Romeo And Juliet: 20 Differences Between The Play And The Movie

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Although all of Shakespeare’s 38 plays have proven to be quite memorable, the one that is most prominent today is Romeo and Juliet. It may have been first performed in the 1500s (via International Business Times), but elements of the tragic play (such as “the star-crossed lovers”) can be found in the likes of several popular TV shows, romcoms, musicals, and even video games.

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There have also been a few artists who have gone a step further and attempted to produce their own adaptation of the memorable Shakespearean work. While he did a few changes from the original play, a lot of people still love to go back to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) since they believe the modernized version helps make it more relatable and engaging. The fact that many schools also study it just goes to how it still holds cultural and aesthetic influence on the world too (which will likely continue with the generations to come).

Updated on March 16th, 2022 by Kayleigh Banks: With Killing Eve’s season 3 recreating the iconic bathroom scene from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, it’s safe to say that the movie is still a pop culture phenomenon. Although it doesn’t exactly follow the original play and changes quite a few things, many still believe the modern portrayal of Romeo and Juliet is one of the best Shakespeare movie adaptations they’ve seen since it helps the audience to understand the characters’ motives and fully grasp the tragedy that unfolds before them.  

The Setting Is More Modern In The Romeo + Juliet Movie

Promotional image for Baz Luhrman's 1996 film Romeo + Juliet

This one stands out. Obviously, the original version of Romeo and Juliet is set a long, long time ago when things were hugely different. People acted differently, the world operated with a different structure and things looked almost unrecognizable. The main change here is that Luhrmann’s version is set in the modern-day.

Now it’s set in America and there are cars, guns, FedEx trucks, cafes, and TVs. Everyone is also dressed in modern clothes and has dyed hair. It couldn’t be more different, but, for some reason, the language remains unchanged.

Some Of The Lines Have Either Been Cut Or Altered In The Romeo + Juliet Movie

Despite the language of the play remaining unchanged, notably with the characters still referring to their guns as “swords,” a few things did have to be adapted if it was to be shown on the big screen. One of the first things Luhrmann did was cut some of the lines, since he only had a certain run time to tell his version.

Additionally, despite the majority of Romeo and Juliet being written in iambic pentameter, Father Laurence (Pete Postlethwaite) is the only character in the entire film to speak in this meter.

The Montagues And Capulets Are Two Warring Mafia Empires Rather Than Families In The Romeo + Juliet Movie

An image of Romeo kissing Juliet's hand in the 1996 movie

Tying in with the updated location and time period, the actual presence and existence of the Montagues and Capulets is drastically different from the original play. Rather than being two families at war, which is something that doesn’t really happen anymore, the war here is between two rival businesses.

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Well, they’re actually mafia empires, clear from their gun-toting relations, but they pretend to be legitimate corporations. With this comes a change in motivation for a lot of the major plot points in the story.

The Messenger/Prologue Chorus Is Replaced With A News Report In The Romeo + Juliet Movie

As the film modernizes the original play, it naturally had to find a new way to present the role usually fulfilled by the chorus, such as in the opening prologue. This is cleverly done by having a news anchor read these lines, presenting the chorus lines as if it were a news report.

Additionally, the TV also fulfills the role of the messenger that was in the play. Instead of the cast finding out about the Capulet’s party by messenger, they see it announced on the TV.

Rosaline’s Role Is Reduced Drastically In The Plot Of Romeo + Juliet

Rosaline is a character that doesn’t actually appear in the play but still plays an important factor. She is Romeo’s (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) first love and the reason that he is distraught at the beginning of the story, as she does not love him back, having instead sworn a vow of chastity. Rosaline is the main reason that the Montague characters visit the Capulet’s party, as she is meant to be there.

In the film, Rosaline’s role has been reduced, though she still acts as a device to get Romeo to the party after hearing she will be there. Despite Romeo brooding at the beginning of the film, his feelings for Rosaline appear to be presented as more of a crush than real love, and Romeo’s emotions are downplayed in the scene where Benvolio (Dash Mihok) asks about why he is sad.

The Balcony Scene Is Cut In Favor Of The Pool Scene In The Romeo + Juliet Movie

The balcony scene is arguably the most iconic scene of not only Romeo and Juliet but of Shakespeare’s entire works. It is a scene that is frequently referenced in pop culture and that is well known to most people, even if they have never read or watched the play in any form.

