Romeo and Juliet (1968 film)

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Romeo and Juliet
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFranco Zeffirelli
Screenplay byFranco Brusati
Masolino D'Amico
Franco Zeffirelli
Based onRomeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare
Produced byJohn Brabourne
Anthony Havelock-Allan
Narrated byLaurence Olivier
CinematographyPasqualino De Santis
Edited byReginald Mills
Music byNino Rota
BHE Films
Verona Produzione
Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
Running time
138 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
Box office$38.9 million[2]

Romeo and Juliet (Italian: Romeo e Giulietta) is a 1968 period-drama film based on the play of the same name by William Shakespeare. Directed and co-written by Franco Zeffirelli, the film stars Leonard Whiting as Romeo and Olivia Hussey as Juliet. Laurence Olivier spoke the film's prologue and epilogue and dubs the voice of Antonio Pierfederici, who played Lord Montague but was not credited on-screen. The film also stars Milo O'Shea, Michael York, John McEnery, Bruce Robinson, and Robert Stephens.

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] 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 date to be nominated for the latter category. Whiting and Hussey both won Golden Globe Awards for Most Promising Newcomers.


One summer morning in Verona, a longstanding feud between the Montague and the Capulet clans breaks out in a street brawl. The brawl is broken up by the Prince, who warns both families that any future violence between them will result in harsh consequences. That night, two teenagers of the two families—Romeo and Juliet—meet at a Capulet masked ball and fall in love. Later, Romeo stumbles into the secluded garden under Juliet's bedroom balcony and the two exchange impassioned pledges. They are secretly married the next day by Romeo's confessor and father figure, Friar Laurence, with the assistance of Juliet's nurse.

That afternoon, Juliet's cousin Tybalt, furious that Romeo had attended his family's ball, insults him and challenges him to a brawl. Romeo now regards Tybalt as family and he refuses to fight him, which leads Romeo's best friend, Mercutio, to fight Tybalt instead. Despite Romeo's efforts to stop the fight, Tybalt mortally wounds Mercutio, who curses both the Montague and Capulet houses before dying. Enraged over his friend's death, Romeo retaliates by fighting Tybalt and killing him. Romeo is subsequently punished by the Prince with banishment from Verona, with the threat of death if he ever returns. Romeo then secretly spends his wedding night with Juliet, the couple consummate their marriage, and Romeo flees.

Juliet's parents, unaware of their daughter's secret marriage, have arranged for Juliet to marry wealthy Count Paris. Juliet pleads with her parents to postpone the marriage, but they refuse and threaten to disown her. Juliet seeks out Friar Laurence for help, hoping to escape her arranged marriage to Paris and remain faithful to Romeo. At Friar Laurence's behest, she reconciles with her parents and agrees to their wishes. On the night before the wedding, Juliet consumes a potion prepared by Friar Laurence intended to make her appear dead for 42 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 Friar John to give Romeo a letter describing the plan.

However, when Balthasar, Romeo's servant, 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. Soon afterwards, Friar Laurence arrives as Juliet awakens. Despite his attempts to persuade her to flee from the crypt, Juliet refuses to leave Romeo, and once the Friar flees, she kills herself by plunging his dagger into her chest. Later, the two families, having ended their feud, attend their joint funeral and are condemned by the Prince.



Franco Zeffirelli and Olivia Hussey while filming Romeo and Juliet in 1967


Paul McCartney has said he was considered by Franco Zeffirelli for the role of Romeo. Although Zeffirelli does not mention it in his autobiography, McCartney provided details on this account (including meeting with Olivia Hussey and exchanging telegrams with her) in his co-written autobiography.[5] In April 2020, McCartney referred to his discussions with Zeffirelli on The Howard Stern Show.

Zeffirelli engaged in a worldwide search for unknown teenage actors to play the parts of the two lovers. Anjelica Huston was in the running for Juliet, but her father, the director John Huston, withdrew her from consideration when he decided to cast her in his film A Walk with Love and Death.[6] Leonard Whiting was 16 and Hussey was 15 during casting, but were 17 and 16 when filming began in the summer of 1967.[7] 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.[8]

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 minor roles.[8]


After cast readings in late May, rehearsals and filming began at the end of June 1967 in Tuscania, Italy, then moved to Pienza, Gubbio, and Artena, before completing at Cinecittà movie studios in Rome.[9][10] The famous Romeo and Juliet balcony scene was filmed in Artena in September 1967.[11]

The film is set in 14th century Renaissance Italy.[12]


