For many of us, reading classic novels and plays back in school was sooo boring! But it's OK, because you've probably inadvertently learned all about them if you've watched any of these modern films...


1. 10 Things I Hate About You, 1999

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, 1590-1592.

10 Things I Hate About You

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The film focuses on two sisters – pretty and popular Bianca and her older, grumpier sister Kat. New boy Cameron wants to date Bianca, but can’t because of her father’s strict rules, so he tries to get rebellious ‘bad boy’ Patrick to seduce Kat. In Shakespeare’s classic The Taming of the Shrew, it is Petruchio who tries to ‘tame’ Katherina, while her sister Bianca has her own suitors to contend with. In the end, both sisters get to be with the boys they love – ahh!

2. Clueless, 1995

Emma by Jane Austen, 1815

Clueless classic

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Popular, attractive and wealthy, Cher takes new girl Tai under her wing, gives her a makeover and tries to set her up with the rich and popular Elton, despite Tai’s preference for skater boy Travis. In the book, Emma does the same with her friend Harriet, trying to steer her away from the farmer she really likes, Robert Martin. But when Tai (Harriet) confesses to fancying Josh (Mr Knightly), it makes Cher (Emma) realise she herself has feelings for Josh. In the end, Cher and Josh, and Tai and Travis (matched by the characters in the book), end up together.

3. The Lion King, 1994

Hamlet by William Shakespeare, 1599-1602

Mufasa Lion King


Everyone knows the story of The Lion King! Simba’s dad Mufasa is killed by Simba’s uncle Scar, but Simba ends up thinking he’s responsible and flees. While Scar rules the kingdom, Simba eventually returns to overthrow Scar and become king. Although Hamlet features many other twists and turns, the basic story is the same – Hamlet’s father is killed by his uncle, and Hamlet goes into exile before finally returning to fight his uncle and claim the throne. A happy ending!

4. Trading Places, 1983

The Prince and The Pauper by Mark Twain, 1881

Trading Places - 1983

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Starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, comedy film Trading Places mirrors the story of Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper, exploring the connection between nature and nurture, and rags to riches. Both involve paupers switching lives temporarily with wealthy counterparts, leading to hilarious, but also meaningful capers. Order is restored in the end of the film and the book, and both paupers are raised up in society as a result.

5. Edward Scissorhands, 1990

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, 1818

Edward Scissorhands

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The classic film Edward Scissorhands has many connections with Frankenstein – both Edward and the monster live in exile and isolation after their creation, because most of society is scared of them. Edward ends up being taken in by a local family. Meanwhile, Frankenstein’s monster secretly lives alongside a family, befriending the blind father. But when the rest of the family meets the monster, they run away scared. In the end, both Edward and Frankenstein’s monster disappear, realising they’ll never fit into the normal world. But both are still out there somewhere…

6. Easy A, 2010

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850

Easy A

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The theme in the film and the book shows a woman’s fall from grace after her reputation becomes tarnished by her illicit actions (or perceived actions). In the film, Olive lies to her best friend about losing her virginity, which leads to the school, particularly the religious clique, labelling Olive a ‘dirty skank’. Meanwhile, The Scarlet Letter begins with the punishment of an adulteress woman in a puritan town – she is publicly humiliated and made to wear the letter ‘A’ for adulteress, as does Olive in the film. However, while the film ends happily, with Olive’s reputation wiped clean, the book ends in revenge and death. Chirpy!

7. She’s The Man, 2006

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, 1601-1602

She's The Man

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Even the names are the same in She’s The Man as in Twelfth Night, which makes things easier. The plots are complicated, but in a nutshell: Viola decides to switch places with her twin brother Sebastian while he’s away, dressing up and pretending to be him. Viola then falls in love with Duke, a friend of ‘Sebastian’, but Duke likes another girl, Olivia. However, Olivia then falls for ‘Sebastian’ (who’s actually Viola), but asks Duke out to make ‘Sebastian’ jealous, leading to much confusion. When the real Sebastian unexpectedly returns, all is put right again, and Viola ends up with Duke. Phew!

8. A Bug’s Life, 1998

The Ant and the Grasshopper by Aesop, 620-564BC

A Bugs Life

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The idea of A Bug’s Life was inspired by the ancient tale by Aesop, about a grasshopper who spends all summer singing, while the ant (or ants) spend the summer working hard getting food for the winter. When the hungry grasshopper asks the ant for help, he’s refused– the moral of the story being the importance of hard work. Similarly, A Bug’s Life focuses on the rivalry between a colony of ants and a group of greedy grasshoppers. The hard-working ants are the victors in the end, hurrah!

9. West Side Story, 1961

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, 1595

West Side Story

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West Side Story brings the themes of Romeo and Juliet into the modern day. Set in 1950s New York in the Upper West Side, the plot follows the rivalries between two gangs, the Jets and the Sharks – the equivalent of the Montagues and the Capulets in Romeo and Juliet. Things get messy when Tony, a former member of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, who’s associated with the Sharks. While both lovers end up dead in Shakespeare’s original, the musical also ends in tragedy as Tony is shot dead after being led to believe Maria has been killed.