Oscars 2015 Category Breakdown: Best Adapted Screenplay

Every year before the Oscars I break down each of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with the category, how it works, what its history is, how it usually turns out, and also as a precursor to my picks article, allowing me to get most of the heavy lifting out of the way beforehand.

How these work is — I go over each category’s history, give you all the previous winners and nominees, then list the current year’s nominees. And then I’ll go over how each of the guilds (if there is a corresponding guild) have went, and how that corresponds to the Oscars (some guilds mean a lot to how a category will play out. Others mean nothing). It’s basically everything you need to know in order to make an informed decision when you make your picks on Oscar night. And then I also rank the nominees at the end in terms of where I see them in terms of their likelihood to win.

Today is Best Adapted Screenplay, which is pretty cut and dry, as it tends to be most years.

Year Best Adapted Screenplay Winners Other Nominees
1927-1928 Seventh Heaven Glorious Betsy

The Jazz Singer

1928-1929 The Patriot The Cop

In Old Arizona

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney

The Leatherneck

Our Dancing Daughters

Sal of Singapore


The Valiant

A Woman of Affairs

Wonder of Women

1929-1930 The Big House All Quiet on the Western Front


The Divorcee

Street of Chance

1930-1931 Cimarron The Criminal Code


Little Caesar


1931-1932 Bad Girl Arrowsmith

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

1932-1933 Little Women Lady for a Day

State Fair

1934 It Happened One Night The Thin Man

Viva Villa!

1935 The Informer The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

Mutiny on the Bounty

Captain Blood

1936 The Story of Louis Pasteur After the Thin Man


Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

My Man Godfrey

1937 The Life of Emile Zola The Awful Truth

Captains Courageous

Stage Door

A Star is Born

1938 Pygmalion Boys Town

The Citadel

Four Daughters

You Can’t Take It With You

1939 Gone With the Wind Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington


Wuthering Heights

1940 The Philadelphia Story The Grapes of Wrath

Kitty Foyle

The Long Voyage Home


1941 Here Comes Mr. Jordan Hold Back the Dawn

How Green Was My Valley

The Little Foxes

The Maltese Falcon

1942 Mrs. Miniver 49th Parallel

The Pride of the Yankees

Random Harvest

The Talk of the Town

1943 Casablanca Holy Matriomy

The More the Merrier

The Song of Bernadette

Watch on the Rhine

1944 Going My Way Double Indemnity



Meet Me in St. Louis

1945 The Lost Weekend Mildred Pierce

Pride of the Marines

The Story of G.I. Joe

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

1946 The Best Years of Our Lives Anna and the King of Siam

Brief Encounter

The Killers

Rome, Open City

1947 Miracle on 34th Street Boomerang


Gentleman’s Agreement

Great Expectations

1948 The Treasure of the Siera Madre A Foreign Affair

Johnny Belinda

The Search

The Snake Pit

1949 A Letter to Three Wives All the King’s Men

Bicycle Thieves


The Fallen Idol

1950 All About Eve The Asphalt Jungle

Born Yesterday

Broken Arrow

Father of the Bride

1951 A Place in the Sun The African Queen

Detective Story

La Ronde

A Streetcar Named Desire

1952 The Bad and the Beautiful 5 Fingers

High Noon

The Man in the White Suit

The Quiet Man

1953 From Here to Eternity The Cruel Sea


Roman Holiday


1954 The Country Girl The Caine Mutiny

Rear Window


Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

1955 Marty Bad Day at Black Rock

Blackboard Jungle

East of Eden

Love Me or Leave Me

1956 Around the World in 80 Days Baby Doll

Friendly Persuasion


Lust for Life

1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

Peyton Place


12 Angry Men

1958 Gigi Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

The Horse’s Mouth

I Want to Live!

