Oscars: The Landscape of the Best Adapted Screenplay Category Since 2000
By: Carson Blackwelder
This year’s contenders for best adapted screenplay are quite the eclectic group based on their sources — something that can never be said for those competing for best original screenplay. When looking at this category’s past since the year 2000, can history dictate which type of adapted screenplays the Academy might be leaning toward at the 2017 Oscars?
This site’s namesake, The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg, honed in on nine films considered either frontrunners (the first five) or major threats (the last four) in his latest check-in on the Oscar race: Moonlight, Lion, Fences, Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Nocturnal Animals, Sully, Silence, and Loving. The original sources for these films are as varied as the subject matter in the works they inspired, so let’s break them down.
As for frontrunners: Moonlight, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, is adapted from the 2003 play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Lion, directed by Garth Davis and written by Luke Davies, is based on the 2014 autobiography A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose. Fences, directed by Denzel Washington, is based on the 1983 Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name by August Wilson. Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer, is based on the 1998 short story “Story of Your Life” (from the 2002 book Stories of Your Life and Others) by Ted Chiang. Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson and written by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan, is based on the 2004 documentary The Conscientious Objector directed by Terry Benedict who co-wrote with Jeff Wood.
Major threats, on the other hand: Nocturnal Animals, written and directed by Tom Ford, is based on the 1993 novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright. Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Todd Komarnicki, is based on the 2009 autobiography Highest Duty by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow. Silence, directed by Martin Scorsese who co-wrote with Jay Cocks, is based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō. Loving, written and directed by Jeff Nichols, is based on the 2011 documentary The Loving Story directed by Nancy Buirski who co-wrote with Susie Ruth Powell.
When looking at the overall nominees since the year 2000 there have been 32 films based on novels, 21 films based on books, five films based on plays, four films based on films, three films based on short stories, three films based on short films, two films based on graphic novels, two films based on memoirs, two films based on TV shows, one film based on an epic poem, one film based on a picture book, one film based on a musical, one film based on a comic book, one film based on an autobiography, one two films based on a teleplay, and one film based on an article.
As far as winners post-2000 go there has been one teleplay (2000’s Traffic), six books (2001’s A Beautiful Mind, 2002’s The Pianist, 2010’s The Social Network, 2012’s Argo, 2014’s The Imitation Game, and 2015’s The Big Short), six novels (2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2004’s Sideways, 2007’s No Country for Old Men, 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, 2009’s Precious, and 2011’s The Descendants), one short story (2005’s Brokeback Mountain), one film (2006’s The Departed), one article (2012’s Argo), and one memoir (2013’s 12 Years a Slave).
It seems as though novels and books are the go-to choice for nominations and wins in the best adapted screenplay category. If that’s the case then Lion, Nocturnal Animals, and Silence should be leading the pack. The rest of the types of original sources seem to be spread too thinly across the years since 2000 to really make a judgment call for any of the others, though.
As for how Feinberg sees it, Moonlight is leading the pack — which is a new development after it was deemed to be a competitor in the best adapted screenplay category rather than the best original screenplay category by the Academy. Either way, we’ll find out how the nominations shape up on January 24 and see which film takes home the trophy on February 26.