The Color Purple
1986 Academy Awards
Nominated: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress (2), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Original Song, Best Score
Steven Spielberg’s adaptation is the rare case where the movie hardly resembles the book, yet it still finds some nugget to translate and win audiences over. According to the New York Times, Spielberg transforms the “realism and grit” of Alice Walker’s novel into a more upbeat tale that emphasizes the importance of family loyalty in even the most dire of circumstances, as Celie is separated from her sister, endures an abusive marriage, and falls in love with another woman.
If Beale Street Could Talk (Movie Tie-In)
2019 Academy Awards
Won: Best Supporting Actress
Nominated: Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay
The English Patient
1997 Academy Awards
Won: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing
Nominated: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress
In other hands, Michael Ondaatje’s novel might not have translated well to the big screen—set at a bombed Italian monastery during World War II, it examines the interconnected lives of a French-Canadian nurse, a burned man who speaks English but doesn’t know his name, a Sikh bomb defuser, and a Canadian Intelligence Corps operative. But director and screenwriter Anthony Minghella produces a fine adaptation, in which the group’s attempts to jog the English patient’s memory reveals a story of love, revenge, and misunderstanding that resonates with all of them.
In the Heat of the Night
1968 Academy Awards
Won: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Writing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound, Best Film Editing
Nominated: Best Director, Best Sound Effects
The Return of the King
2004 Academy Awards
Won: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup, Best Score, Best Original Song, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects
While the first two movies in Peter Jackson’s ambitious adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy seemed destined to be recognized more for the visual effects than the “Big Five” Academy Awards, The Return of the King made for the perfect closure to the kind of cinematic adventure that was as thrilling off-screen as on-. Like Gandalf swooping in on eagles to save the day, the final installment swept all 11 awards for which it was nominated.
12 Years a Slave (Movie Tie-In)
2014 Academy Awards
Won: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Costume Design, Directing, Film Editing, Production Design
No Country for Old Men
2008 Academy Awards
Won: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor
Nominated: Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing
While Joel and Ethan Coen’s movies are known for their distinct style, when the brothers decided to try for an adaptation, they said, “Why not start with Cormac? Why not start with the best?” Furthermore, they elected not to change much of the novel, aside from removing a few subplots and broadening Sheriff Bell’s perspective to instead look through the eyes of the many people who encounter the utterly terrifying Anton Chigurh.
2014 Academy Awards
Nominated: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress
While Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern received Oscar nods for their performances in the adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s moving memoir, her words survived the jump to the silver screen as well: the New York Times praised screenwriter Nick Hornby for “how fully [the film] respects Ms. Strayed’s free-associative, memory-driven narrative.” The studio could have made more commercial choices, but its commitment to presenting her story—which captivated readers on its own—gained the film respect, in turn.
1981 Academy Awards
Won: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor
The Danish Girl
2016 Academy Awards
Won: Best Supporting Actress
Nominated: Best Actor, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design
With his 2000 novel, David Ebershoff presented a very fictionalized account of Lili Elbe, one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery. As he followed his own imaginings in fabricating characters, especially Lili’s wife, Greta (named Gerda in real life), it should come as no surprise that the film adaptation took similar liberties. Some of these run counter to the book, including more of an emphasis on Lili and Gerda’s relationship, and a different ending.
Louisa May Alcott
2020 Academy Awards
Won: Best Costume Design
Nominated: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score
1973 Academy Awards
Won: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated: Best Supporting Actor (3), Best Director, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score
Since its inception, the Academy Awards has honored movie adaptations with Best Adapted Screenplay, highlighting the filmmakers who take a short story, novel, or play and translate it to the silver screen. While there are countless adaptations that have been nominated or won in the last 91 years, we’ve picked 12 of our favorites. Revisit these remarkable stories (or experience them for the first time!) through the source material and their cinematic adaptations.
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