536

What do you think?

What are your favorite films based on stage productions? Do you agree with the choices above? Let us know in the comments section below.


Comments (3)

  • davidfmatheson  

    Passing Strange doesn't count?


  • ABM  

    It might sound crazy to you nellie, but critics don't hate fun in some kind of mass, generalized way. Maybe the movie just kind of stinks. I don't know. I haven't seen it. Neither have you. ...And why would you come to a website solely focused on tallying critics' reviews to condemn critics?

  • nellie  

    Critics, once again, have missed the point. Rock of Ages was never even a great show, just a fun one. The same will be true for the film. Maybe if they got their heads out of their asses they could see this.

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