Pop Culture Intervention

7 Oscar Nominees For Best Adapted Screenplay That Weren't Based On Novels

From comic books to epic poems.

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When you hear the word "adaptation," what do you think of? The first thing might be your favorite movie based on a novel. On the other hand, maybe it's a movie that led you to exit the theater and declare, "The book was better!" Either way, it's likely to be a novel adaptation that springs to mind first.


Every year, the Academy Awards honor the year's best film adaptations with the Best Adapted Screenplay category. It usually contains at least one title based on a novel (or, similarly, a play or short story), but that's far from the only source material that qualifies a film for the list. Over the years, movies nominated in this category have been based on plays, nonfiction books, television productions, and even other movies — sequels and remakes, anyone?

Interestingly, last year was the first Oscars since 2013 in which none of the nominated screenplays was based on a novel — instead, they were inspired by two plays, two nonfiction books, and one short story. This year, two novel-based films have been nominated (Call Me By Your Name and Mudbound), but there's another notable inclusion.

Logan (written by Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green), which features Hugh Jackman reprising his role as Wolverine from The X-Men, is the first film nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category to have been based on superhero comics. And it's certainly not the first nominee to come from an unconventional source. Check out seven more examples below. 

1. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

The Coen brothers' 2001 comedy, set in Depression-era Mississippi and starring George Clooney, has perhaps the most unique source material in Adapted Screenplay history. It was based on The Odyssey, the epic poem by Homer that you may have read in school.

However, you might be even more surprised to learn that Joel and Ethan Coen reportedly never even read The Odyssey, and referenced the comic book version in creating the story. Joel Coen also revealed in 2015 that they were originally "thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.' "

2. "Argo"

While novels may be the most expected source material for Oscar-nominated films, there have been plenty based on historical or biographical nonfiction books. However, not many have been based on articles. Argo, Ben Affleck's 2012 drama recounting the rescue of six American diplomats from Iran under the guise of filming a movie, is one example.

Screenwriter Chris Terrio partly based the Oscar-winning script on the book Master of Disguise, written by Antonio J. Mendez, the CIA operative played by Affleck in the film. The other source was a 2007 Wired article on the events by Joshua Bearman, which you can read right now on the magazine's website. 

3. "12 Angry Men"

Did you know that Sidney Lumet's classic courtroom drama starring Henry Fonda was originally written for the small screen? Screenwriter Reginald Rose adapted his own teleplay from a live, 60-minute episode of the CBS anthology series Studio One in 1954.

The television version earned three Emmy nominations, including one for Rose, who also adapted it into a stage play in 1955. Despite these two previous formats, it's the 1957 film that has become most well-known. Although it didn't win any Oscars, in 2007 (50 years after its original release) the Library of Congress chose the film for preservation in the National Film Registry.

4. "The Departed"

Martin Scorsese's 2006 crime drama took home four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay for writer William Monahan. The film was inspired by the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, although Scorsese has said it is "not a remake."

Infernal Affairs was Hong Kong's submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2004 Academy Awards but ultimately wasn't nominated. It has spawned two of its own sequels, and inspired other remakes out of Korea, Japan, and India, as well as a TV series on Hong Kong TV.

5. "Borat"

The same year The Departed won Best Adapted Screenplay, it was nominated alongside Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, more commonly known as simply Borat. If you thought Borat Sagdiyev's first onscreen appearance was in the titular film, think again. 

He actually originated as a character on the British television comedy series Da Ali G Show, created by Sacha Baron Cohen, who was nominated with Peter Baynham, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer, and Todd Phillips for the film's screenplay. Other movies based on Baron Cohen's characters from the show are 2002's Ali G Indiahouse and 2009's Brüno.

6. "Toy Story 3"

If you're currently wondering where you can find the book Toy Story 3 was based on, remember what we said earlier about sequels. Just like Borat was based on an existing TV character, the third installment in Disney/Pixar's beloved series, released in 2010, features characters previously introduced in Toy Story and Toy Story 2

The film, written by Michael Arndt with story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich, was nominated for four other Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Animated Feature (which it won). A fourth installment, Toy Story 4, is scheduled for 2019. Could it earn another Adapted Screenplay nomination? We'll have to wait and see.

7. "Ghost World"

Logan may be the first nominated screenplay based on a superhero comic, but it's not the first based on a comic in general. Previous examples include 1931's Skippy, based on the comic strip of the same name, and 2001's Ghost World, based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, who penned the screenplay with director Terry Zwigoff.

The film stars Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson as teenagers Enid and Rebecca, with Steve Buscemi playing Seymour, who doesn't appear directly in the book but rather is a composite of other characters. Zwigoff had previous experience with the world of comics, as he directed the acclaimed documentary Crumb, about cartoonist Robert Crumb.

Find out which of this year's adapted screenplays takes home the gold when the 90th Academy Awards air on ABC Sunday, March 4, at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.


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