Separate Tables

1959 Room at the Top Anatomy of a Murder


The Nun’s Story

Some Like It Hot

1960 Elmer Gantry Inherit the Wind

Sons and Lovers

The Sundowners

Tunes of Glory

1961 Judgment at Nuremberg Breakfast at Tiffany’s

The Guns of Navarone

The Hustler

West Side Story

1962 To Kill a Mockingbird David and Lisa

Lawrence of Arabia


The Miracle Worker

1963 Tom Jones Captain Newman, M.D.


Lilies of the Field

Sundays and Cybele

1964 Becket Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Mary Poppins

My Fair Lady

Zorba the Greek

1965 Doctor Zhivago Cat Ballou

The Collector

Ship of Fools

A Thousand Clowns

1966 A Man for All Seasons Alfie

The Professionals

The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

1967 In the Heat of the Night Cool Hand Luke

The Graduate

In Cold Blood


1968 The Lion in Winter The Odd Couple


Rachel, Rachel

Rosemary’s Baby

1969 Midnight Cowboy Anne of the Thousand Days

Goodbye, Columbus

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?


1970 MASH Airport

I Never Sang for My Father

Lovers and Other Strangers

Women in Love

1971 The French Connection A Clockwork Orange

The Conformist

The Garden of the Finzi Continis

The Last Picture Show

1972 The Godfather Cabaret

The Emigrants

Pete ‘n’ Tillie


1973 The Exorcist The Last Detail

The Paper Chase

Paper Moon


1974 The Godfather Part II The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz


Murder on the Orient Express

Young Frankenstein

1975 One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest Barry Lyndon

The Man Who Would Be King

Profumo di donna

The Sunshine Boys

1976 All the President’s Men Bound for Glory

Fellini’s Casanova

The Seven Per-Cent Solution

Voyage of the Damned

1977 Julia Equus

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Oh, God!

That Obscure Object of Desire

1978 Midnight Express Bloodbrothers

California Suite

Heaven Can Wait

Same Time, Next Year

1979 Kramer vs. Kramer Apocalypse Now

La Cage aux Folles

A Little Romance

Norma Rae

1980 Ordinary People Breaker Morant

Coal Miner’s Daughter

The Elephant Man

The Stunt Man

1981 On Golden Pond The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Pennies from Heaven

Prince of the City


1982 Missing Das Boot

Sophie’s Choice

The Verdict


1983 Terms of Endearment Betrayal

The Dresser

Educating Rita

Reuben, Reuben

1984 Amadeus Greystroke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes

The Killing Fields

A Passage to India

A Soldier’s Story

1985 Out of Africa The Color Purple

Kiss of the Spider Woman

Prizzi’s Honor

The Trip to Bountiful

1986 A Room with a View Children of a Lesser God

The Color of Money

Crimes of the Heart

Stand by Me

1987 The Last Emperor The Dead

Fatal Attraction

Full Metal Jacket

My Life as a Dog

1988 Dangerous Liaisons The Accidental Tourist

Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey

Little Dorrit

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

1989 Driving Miss Daisy Born on the Fourth of July

Enemies, a Love Story

Field of Dreams

My Left Foot

1990 Dances with Wolves Awakenings


The Grifters

Reversal of Fortune

1991 The Silence of the Lambs Europa Europa

Fried Green Tomatoes


The Prince of Tides

1992 Howards End Enchanted April

The Player

A River Runs Through It

Scent of a Woman

1993 Schindler’s List The Age of Innocence

In the Name of the Father

The Remains of the Day


1994 Forrest Gump The Madness of King George

Nobody’s Fool

Quiz Show

The Shawshank Redemption

1995 Sense and Sensibility Apollo 13


Leaving Las Vegas

Il Postino

1996 Sling Blade The Crucible

The English Patient



1997 L.A. Confidential Donnie Brasco

The Sweet Hereafter

Wag the Dog

The Wings of the Dove

1998 Gods and Monsters Out of Sight

Primary Colors

A Simple Plan

The Thin Red Line

1999 The Cider House Rules Election

The Green Mile

The Insider

The Talented Mr. Ripley

2000 Traffic Chocolat

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

O Brother Where Art Thou?

