Romeo and Juliet (1968 film)

Romeo and Juliet

theatrical release poster
Directed by Franco Zeffirelli
Produced by John Brabourne
Anthony Havelock-Allan
Screenplay by Franco Brusati
Masolino D'Amico
Franco Zeffirelli
Based on Romeo and Juliet (play) by
William Shakespeare
Narrated by Laurence Olivier
Music by Nino Rota
Cinematography Pasqualino De Santis
Edited by Reginald Mills
BHE Films
Verona Produzione
Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
8 October 1968 (1968-10-08TUS)
Running time
138 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $850,000[1]
Box office $38.9 million[2]

Romeo and Juliet is a 1968 British-Italian romance film based on the tragic play of the same name (1591–1595) by William Shakespeare.

The film was directed and co-written by Franco Zeffirelli, and stars Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography (Pasqualino De Santis) and Best Costume Design (Danilo Donati); it was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture, making it the last Shakespearean film to be nominated for Best Picture to date. Sir Laurence Olivier spoke the film's prologue and epilogue and reportedly dubbed the voice of the Italian actor playing Lord Montague, but was not credited in the film.

Being the most financially successful film adaptation of a Shakespeare play at the time of its release, it was popular among teenagers partly because it was the first film to use actors who were close to the age of the characters from the original play. Several critics also welcomed the film enthusiastically.[3][4]


In Verona, Italy, the longstanding feud between the Montague and the Capulet clans breaks out in a street brawl, broken up by the Prince of the city. The same night, two teenagers of the two families — Romeo (Montague ("Montecchi" in Italian) ) and Juliet (Capulet ("Capuleti" in Italian) ) — meet at a Capulet masked ball and become deeply infatuated. Later, Romeo stumbles into the secluded garden under Juliet's bedroom balcony and the two exchange impassioned pledges. They are soon secretly married by Romeo's confessor and father figure, Friar Laurence, with the assistance of Juliet's nursemaid. Unfortunately, another street duel breaks out between Juliet's first cousin Tybalt and Romeo's best friend Mercutio when Tybalt insults Romeo. Since Tybalt is Juliet's cousin and Romeo has just been married to Juliet, he sees Tybalt as family and refuses to fight him, leading Mercutio to be a loyal friend and fight for him. This leads to Mercutio's death. Romeo retaliates by fighting Tybalt and killing him, and is punished by the Prince with banishment instead of the death penalty. Romeo, however, sees his banishment as worse than death, as Verona is the only home he has known and does not want to be pulled away from Juliet. Friar Laurence eventually convinces Romeo that he is very lucky and should be thankful for what he has. Romeo and Juliet secretly spend their wedding night together and consummate their marriage.

Unaware of Juliet's secret marriage, her father has arranged for her to marry wealthy Count Paris. In order to escape this arranged marriage and remain faithful to Romeo, Juliet consumes a potion prepared by Friar Laurence intended to make her appear dead for forty-two hours. Friar Laurence plans to inform Romeo of the hoax so that Romeo can meet Juliet after her burial and escape with her when she recovers from her swoon, so he sends another Friar, John, to give Romeo a letter describing the plan. However, when Romeo's servant, Balthasar, sees Juliet being buried, under the impression that she is dead, he goes to tell Romeo and reaches him before Friar John. In despair, Romeo goes to Juliet's tomb and kills himself by drinking poison. Awakening shortly after he expires, Juliet discovers a dead Romeo and proceeds to stab herself with his dagger, piercing her abdomen. Later, the two families attend their joint funeral and agree to end the feud.




Although it is often rumored that Franco Zeffirelli considered Paul McCartney of The Beatles for the role of Romeo, he does not mention it in his autobiography, and as McCartney was 25 at the time, it is unlikely to be true, especially since the director engaged in a worldwide search for unknown teenage actors to play the parts of the two lovers. Leonard Whiting was 17 at the time, and Olivia Hussey was 15, and Zeffirelli adapted the play in such a way as to play to their strengths and hide their weaknesses: for instance, long speeches were trimmed, and he emphasized reaction shots.[5]

Laurence Olivier's involvement in the production was by happenstance. He was in Rome to film The Shoes of the Fisherman and visited the studio where Romeo and Juliet was being shot. He asked Zeffirelli if there was anything he could do, and was given the Prologue to read, then ended up dubbing the voice of Lord Montague as well as other assorted roles.[5]

Filming locations

Set in a 14th-century Renaissance Italy in varying locations:[6]


The film earned $14.5 million in domestic rentals at the North American box office during 1969.[7] It was re-released in 1973 and earned $1.7 million in rentals.[8]

Film critic Roger Ebert has written: "I believe Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet is the most exciting film of Shakespeare ever made".[9]

According to ratings aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, the film is positively reviewed by 97% of critics.[10]


Two releases of the score of the film, composed by Nino Rota, have been made.[11][12]

"Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet" The film's love theme was widely disseminated, notably in "Our Tune", a segment of BBC disc jockey Simon Bates's radio show. In addition, various versions of the theme have been recorded and released, including a highly successful one by Henry Mancini, whose instrumental rendition was a Number One success in the United States during June 1969.[13]

There are two different sets of English lyrics to the song.



  1. Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p399
  2. "Romeo and Juliet, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  3. Adler, Renata (9 October 1968). "Movie Review - Romeo and Juliet (1968)". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  4. Ebert, Roger (15 October 1968). "Romeo and Juliet". Chicago Sun Times. Archived from the original on 21 December 2007. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  5. 1 2 Landazuri, Margarita "Romeo and Juliet (1968)"
  6. Liner notes (back cover) from Romeo & Juliet: Original Soundtrack Recording, 1968, Capitol Records ST 2993
  7. "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
  8. "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 60
  9. Ebert, Roger (15 October 1968). "Romeo and Juliet". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  10. "Romeo and Juliet (1968)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  11. "Romeo & Juliet: Nino Rota: Music". Retrieved 2012-03-07.
  12. "Nino Rota Romeo & Juliet Soundtrack HDtracks high resolution audiophile music downloads". 1999-12-04. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
  13. Bronson, Fred (1992). Billboard's Book Of #1 Hits (3rd ed.). New York, New York: Billboard Publications, Inc. p. 255. ISBN 0-8230-8298-9.
  14. The storyline spans chapters 74 through 77 of the manga and episode 39 of the anime titled Kissing Is Such Sweet Sorrow! The Taking of Akane's Lips.

Further reading

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