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So it’s pretty surprising that the film decided to change up this legendary scene, firstly by reducing the 190 lines to just 90 lines. Secondly, the setting changes from an orchard scene to a more modern scene in a swimming pool.

The Tone Of The Marriage Proposal Is A Lot More Immature And Impulsive In The Romeo + Juliet Movie

In the original play, the scene where Romeo proposes that he and Juliet (Claire Danes) should get married is normally perceived as being a serious part of the play. However, in Luhrmann’s film adaptation, the characters are less serious. Instead, they are giggling and laughing as they relay the lines that are more commonly acted out more earnestly on stage.

Of course, this could be Luhrmann’s way of presenting how happy the two are, so joyous that they keep smiling and laughing, but it downplays the importance of their union and how it would unite their two houses.

Paris’ Death Is Excluded From The Romeo + Juliet Movie

An image of Dave Paris and Juliet dancing in Romeo and Juliet 1996

In the original version of Romeo And Juliet, Romeo goes to the Capulet crypt to find Juliet. However, when he gets there, Paris is there grieving the loss of Juliet and Romeo kills him during a fight. In the film, this is cut. Firstly, Paris is called Dave Paris (Paul Rudd), and secondly, he isn’t in the crypt at all, meaning Romeo doesn’t bump into anyone there.

In turn, this means Dave Paris ends the film very much alive, while Romeo and Juliet are provided with that cruel twist ending everyone is too familiar with.

Lady Montague Is Alive At The End Of The Romeo + Juliet Movie

An image of Ted and Caroline Montague sitting in a limo in Romeo + Juliet

Although 6 people were seen to die in the play, Baz Luhrmann’s version reduced this number to 4 as he left two individuals alive. Not only did he omit Paris’ death from his script but he also omitted Lady Montague’s too (who can be sitting in the limousine at the very end).

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While the Shakespearean play said she died as a result of Romeo being exiled, it appeared that Luhrmann didn’t think it was as important in his adaptation since she didn’t really have much impact on the story.

The Montagues And Capulets Don’t Reconcile At The End Of The Romeo + Juliet Movie

An image of The Montagues and The Capulets meeting in an office in Romeo + Juliet

Luhrmann’s adaptation continued to change the ending of the play by not including the reconciliation of the two families. This came in the final act of the tragedy when the two family patriarchs walked into the church and discovered that their children had died. To pay tribute to them, the Montagues and Capulets decide to put an end to the feud and build two statues of them both so they can stand side-by-side.

It’s possible that Luhrmann decided not to include this scene because it felt as if it just overlooked Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. Both Romeo and Juliet had been the most important things in their parents’ lives, so it seemed like Luhrmann wanted the Capulets and Montagues to contemplate the brevity of the situation and how their violent feud cost several people to lose their lives.

Balthasar And Friar Laurence Don’t Appear In The Ending Of Romeo + Juliet

A split image of Balthasar and Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet 1996

While they did appear in the movie version, some people might not have realized that Balthasar (Jesse Bradford) and Friar Laurence should have also been involved in the final act. In the play, it is Balthasar and Friar Laurence who discover Romeo and Paris’ bodies and explain why this tragedy came about.

However, given that the movie is set in a more modern era, where technology and autopsies are more advanced, and marriage certificates are easy to track, the two families would have been able to quickly figure out what happened (which would mean that this scene was not needed).

The Prince And Paris’ Familial Relationship Is Excluded From The Romeo + Juliet Movie

An image of Captain Prince looking serious and Dave Paris smiling in Romeo + Juliet

With Paris still alive at the end of the movie, it appears that Lurhmann had cut the familial ties between Paris and Captain Prince (Vondie Curtis-Hall), since they were declared ‘kinsman’ in the play.

Although some might say that it didn’t really affect the story as much (since Paris and Prince Escalus didn’t really interact), a few viewers felt that it changed the interpretation of the play slightly. Not only was Paris’ death meant to highlight the immense tragedy further, but the Prince’s grief was to show that innocent people were also caught up in this family’s feud.

Paris’ Familial Relationship With Mercutio Is Also Excluded From The Romeo + Juliet Movie

A split image of Paris smiling and Mercutio pointing at someone in Romeo + Juliet

Since the play had established that Paris and Mercutio (Harold Perrineau) were his kinsmen to the Prince, it also appears that the movie adaptation has excluded their familial ties to each other too. The only one Lurhmann keeps in tact is that of Mercutio and Captain Prince’s.

