Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Oscar Nominations: Lots of Adaptations

On Monday morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the Oscar nominations. Interestingly, of the nine best picture nominees, six are based on books.  

The Descendants (based on the novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings) 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer) 

The Help (based on the novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett) 

Moneyball (based on the non-fiction work of the same name by Michael Lewis) 

War Horse (based on the young adult novel of the same name by Michael Morpurgo) 

Hugo (based on the novel-picture book hybrid, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick) 

Additionally, another nominated film, Midnight in Paris, has a very “literary” theme, with appearances by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, as well as Ernest Hemingway. Also, I bet there is a good argument that the mostly silent film, The Artist, has more in common with literature than many other films. (The ninth nominee, The Tree of Life, sounds like a great story, but I am not going to stretch to make an argument that it easily fits a “literary” trend.) 

By my count, in at least 10 of the last 20 years, the winner of the Oscar for Best Picture has been based on a previously published work. In most cases these works were novels -- including Forrest Gump, The English Patient and No Country for Old Men -- but A Beautiful Mind was based on the biography of the same name and Million Dollar Baby was based, in part, on a collection of short stories.

Why do a full 50 percent of best-picture-winning films in recent years begin as books and written stories? It is certainly not because there is a lack of originality amongst screenwriters. Every year there are excellent films honored in the best original screenplay category. (There is, of course, a separate category for best adapted screenplay.) Given that film is a truly different medium than literature and writing, wouldn’t you expect stories written for the screen to be over represented among best picture winners? After all, there are stories that can be told on the screen. On the flip side, a good story is a good story, no matter how it is told. Is that the answer? 

What do you think? Why do adapted stories do so well? Try not to weigh in the bigger issue of adaptations, such as how much a movie adaptation might diverge from the original source. That’s a topic for another time. I’ll cover it.  


  1. Maybe because a lot of the really good creative generation of characters and stories is done by novelists -- and less so by original screenwriters? Which, in turn, might be due to some kind of greater artistic control that you have when you're writing a novel, in the sense that the product doesn't depend on the performances of actors, directors, designers, etc. etc.
    So maybe this more solitary practice attracts a different type of creator.
    Or perhaps people somehow invest more thought and heart in that aspect of their creations when they are going it alone.

    Also: Article in the New Yorker a few weeks ago about novelists writing for television. Must be related. I smell another post?

    1. Or not. I honestly don't really know :)