Wonder Boys

2001 A Beautiful Mind Ghost World

In the Bedroom

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring


2002 The Pianist About a Boy



The Hours

2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King American Splendor

City of God

Mystic River


2004 Sideways Before Sunset

Finding Neverland

Million Dollar Baby

The Motorcycle Diaries

2005 Brokeback Mountain Capote

The Constant Gardener

A History of Violence


2006 The Departed Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Children of Men

Little Children

Notes on a Scandal

2007 No Country for Old Men Atonement

Away from Her

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

There Will Be Blood

2008 Slumdog Millionaire The Curious Case of Benjamin Button



The Reader

2009 Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire District 9

An Education

In the Loop

Up in the Air

2010 The Social Network 127 Hours

Toy Story 3

True Grit

Winter’s Bone

2011 The Descendants The Ides of March



Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

2012 Argo Beasts of the Southern Wild

Life of Pi


Silver Linings Playbook

2013 12 Years a Slave Before Midnight

Captain Phillips


The Wolf of Wall Street

2014 Birdman Boyhood


The Grand Budapest Hotel


We’ll start with the WGA, since it is a guild and guilds are important. I don’t consider this one to be one you have to listen to, since they have weird eligibility requirements, and if someone isn’t in the guild, then they can’t win. So you can’t say, “Oh, but so and so won the WGA over the favorite,” and use that as rationalization if the favorite wasn’t even eligible for the WGA. There are limits to how much you can use it. That said, let’s look at the Adapted Screenplay WGA category and how it’s matched up with the Oscars:

  • 2014: The Imitation Game won both and the category matched 4/5.
  • 2013: 12 Years a Slave wasn’t eligible, and we knew that was gonna win, so that category is a wash. Captain Phillips won the WGA.
  • 2012: Argo won both and the category matched 4/5.
  • 2011: The Descendants won both and the category matched 3/5.
  • 2010: The category matched 3/5 and The Social Network won both.
  • 2009: Up in the Air won WGA and Precious won the Oscar, and those were the only two that matched both categories.
  • 2008: Slumdog won both and they matched 4/5.
  • 2007: No Country won both and the categories matched 3/5.
  • 2006: The Departed won both and the categories matched 3/5.
  • 2005: Brokeback won both and the categories matched 4/5.
  • 2004: Sideways won both and the categories matched 3/5.
  • 2003: Return of the King won the Oscar, American Splendor won the WGA and they matched 4/5.
  • 2002: The Pianist won the Oscar, the Hours won the WGA (I’m guessing The Pianist wasn’t eligible for WGA) and the categories matched 4/5.
  • 2001: A Beautiful Mind won both and the categories matched 3/5.

So typically, yeah, they match up, outside of eligibility issues. Or sweeps.

And before we get into my rankings, here are all the times the Best Picture winner hasn’t won Best Screenplay:

  • 2011, The Artist loses to Midnight in Paris.
  • 2004, Million Dollar Baby loses to Sideways.
  • 2002, Chicago loses to The Pianist.
  • 2000, Gladiator loses to Almost Famous.
  • 1997, Titanic isn’t even nominated.
  • 1996, The English Patient loses to Sling Blade.
  • 1995, Braveheart loses to The Usual Suspects.
  • 1992, Unforgiven loses to The Crying Game.
  • 1986, Platoon loses to Hannah and Her Sisters.
  • 1978, The Deer Hunter loses to Coming Home.
  • 1976, Rocky loses to Network.
  • 1968, Oliver! loses to The Lion in Winter.
  • 1965, The Sound of Music isn’t even nominated.
  • 1964, My Fair Lady loses to Becket.
  • 1962, Lawrence of Arabia loses to To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • 1961, West Side Story loses to Judgment at Nuremberg.
  • 1959, Ben-Hur loses to Room at the Top.
  • 1952, The Greatest Show on Earth isn’t even nominated.
  • 1949, All the King’s Men loses to A Letter to Three Wives.
  • 1948, Hamlet isn’t even nominated.
  • 1947, Gentleman’s Agreement loses to Miracle on 34th Street.
  • 1941, How Green Was My Valley loses to Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
  • 1940, Rebecca loses to The Philadelphia Story.
  • 1938, You Can’t Take It With You loses to Pygmalion.
  • 1936, The Great Ziegfeld isn’t even nominated. (Though there was only one Screenplay category. Also, the nominees were The Story of Louis Pasteur, After the Thin Man, Dodsworth, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and My Man Godfrey. That’s awesome.)
  • 1935, Mutiny on the Bounty loses to The Informer.
  • 1932-1933, Cavalcade isn’t even nominated.
  • 1931-1932, Grand Hotel isn’t even nominated.
  • 1929-1930, All Quiet on the Western Front loses to The Big House.
  • 1928-1929, The Broadway Melody isn’t even nominated.
  • 1927-1928, Wings isn’t even nominated.