Given that Mercutio played a pivotal role in Luhrmann’s version of the play, it does make sense that the director would keep Captain Prince and Mercutio’s relationship as it emphasized that even outsiders can be drawn into the family feud. It also makes a lot of sense that he would cut Mercutio and Paris ties too since they didn’t even interact in the play or acknowledge their relation to each other. It just didn’t fit into the story that Lurhmann was trying to tell.

Juliet Wakes Up Before Romeo Dies (Whereas She Doesn’t In The Play)

The twist ending is one of the reasons why Romeo + Juliet is one of the most memorable adaptations. Where the play saw a heartbroken Romeo take his own life before Juliet woke up, the film changes this.

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Instead of the dramatic, heartbreakingly unfulfilled, and brutal ending of the original that makes it so unique, Luhrmann has Juliet wake up just before Romeo dies, so they can share a quick kiss before she takes her own life.

The Misuse Of Drugs Is Different In The Romeo + Juliet Movie

An image of Romeo wearing a costume and mask in the 1996 movie

One of the features of the film that really lets you know the audience is in a different time period is its depiction of drugs. In the play, the only time ‘drugs’ are used is when it’s relevant to the plot (such as the tonic Juliet takes to fake her death or the poison Romeo drinks at the end).

However, the misuse of drugs is completely different in the Lurhmann version as Romeo is seen to take a pill before he enters Capulets party. While some might believe it was the director’s way of making it more modern, many cinephiles have deemed it an important scene in the movie as it is full of symbolism and hidden meanings.

Baz Lurhmann Replaces Swords With Guns In The  Romeo + Juliet Movie

One of the elements of Luhrman’s film that must have been a difficult decision was whether to keep the swords from the original present or replace them with much more relevant guns.

Swords obviously require a lot of close combat, which means fights need to be done from close range. A gun, obviously, could end a fight in less than a second, which could really reduce the dramatic tension. Having said that, shootouts give the scene the Hollywood edge and make the film fit the 1990s more (since they were quite heavy on fight scenes and action sequences).

The Costumes In Romeo + Juliet Are More Reflective Of Their Personalities

Romeo and Juliet

During the Capulet party, the costumes in the original Shakespeare play seem to be nothing particularly outlandish for the time, with the characters simply wearing Elizabethan garments that would have been worn during any part of that specific era.

RELATED: 10 Shakespeare Screen Adaptations You Probably Haven’t Watched (But Definitely Should)

However, in the film, Luhrmann decides to dress each character in a costume that reflects their personality. As such, the audience sees the likes of Juliet with angel wings and Tybalt dressed as the devil.

Baz Lurhmann Gave The Characters First And More Modern Names In The Romeo + Juliet Movie

An image of Romeo looking surprised in Romeo and Juliet 1996

The fact that Luhrmann kept the dialogue the same as it would have been so many hundreds of years ago makes the audience wonder if it actually makes sense to change the character names. Choose to go one way or another, surely?

Either way, Paris gets a first name: Dave. The Montagues are named Caroline and Ted, while the Capulets are named Fulgencio and Gloria. Friar Laurence is turned into Father Laurence and Prince Escalus becomes Captain Prince, a police chief.

Some Minor Characters’ Affiliations Are Swapped Around In The Romeo + Juliet Movie

A split image of Sampson looking scared and Abra taking his coat off in Romeo and Juliet

For some reason, Luhrmann decides to shuffle the affiliations of certain minor characters around. It’s a little confusing for those already familiar with the characters and doesn’t really seem to make much sense or have any reasoning behind it.

Abram (Vincent Laresca) and Petruchio (Carlos Manzo) become Capulets despite being Montagues in the original, while Sampson (Jamie Kennedy) and Gregory (Zak Orth) are Montagues in the film. Sampson, in particular, is an interesting one, as he becomes Romeo’s cousin, whereas before he was nothing more than the Capulet servant.

Friar John Is Excluded From The Romeo + Juliet Movie Altogether

Although he isn’t exactly a huge presence in the original play, Friar John nevertheless exists and has a certain role to fulfill. His character is used as a tool to send a letter from Friar Laurence to Romeo, but regrettably, he is unable to fulfill his duty because he becomes quarantined after an outbreak of plague.

His small role that is ultimately unsuccessful makes him largely irrelevant to the plot, so it’s not surprising that he doesn’t exist at all in the film remake.

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