Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars mystery solved: What type of source material wins the most?

There are many different types of existing works from which a film’s screenplay can be adapted, and Oscar voters have honored scripts built from just about every source material imaginable. Voters typically reveal their preferences by consistently choosing scripts based on certain source materials over others. Examining the most recent Best Adapted Screenplay lineups is the most effective way of predicting the next one. Here is a list of the category’s nominees and winners, as well as their sources of origin, from the last five years:

Winner: “The Father” – Play
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” – Existing film
“Nomadland” – Nonfiction book
“One Night in Miami” – Play
“The White Tiger” – Novel

Winner: “Jojo Rabbit” – Novel
“The Irishman” – Nonfiction book
“Joker” – Comic books
“Little Women” – Novel
“The Two Popes” – Play

Winner: “BlacKkKlansman” – Memoir
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” – Short stories
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” – Memoir
“If Beale Street Could Talk” – Novel
“A Star Is Born” – Existing films

Winner: “Call Me By Your Name” – Novel
“The Disaster Artist” – Nonfiction book
“Logan” – Comic books
“Molly’s Game” – Memoir
“Mudbound” – Novel

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

Six of these last 25 scripts were adapted from novels, five from plays, four from nonfiction books, four from memoirs, two from comic books, and two from short stories. “Borat” follow-up “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is the only sequel in the bunch, while “A Star Is Born” is the only remake, having been adapted from three previous versions that were released in 1937, 1954, and 1976.

Adapting from a book of any kind is clearly advantageous, with works of fiction having developed a slight edge over the last half-decade in terms of simply making the roster. When it comes to winning the award, fiction also comes out on top, accounting for two of the last five victories compared to one on the nonfiction side.

Over the last 10 ceremonies, scripts derived from nonfiction books won three times (the other two being “The Imitation Game,” 2015 and “Argo,” 2013) while screenplays based on memoirs won twice (the first being “12 Years a Slave,” 2014). Those based on novels won three times (starting with “The Descendants,” 2011). Last year’s slate of nominees indicated an increased interest in play-based scripts, as “The Father” and “One Night in Miami” brought that source material’s decade nomination and win totals to seven and two (the first being “Moonlight,” 2017).

The academy has clearly indicated over the past 10 years that adapting from a book is the best way to go, and that a script crafted from a nonfiction one is slightly more likely to win their favor. What does that mean for this year’s hopefuls? Drawing on our predictions, here is a 10-strong list of potential nominees and their source material categories, followed by an analysis:

“The Power of the Dog” (Novel)
“The Lost Daughter” (Novel)
“CODA” (Existing film)
“West Side Story” (Play)
“Dune” (Novel)
“Drive My Car” (Short story)
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Play)
“Nightmare Alley” (Novel)
“Passing” (Novel)
“tick, tick… BOOM!” (Play)

The nonfiction subset happens to be severely underrepresented this time. By our odds, the best-positioned films with scripts derived from fact-based books are “House of Gucci” in 13th place and “The Tender Bar” in 18th. This aligns with the recent trend of increasing unfavorability toward this type of source material, as last year’s long-presumed frontrunner, “Nomadland” (based on the nonfiction book by Jessica Bruder) was ultimately defeated by “The Father.”

By taking up five spots in our top 10 including the highest two, scripts based on novels now seem poised to make a comeback after none ranked higher than fifth place last time. “The Lost Daughter” was adapted by Maggie Gyllenhaal from the 2008 Elena Ferrante book of the same name, while the other four contenders in this group are all based on works that were published over half a century ago. Of this quartet of books, the oldest is Nella Larsen’s “Passing” (1929, adapted by Rebecca Hall), followed chronologically by William Lindsay Gresham’s “Nightmare Alley” (1946, adapted by Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan), Frank Herbert’s “Dune” (1965, adapted by Eric Roth, Jon Spaihts, and Denis Villeneuve), and Thomas Savage’s “The Power of the Dog” (1967, adapted by Jane Campion).

Having originated in Haruki Murakami’s “Men Without Women,” “Drive My Car” would be the 16th nominee in this category to have been based on one or more short stories. The only two victories of this kind were pulled off by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (“All About Eve,” 1951) and Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana (“Brokeback Mountain,” 2006). The Japanese film, written by Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe, would also be one of the category’s very few non-English language nominees, the last of which was the French feature “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” in 2008.

“CODA” would be the 14th nominee to be adapted from a form of existing audiovisual media. Written and directed by Sian Heder, it is an American remake of the 2014 French film “The Bélier Family.” This source material category has also produced just two winners: “Sling Blade” (1997), which was based on a short film, and “The Departed” (2007), which was adapted from a Chinese feature film.

Since last year’s roster was the first in a dozen years to include multiple stage-to-screen adaptations, the odds are looking good for several new ones. “West Side Story,” adapted by Tony Kushner from the classic Broadway musical, has the best shot at making the final list. A previous version conquered 10 categories in 1962, including Best Picture, but lost here to “Judgment at Nuremberg.” Tony winner Steven Levenson (“Dear Evan Hansen”) could earn his first Oscar bid for penning the film version of Jonathan Larson’s musical “tick, tick… BOOM!,” while Joel Coen is looking to score his fifth for adapting William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”

Roth and Coen have both triumphed here before, with the former having won for “Forrest Gump” (1995) and the latter for “No Country for Old Men” (2008). The only other previous writing champ with a script in our current top 10 is Campion, who took home the Best Original Screenplay prize for “The Piano” (1994).

Make your predictions at Gold Derby now. Download our free and easy app for Apple/iPhone devices or Android (Google Play) to compete against legions of other fans plus our experts and editors for best prediction accuracy scores. See our latest prediction champs. Can you top our esteemed leaderboards next? Always remember to keep your predictions updated because they impact our latest racetrack odds, which terrify Hollywood chiefs and stars. Don’t miss the fun. Speak up and share your huffy opinions in our famous forums where 5,000 showbiz leaders lurk every day to track latest awards buzz. Everybody wants to know: What do you think? Who do you predict and why?

More News from GoldDerby