Oscars 2016 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 typically goes, voting-wise, historically and also as a precursor to my picks article, allowing me to get most of the heavy lifting out of the way beforehand.

What I do is 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 voted, 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. So you know what the general favorites are.

Today is Best Adapted Screenplay. One of the nominees is dead!

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 The Imitation Game American Sniper

Inherent Vice

The Theory of Everything


The WGA is always hit and miss, especially this year, when Moonlight was considered Original by them.

But here’s WGA vs. the Oscars:

  • 2015: The Big Short won both and the category matched 3/5.
  • 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.

They’re generally pretty good.

This year will be different because Moonlight was nominated for Original Screenplay at the WGA.

As for the limited precursors we have — Arrival won BFCA, Lion won BAFTA. Moonlight was nominated in Original for both. Moonlight won Original at the WGA and Arrival won for Adapted at the WGA.

Moonlight also won the USC Scripter award, which in the past ten years has only missed twice.

Best Adapted Screenplay



Hidden Figures



These were the expected five. No surprises with the category at all, really. Maybe Nocturnal Animals was a bit of a snub, but not overly surprising in the end.


5. Fences — August Wilson gets a posthumous nomination. Cool and all, but he won’t win. Viola Davis will win and maybe Denzel will win, and that will be the awards that movie gets. This is just an extra nomination. Fifth choice and not even a major contender.

4. Lion — It has a BAFTA win, which is nice, but without a WGA win and much else going for it, it’s hard to see it as anything more than a fourth choice here. You have the precursor to say it’s third choice, but let’s get into the #3 choice before we say anything.

3. Hidden Figures — Come on. You mean to tell me that a voting body at large isn’t gonna vote for this more than Lion (taking the next two out of account)? This is gonna get votes. It’ll get the votes of the people who loved it and want to see it win. Lion is nice, but it’s not getting that many win votes. Put it third all you want, but it’s not winning. This theoretically does stand a small chance at an upset, so I’m putting this as your third choice. Can’t put it higher than that, though, since the next two are clearly locked in their positions.

2. Arrival — It picked up two precursors. BFCA is pretty big, but it didn’t face Moonlight there. And it won WGA too, but also wasn’t up against Moonlight. It’s very deserving of the praise and should be right there for the win. But it’s not your favorite, and I think we all know that. I also feel like it might not even get the second most amount of votes in the end, simply because Hidden Figures is so liked, I think a bunch of votes are gonna be headed that way too. But based on all evidence, this is the second choice. That seems inarguable.

1. Moonlight — Oh it’s gonna win. If this loses, it’ll be one of the biggest upsets of the past decade. The biggest since Up in the Air losing to Precious. This should be one of the biggest locks of the night. I can’t think of a more likely outcome and a more deserving outcome than this. But seriously — WGA in a different category and the Scripter — it’s your favorite by far.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow is Best Costume Design.


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