11 Movies Based on Poems

Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish in Bright Star (2009)
Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish in Bright Star (2009)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Hollywood pushes out a seemingly endless supply of movies based on novels, comic books, old TV shows, and previously released movies. Every so often, however, studios try their hand at adapting poems for the big screen. In honor of National Poetry Month, here are 11 examples.

1. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (2000)

Joel and Ethan Coen released a comedy about a trio of convicts trying to escape a Mississippi chain gang only to stumble into a series of misadventures and misfortune. With George Clooney playing Ulysses Everett McGill, the Odysseus surrogate, O Brother, Where Art Thou? took ancient Greek poet Homer’s episodic structure of The Odyssey and married it with absurd comedy and old-timey bluegrass music from T-Bone Burnett. The Coens didn’t read the epic poem while making the movie and actor Tim Blake Nelson was reportedly the only person on set who was familiar with Homer’s work (he holds a degree in Classics from Brown University).

2. THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

While working as an animator for the Walt Disney Company in the early 1980s, Tim Burton wrote and developed a poem entitled “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! animated TV specials, along with the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," inspired Burton's spooky poem. In 1982, he pitched it to Disney after the success of his short film Vincent. The Mouse House was interested in making The Nightmare Before Christmas into a short film or TV special, but left the project to gestate for the next decade until Burton produced the feature film in 1993.

3. TROY (2004)

Director Wolfgang Petersen and screenwriter David Benioff took on Homer’s Iliad for the action-adventure film adaptation Troy. With Brad Pitt as Achilles and Eric Bana as Hector, Troy saw moderate success at the box office and a mixed critical response when it was released during the summer of 2004. Many critics slammed the film for not being faithful to Homer’s original epic poem.

4. BRIGHT STAR (2009)

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jane Campion made the romance Bright Star in 2009. Based on the poem “Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art,” the film followed the last three years of poet John Keats’s (Ben Whishaw) life and his steamy relationship with Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). Bright Star premiered at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival, with some critics dubbing the film Jane Campion’s best work since 1993's The Piano.

5. MULAN (1998)

In 1998, the Walt Disney Company released their 36th animated feature film, Mulan, which was based on the ancient Chinese poem “Ballad of Mulan.” The film and poem told the story of Hua Mulan, a young woman who takes her elderly father's place in the army during the Northern Wei Dynasty.

6. SHORT CUTS

Based on the work of writer Raymond Carver, the Academy Award-nominated film Short Cuts took its inspiration from nine short stories and a poem titled “Lemonade” from the minimalist author. While director Robert Altman connected Carver’s stories into one cohesive film, he also cleverly peppered images from and references to the poem throughout Short Cuts. The poem also informs the viewer on the film’s bittersweet tone and themes.

7. FOR COLORED GIRLS

In 2010, Tyler Perry adapted Ntozake Shange’s Tony Award-nominated experimental choreopoem (poetry and dance) “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” for the big screen. While there was some Oscar buzz surrounding the film before it was released, Perry’s penchant for melodrama got in the way of Shange’s prose. The film version of For Colored Girls saw moderate box office success and lukewarm critical response.

8. BRAVEHEART (1995)

Mel Gibson’s Braveheart was based on a 15th-century Scottish epic poem titled “The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace” or simply, “The Wallace.” While the film received heavy criticism for being historically inaccurate, Braveheart won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography, in 1996.

9. JABBERWOCKY (1977)

Terry Gilliam’s solo directorial debut Jabberwocky was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical poem of the same name from Through the Looking-Glass. While the adaptation received mixed reviews, Jabberwocky has grown to become a cult classic over the years. The fantasy film featured Gilliam’s trademark dark and satirical humor while showcasing his vast imagination as an artist and a director.

10. BEOWULF (2007)

Beowulf, the second film in director Robert Zemeckis’s motion capture 3D trilogy, was based on the Old English epic poem of the same name. With the help of screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, Zemeckis adapted the poem into an action-adventure visual spectacle.

11. HOWL (2010)

James Franco starred as American poet Allen Ginsberg in Howl, which follows the poet’s life as he was writing the poem “Howl” at the start of the Beat Generation. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman structured the film as if it were a poem and Howl made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010.

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6 Things We Know About the Game of Thrones Prequel Series, House of the Dragon

HBO
HBO

By the time Game of Thrones wrapped up its record-breaking eight-season run in 2019, it was a no-brainer that HBO would be producing another GoT series to keep the success going. The first announced show in the works, which was reportedly picked from a few prequel ideas, was going to chronicle a time thousands of years before the start of GoT, and was set to star actress Naomi Watts. Unfortunately, that project was eventually scrapped after the pilot was shot—but a new prequel series, House of the Dragon, was announced in October 2019. Here's what we know about it so far.

1. House of the Dragon will be based on George R.R. Martin's book Fire & Blood.

George R.R. Martin's novel Fire & Blood, which tells the story of House Targaryen, will serve as the source of inspiration for the plot of House of the Dragon. The first of two volumes was published in 2018, and takes place 300 years before Game of Thrones.

2. House of the Dragon will likely chronicle the Targaryen family's tumultuous past.

Game of Thrones showed that the Targaryen family has a long-standing history of inbreeding, secrets, betrayal, war, and insanity. Fire & Blood covers topics like the first Aegon Targaryen's conquest of the Seven Kingdoms and his subsequent reign, as well as the lives of his sons. Seems like we'll probably be meeting Dany's ancestors, and Martin confirmed there will definitely be dragons present—maybe even Balerion the Black Dread, the biggest dragon in all of Westerosi history.

3. George R.R. Martin and Ryan Condal are co-creators of House of the Dragon.

Co-Executive Producer George R.R. Martin arrives at the premiere of HBO's 'Game Of Thrones' Season 3 at TCL Chinese Theatre on March 18, 2013 in Hollywood, California
George R.R. Martin
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Martin shared on his blog that he's been working with writer and producer Ryan Condal (Rampage, Colony), on the show. "Ryan Condal is new to Westeros, but not to me," the acclaimed author wrote. "I first met Ryan when he came to New Mexico to shoot a pilot for a fantasy western that was not picked up. I visited his set and we became friendly ... He’s a terrific writer … and a fan of my books since well before we met." In another blog post, Martin said that the show's script and bible were "terrific, first-rate, exciting." Sounds like we'll be in good hands.

5. A Game of Thrones director is returning for House of the Dragon.

Per a tweet from the Game of Thrones Twitter account announcing the show, Miguel Sapochnik, who directed many of the original HBO series' biggest episodes, such as "Battle of the Bastards" and "Hardhome," will be returning for House of the Dragon as showrunner alongside Condal. Sapochnik is also known for directing a handful of other notable shows, such as True Detective, Masters of Sex, and Altered Carbon.

6. House of the Dragon could be coming in 2022.

HBO ordered 10 episodes of House of the Dragon, and HBO president of programming Casey Bloys said he thought that the show would debut "sometime in 2022." However, with the film industry facing major delays due to safety concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, there's no word on when the show will begin filming.

Meanwhile, Martin revealed that he won't be writing any scripts for House of the Dragon until he finishes The Winds of Winter, which has been in the works since A Dance With Dragons, his most recent book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, debuted in 2011. The good news, however, is that Martin says he has been "writing every day" while keeping indoors and social distancing, leaving fans with the hope that The Winds of Winter will come soon.