During post-production, several scenes were trimmed or cut. Act 5, Scene 3, in which Romeo fights and eventually kills Paris outside Juliet's crypt, was filmed but deleted from the final print.[13] According to Leonard Whiting and Roberto Bisacco, Zeffirelli cut the scene because he felt it unnecessarily made Romeo less sympathetic.[14] Another scene, where Romeo and Benvolio learn about the Capulet ball by intercepting an invitation, was filmed but cut; however, promotional stills still survive.[citation needed]

Because the film was shot MOS (without sound), all dialogue and Foley effects had to be looped during editing. A separate dub was created for the Italian release, with Giancarlo Giannini dubbing Whiting and Anna Maria Guarnieri dubbing Hussey, and Vittorio Gassman as narrator.[citation needed]

The final budgeted cost for the film was US$850,000 (equivalent to US$5.13 million in 2021).[1]

Release and reception[edit]

On March 4, 1968, Romeo and Juliet premiered during the Royal Film Performance, and was widely released in the United Kingdom the next day. It was released on 8 October 1968 in the United States and on 19 October in Italy. The film earned $14.5 million in North American box-office rentals during 1969 (equivalent to $83.4 million in 2021).[15][16] It was re-released in 1973 and earned US$1.7 million in rentals (equivalent to $8.03 million in 2021).[17][16]

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a "Fresh" score of 95% based on 41 reviews, with an average rating of 8/10, accompanied by a positive consensus: "The solid leads and arresting visuals make a case for Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet as the definitive cinematic adaptation of the play."[18]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote: "I believe Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet is the most exciting film of Shakespeare ever made."[19]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Picture John Brabourne and Anthony Havelock-Allan Nominated
Best Director Franco Zeffirelli Nominated
Best Cinematography Pasqualino De Santis Won
Best Costume Design Danilo Donati Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Direction Franco Zeffirelli Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role John McEnery Nominated
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Pat Heywood Nominated
Best Art Direction Renzo Mongiardino Nominated
Best Costume Design Danilo Donati Won
Best Film Editing Reginald Mills Nominated
Best Film Music Nino Rota Nominated
David di Donatello Awards Best Director Franco Zeffirelli Won
Golden Plate Award Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting Won
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Franco Zeffirelli Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best English-Language Foreign Film Romeo and Juliet Won
Best Director – Motion Picture Franco Zeffirelli Nominated
Best Original Score – Motion Picture Nino Rota Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer – Male Leonard Whiting Won
Most Promising Newcomer – Female Olivia Hussey Won
Laurel Awards Top Drama Romeo and Juliet Nominated
Top Cinematographer Pasqualino De Santis Nominated
Top Male New Face Michael York Nominated
Top Female New Face Olivia Hussey Nominated
Nastro d'Argento Best Director Franco Zeffirelli Won
Best Cinematography – Color Pasqualino De Santis Won
Best Costume Design Danilo Donati Won
Best Score Nino Rota Won
Best Production Design Lorenzo Mongiardino Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films Romeo and Juliet Won
Best Director Franco Zeffirelli Won
Thessaloniki International Film Festival Honorary Award Won


Two releases of the score of the film, composed by Nino Rota, have been made.[20][21]

The film's "Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet" was widely disseminated, notably in "Our Tune", a segment of 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 success in the United States during June 1969.[22]

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

  • The film's version is called "What Is a Youth?", featuring lyrics by Eugene Walter, and sung by Glen Weston. This version has been released on the complete score/soundtrack release.
  • An alternate version, called "A Time for Us", features lyrics by Larry Kusik and Eddie Snyder. This version has been recorded by Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams and Shirley Bassey for her 1968 album This Is My Life. Josh Groban performed "Un Giorno Per Noi", an Italian version of "A Time for Us". Jonathan Antoine, a classically trained tenor from Great Britain, performed "Un Giorno Per Noi" as one of the tracks on his album "Believe", released in August 2016.

A third version called "Ai Giochi Addio", featuring lyrics by Elsa Morante and sung in the Italian version by Bruno Filippini, who plays the minstrel in the film, has been performed by opera singers such as Luciano Pavarotti and Natasha Marsh.


