×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Shakespeare in Love’ at 20: From Troubled Development to Oscar History

It’s the 20th anniversary of “Shakespeare in Love,” which premiered in New York on Dec. 3, 1998, defying expectations and making Oscar history. On Oct. 23, 1992, Variety reported that Universal and Savoy Pictures had “indefinitely shelved” the $20 million production with Julia Roberts and director Ed Zwick when Daniel Day-Lewis dropped out. It went into turnaround, then froze until Miramax finally revived it in 1998.

The film was a hit, earning $289 million worldwide and winning seven Oscars. When it was named best picture, five producers trooped onstage to accept, an all-time high. Academy honchos soon set a maximum of three. The AMPAS move was partly made to combat Hollywood’s proliferation of producer credits, and partly to rebuke Miramax execs. Still, the “Shakespeare” quintet pales compared with the 50-plus individuals who went onstage at this year’s Tonys when “The Band’s Visit” won the award for best musical.

Shakespeare in Love” writer Marc Norman came up with idea in the late 1980s for a script about the Bard’s inspiration to write “Romeo & Juliet.” He wrote the first draft and Tom Stoppard did another draft.

Popular on Variety

In her Variety review on Dec. 7, 1998, Lael Loewenstein praised the film, including the writers, director John Madden and actors Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes and Judi Dench. She added, “This lively period piece is the kind of arty gem with potentially broad appeal that Miramax certainly knows how to sell.”

After its Academy Award wins, “Shakespeare” became Exhibit A when people claimed that a studio can buy an Oscar. Miramax certainly waged a hefty campaign for the movie, but it’s likely the “buy an award” theory was invented by rival studios who lost out that year and assumed it was a matter of spending rather than taste; their claims received widespread coverage on the then-expanding internet. But if the theory were true, why did “Shakespeare” win only seven of its 13 nominations? Why not a clean sweep?

In truth, the film had major factors in its favor: The surprise element, since audiences and voters had low expectations due to its troubled gestation, artsy title and the fact that it’s a comedy. The other big plus in Oscar circles: “Shakespeare” is about the love of performing, plus the magic and romance of being an actor. So it’s not surprising that the Academy’s largest branch would embrace the picture.

More Film

  • Lee Byung-hun stars in "The Man

    Lee Byung-hun’s ‘Man Standing Next’ Secures 2020 Asia Theatrical Releases (EXCLUSIVE)

    Showbox’s political drama “The Man Standing Next” has secured releases in multiple territories in Asia. The film was picked up by Falcon for Indonesia, The Klockworx for Japan, Viva Communications for the Philippines, Shaw Renters for Singapore and by Moviecloud for Taiwan. Release dates in each territory have yet to be confirmed. Set 40 days [...]

  • Lulu Wang and Zhao Shuzhen'The Farewell'

    Zhao Shuzhen on Stealing Scenes in Her First American Movie, 'The Farewell'

    A year ago, 76-year-old actor Zhao Shuzhen shot her first American movie, “The Farewell,” based on writer-director Lulu Wang’s very personal family story. In November, Shuzhen found herself making her first visit to the States, where she earned standing ovations from audiences and posed for pictures with stars like Robert Pattinson at parties. Then she [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez and Director Lorene Scafaria

    'Hustlers' DP Todd Banhazl Discusses How Not to Shoot With the Male Gaze

    Cinematographer Todd Banhazl had to rethink conventional wisdom in shooting Jennifer Lopez starrer “Hustlers.” What sort of approach did you and director Lorene Scafaria discuss in terms of how you were going to shoot the women and create these strong images of strippers? From the beginning, we talked about this idea of control and the [...]

  • A Hidden Life Movie

    Film News Roundup: Terrence Malick's 'A Hidden Life' Screened at Vatican Film Library

    In today’s film news roundup, “A Hidden Life” is shown at the Vatican, “Limerence” finds a home, Dave Baustista’s “My Spy” moves, and the DGA honors two veteran members. VATICAN SCREENING Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life” received a rare private screening at the Vatican Film Library this week. Popular on Variety The movie centers on [...]

  • Wet Season

    'Wet Season' Star Yeo Yann Yann on the Need for Quality Chinese-Language Films

    Malaysia’s Yeo Yann Yann wiped away tears that weren’t purely of joyous triumph just minutes after receiving the 2019 Golden Horse Award for best actress in Singaporean director Anthony Chen’s “Wet Season.” The film plays in the New Chinese Cinema section of this week’s International Film Festival & Awards (IFFAM). Emotion welled up as she [...]

  • Wolf Totem

    Juben Productions Stretches From Peter Chan to Chinese Zombies

    Beijing Juben Productions has taken over rights to the popular “Wolf Totem” novel from China Film Group and is working on a sequel to be delivered in 2021 or Chinese New Year 2022. It also has a zombie film up its sleeve, as well as a British co-production about Shakespeare and a Chinese drama with [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content