And look at that list more closely: 11 out of 31 times it happened were in the last 40 years. So a third of your list was within 40 years, and two-thirds happened before that. If we go to 50 years, then it’s 14 out of 31, which is less than half. Meaning it doesn’t happen as often recently.

And, to keep the focus narrowed: My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Oliver! and Chicago are musicals. Not exactly Screenplay winner material. Woody Allen beat two of the remaining ten (and one of them was a silent film). When Woody wins, we understand it. Alexander Payne wins, we understand it. Titanic makes sense as a non-winner. It’s all spectacle. Gladiator, same. Then, you look at what’s left… Rocky loses to Network. Paddy Chayefsky. Totally makes sense. Then, Braveheart… not really a writing kind of movie, and it lost to Usual Suspects. Understandable. Unforgiven… they don’t usually do westerns, and The Crying Game won. Makes sense. And then English Patient losing to Sling Blade… kind of a surprise. And Deer Hunter losing to Coming Home, can’t say about that. It does make some sense, though.

So, ultimately, you can usually see a Best Picture film losing, if it’s gonna happen.

This year, the Best Picture frontrunners are most likely going to win the Screenplay categories, so that shouldn’t matter. But it is a stat to keep in mind (because it does hurt The Revenant’s chances).

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short



The Martian


No Steve Jobs. That’s the big, big, huge atrocious snub of the year. That aside, there were only these five contenders outside of Sorkin. So this wasn’t surprising.


5. Brooklyn — Love the film, it won’t win. It’ll get a small handful of votes, but nothing even close to winning. Especially with such a frontrunner that can’t lose.

4. Carol — This might even be #5. It has no shot. I’m not even gonna waste words on this. Only one script can win this category.

3. The Martian — People like the film, but they won’t vote for the script. This movie lost all support once it got nominated. No chance.

2. Room — It’ll get votes, and I suspect it’ll finish second overall, given the love that’s out there for this movie (Picture and Director nominations), but no one is beating Adam McKay this year.

1. The Big Short — He can’t lose. WGA, BFCA, probably BAFTA, and I’m sure it’ll take that USC Scripter thing, where people say that basically tells you what’s gonna win Adapted Screenplay. Hard to see any scenario where this can even remotely lose this category.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow is Original Screenplay. MORE WORDS.


One response

  1. What are your thoughts on the USC Scripter Award? It seem that you haven’t held that precursor in high regard in the past. However, if there’s any reason why this year it shouldn’t be seen as such, it’s this: the USC Scripter snubbed Steve Jobs in favor nominating The End Of The Tour instead.

    Now, I totally concur with you that Aaron Sorkin wrote the best screenplay of 2015. (In fact, I’m conducting a script-reading of Steve Jobs at my university tomorrow evening. ^_^ ) However, despite what you may think of the USC Scripter Award, I knew from the moment that it was absent from their list (despite having made it to BAFTA and WGA) that not just its Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar contention, but its chances of getting the nomination in general were on shaky ground.

    And here we are.

    February 18, 2016 at 2:18 pm

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