Despite her previous defense of the film's nudity, asserting that it was done "tastefully" and was "needed for the film",[23] Hussey, along with Whiting, filed a lawsuit on 3 January 2023 in the Los Angeles County Superior Court against Paramount Pictures for US$500 million, alleging sexual abuse, sexual harassment and fraud, and for allowing Zeffirelli to film them in the nude without their knowledge.[24] The suit alleges that the actors feel this caused them to suffer through emotional damage and mental anguish for decades after the film's success, and left them with careers that failed to reflect that success.[25][26][27] Zeffirelli's son responded to the lawsuit critically, calling it "embarrassing" that Hussey and Whiting filed the suit "55 years after filming" and that they owe their entire careers to the success of the film.[28][29]

The lawsuit was later dismissed on 25 May 2023, by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alison Mackenzie, who stated that the case did not meet the requirements for suspending the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. Mackenzie also criticized the plaintiffs for "cherry picking" which statutes applied to their case.[30] Hussey and Whiting are allegedly planning to appeal the ruling, as well as file a separate lawsuit based on a much more "recent Criterion DVD release of the film which would not be affected by the statute of limitations."[31]


  1. ^ a b 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. ^ Du Noyer, Paul. Conversations with McCartney. New York: The Overlook Press. pg.: 138-139
  6. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: 92Y Plus (19 November 2014). Anjelica Huston with Joy Behar: Watch Me. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  7. ^ "(2) At Zeffirelli's Villa: Rome, May 1967". The Romeo and Juliet 1968 Movie Database. 3 October 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2023.
  8. ^ a b Landazuri, Margarita "Romeo and Juliet (1968)"
  9. ^ "(2) At Zeffirelli's Villa: Rome, May 1967". The Romeo and Juliet 1968 Movie Database. 3 October 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2023.
  10. ^ "Cinecittà – Introduction". The Romeo and Juliet 1968 Movie Database. 4 October 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2023.
  11. ^ "Artena". The Romeo and Juliet 1968 Movie Database. 13 November 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2023.
  12. ^ Liner notes (back cover) from Romeo & Juliet: Original Soundtrack Recording, 1968, Capitol Records ST 2993
  13. ^ Jackson, Russell (2007). Shakespeare Films in the Making: Vision, Production and Reception. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-0521815475.
  14. ^ Loney, Glenn (1990). Staging Shakespeare – Seminars on Production Problems. New York City: Garland Press. ISBN 978-0824066130.
  15. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
  16. ^ a b Johnston, Louis; Williamson, Samuel H. (2023). "What Was the U.S. GDP Then?". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 1 January 2023. United States Gross Domestic Product deflator figures follow the Measuring Worth series.
  17. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 60
  18. ^ "Romeo and Juliet (1968)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 28 February 2023.
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger (15 October 1968). "Romeo and Juliet". The Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 17 January 2014 – via
  20. ^ "Romeo & Juliet: Nino Rota: Music". Amazon. 1990. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  21. ^ "Nino Rota Romeo & Juliet Soundtrack HDtracks high resolution audiophile music downloads". 4 December 1999. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  22. ^ Bronson, Fred (1992). Billboard's Book Of #1 Hits (3rd ed.). New York, New York: Billboard Publications, Inc. pp. 255. ISBN 0-8230-8298-9.
  23. ^ Maddaus, Gene (3 January 2023). "'Romeo and Juliet' Stars Sue Paramount for Child Abuse Over Nude Scene in 1968 Film". Variety. Retrieved 23 January 2023.
  24. ^ "Romeo And Juliet Lawsuit: Judge Rules Nude Scene Not Classified As Child Pornography". Kalpana Chawla Government Medical College. 27 May 2023.
  25. ^ "Archive footage of the filming in Tuscania". The Romeo and Juliet 1968 Movie Database. 9 October 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2023.
  26. ^ Dalton, Andrew (3 January 2023). "'Romeo & Juliet' stars sue over 1968 film's teen nude scene". AP News. Archived from the original on 4 January 2023.
  27. ^ Patten, Dominic (3 January 2023). "Paramount Hit With $100M Sexual Abuse Suit By Stars Of 1968's 'Romeo & Juliet' Movie". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 4 January 2023.
  28. ^ "Romeo and Juliet Director's Son Slams Actors' Sexual Abuse Lawsuit". Screen Rant. 8 January 2023.
  29. ^ Giuffrida, Angela (6 January 2023). "Franco Zeffirelli's son criticises Romeo and Juliet actors for nudity lawsuit". The Guardian.
  30. ^ "Actors lose Romeo & Juliet nude scene lawsuit". BBC News. 26 May 2023. Archived from the original on 26 May 2023. Retrieved 2 June 2023.
  31. ^ Benjamin Lee (25 May 2023). "Romeo and Juliet movie child abuse lawsuit to be thrown out by judge". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 June 2023.

Further reading

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