Which source material is the most likely to bring an Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination?

A screenplay could be adapted from many different forms of existing works — everything from a novel or a memoir to a newspaper article. The academy’s ruling also means that remakes/sequels/prequels etc, which all may feature made-up characters and stories, are classed as adapted, too as they are taken from their original films.

Let’s take a look back at the last five ceremonies and examine the source material of the 25 Adapted Screenplay nominees – which type of source material do the Academy prefer? And what does it mean for this year’s potential Adapted Screenplay nominees? Here’s the list of nominees and winners in the category in the last five ceremonies:

Winner: “Call Me By Your Name” – Novel
“The Disaster Artist” – Non-fiction book
“Logan” – Comic-book/graphic novel
“Molly’s Game” – Memoir
“Mudbound” – Novel

Winner: “Moonlight” – Play
“Arrival” – Short story
“Fences” – Play
“Hidden Figures” – Non-fiction book
“Lion” – Memoir

Winner: “The Big Short” – Non-fiction book
“Brooklyn” – Novel
“Carol” – Novel
“The Martian” – Novel
“Room” – Novel

Winner: “The Imitation Game” – Non-fiction book
“American Sniper” – Memoir
“Inherent Vice” – Novel
“The Theory of Everything” – Memoir
“Whiplash” – Short film

Winner: “12 Years a Slave” – Memoir
“Before Midnight” – Existing films
“Captain Phillips” – Memoir
“Philomena” – Non-fiction book
“The Wolf of Wall Street” – Memoir

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Of the last 25 Adapted Screenplay nominees, seven of the scripts were adapted from a novel, seven  from a memoir, five from a non-fiction book, and two from a play. The final three nominated scripts were adapted from a comic-book (“Logan” 2018), a short film (“Whiplash” 2015), and existing films (“Before Midnight” 2014, adapted from “Before Sunrise,” 1996, and “Before Sunset,” 2005).

So adapting a novel or a memoir is the way to go if you fancy an Oscar nomination, while adapting a non-fiction book isn’t a bad way to go, either. Two of the last five Adapted Screenplay winners have been adapted from non-fiction books – “The Imitation Game” (2015) and “The Big Short” (2016) And in each of the last five years, there has been a script adapted from a non-fiction book nominated – no other source material is as consistent.

Over the last 10 ceremonies, scripts adapted from a non-fiction book have won four times (the other two being “Argo,” 2013, and “The Social Network,” 2011). Scripts based on a novel have also won four times – “Slumdog Millionaire,” 2009, “Precious,” 2010, “The Descendants,” 2011, and last year’s “Call Me By Your Name.” The other two winning scripts were adapted from a play (2017’s “Moonlight”) and a memoir (“12 Years a Slave,” 2014). One of the four winning scripts adapted from a non-fiction book was also inspired by a newspaper article, too. That was “Argo.”

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So scripts based on novels are the way to go, primarily – with seven nominations in the last five years and four wins in the last 10 years. But, again, memoirs and non-fiction books aren’t bad routes to take, either. But what does that mean in regards to this year’s hopefuls? Drawing on our predictions, here’s a 10-strong list of potential nominees and which category they fall under:

BlacKkKlansman” (Memoir)
If Beale Street Could Talk” (Novel)
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (Memoir)
A Star is Born” (Existing films)
Black Panther” (Comic-book/graphic novel)
“First Man” (Non-fiction book)
“Leave No Trace” (Novel)
“The Death of Stalin” (Comic-book/graphic novel)
“Beautiful Boy” (Memoir)
“Crazy Rich Asians” (Novel)

Firstly, “A Star is Born” is in trouble. Written by Bradley Cooper, Eric Roth, and Will Fetters, it’s adapted from the previous three films of the same name: the 1937, 1954, and 1976 versions. If it were nominated, it would be only the second of its kind to contend in the last six years.

But it is good news for “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of the James Baldwin’s novel of the same name. Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” the favourite, is adapted from a memoir. So the academy’s voting record suggests either could win.

“Black Panther” takes a hit here, though – written by director Ryan Coogler with Joe Robert Cole, it would be only the second script adapted from a comic book ever nominated for an Oscar.

“First Man,” adapted from a non-fiction book by Josh Singer, may be a smarter bet. BAFTA already did this, they nominated Singer’s script and snubbed Coogler and Cole’s comic-book adaptation. 

“The Death of Stalin,” adapted from a French graphic novel, is unlikely to turn an outside chance of nomination into a result. Adaptations of the novels “Leave No Trace” and “Crazy Rich Asians” as well as “Beautiful Boy” (adapted from not one but two memoirs!), are better bets.

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