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Oscars 2017 Category Breakdown: Best Original Screenplay

Every year, as we lead up to the Oscars, I break down each of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with the category; what the trends are, how the guilds and stuff help (or don’t), etc. I also do it as a precursor to my giant Oscar ballot. I get most of the heavy lifting out of the way here, so that way when I get to the article, I’m just kind of riffing on how I think it’ll turn out and talking myself into all the bad decisions. It’s like college. And this is the pregame.

How these articles work is — I give you all the previous winners and nominees of each of the categories, then tell you how accurate each of the respective guilds and precursors are in what they vote for versus what wins the Oscar, tell you how each of them voted this year, then give you this year’s category, along with a quick rundown of how we ended up with that category (what was a surprise, etc). After that, I rank each of this year’s nominees in terms of how I see them right now in terms of their likelihood to win. Which is nothing more than my perception (notice that underline, even though you won’t) of how the category seems at the moment based on everything I know and have seen. Which will give you a general sense of the favorites.

Today is Best Original Screenplay. One of the most competitive categories of the year. The WGA announced their winner two days ago, and as you can tell, I waited for them to see what the hell I’m gonna do with this one.

Year Best Original Screenplay Winners Other Nominees
1940 The Great McGinty Angels over Broadway

Dr. Erlich’s Magic Bullet

Foreign Correspondent

The Great Dictator

1941 Citizen Kane The Devil and Miss Jones

Sergeant York

Tall, Dark and Handsome

Tom, Dick and Harry

1942 Woman of the Year One of Our Aircraft Is Missing

Road to Morocco

Wake Island

The War Against Mrs. Hadley

1943 Princess O’Rourke Air Force

In Which We Serve

The North Star

So Proudly We Hail!

1944 Wilson Hail the Conquering Hero

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek

Two Girls and a Sailor

Wing and a Prayer

1945 Marie-Louise Dillinger

Music for Millions

Salty O’Rourke

What Next, Corporal Hargrove?

1946 The Seventh Veil The Blue Dahlia

Children of Paradise

Notorious

Road to Utopia

1947 The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer Body and Soul

A Double Life

Monsieur Verdoux

Shoeshine

1948 No Award Given. No category.
1949 Battleground Jolson Sings Again

Paisan

Passport to Pimlico

The Quiet One

1950 Sunset Boulevard Adam’s Rib

Caged

The Men

No Way Out

1951 An American in Paris Ace in the Hole

David and Bathsheba

Go for Broke!

The Well

1952 The Lavender Hill Mob The Atomic City

The Sound Barrier

Pat and Mike

Viva Zapata!

1953 Titanic The Band Wagon

The Desert Rats

The Naked Spur

Take the High Ground!

1954 On the Waterfront The Barefoot Contessa

Genevieve

The Glenn Miller Story

Knock on Wood

1955 Interrupted Melody The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell

It’s Always Fair Weather

Mr. Hulot’s Holiday

The Seven Little Foys

1956 The Red Balloon The Bold and the Brave

Julie

La Strada

The Ladykillers

1957 Designing Woman Funny Face

Man of a Thousand Faces

The Tin Star

I Vitelloni

1958 The Defiant Ones The Goddess

Houseboat

The Sheepman

Teacher’s Pet

1959 Pillow Talk The 400 Blows

North by Northwest

Operation Petticoat

Wild Strawberries

1960 The Apartment The Angry Silence

The Facts of Life

Hiroshima Mon Amour

Never on Sunday

1961 Splendor in the Grass Ballad of a Soldier

La Dolce Vita

General della Rovere

Lover Come Back

1962 Divorce, Italian Style Freud

Last Year at Marienbad

That Touch of Mink

Through a Glass Darkly

1963 How the West Was Won 8 ½

America, America

The Four Days of Naples

Love with the Proper Stranger

1964 Father Goose A Hard Day’s Night

One Potato, Two Potato

The Organizer

That Man from Rio

1965 Darling Casanova 70

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

The Train

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

1966 A Man and a Woman Blowup

The Fortune Cookie

Khartoum

The Naked Prey

1967 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Bonnie and Clyde

Divorce American Style

La Guerre Est Finie

Two for the Road

1968 The Producers 2001: A Space Odyssey

The Battle of Algiers

Faces

Hot Millions

1969 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

The Damned

Easy Rider

The Wild Bunch

1970 Patton Five Easy Pieces

Joe

Love Story

My Night at Maud’s

1971 The Hospital Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

Klute

Summer of ‘42

Sunday Bloody Sunday

1972 The Candidate The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Lady Sings the Blues

Murmur of the Heart

Young Winston

1973 The Sting American Graffiti

Cries and Whispers

Save the Tiger

A Touch of Class

1974 Chinatown Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

The Conversation

Day for Night

Harry and Tonto

1975 Dog Day Afternoon Amarcord

And Now My Love

Lies My Father Told Me

Shampoo

1976 Network Cousin, cousine

The Front

Rocky

Seven Beauties

1977 Annie Hall The Goodbye Girl

The Late Show

Star Wars

The Turning Point

1978 Coming Home Autumn Sonata

The Deer Hunter

Interiors

An Unmarried Woman

1979 Breaking Away All That Jazz

…And Justice for All

The China Syndrome

Manhattan

1980 Melvin and Howard Brubaker

Fame

Mon oncle d’Amerique

Private Benjamin

1981 Chariots of Fire Absence of Malice

Arthur

Atlantic City

Reds

1982 Gandhi Diner

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

An Officer and a Gentleman

Tootsie

1983 Tender Mercies The Big Chill

Fanny and Alexander

Silkwood

WarGames

1984 Places in the Heart Beverly Hills Cop

Broadway Danny Rose

El Norte

Splash

1985 Witness Back to the Future

Brazil

The Official Story

The Purple Rose of Cairo

1986 Hannah and Her Sisters Crocodile Dundee

My Beautiful Laundrette

Platoon

Salvador

1987 Moonstruck Au revoir, les enfants

Broadcast News

Hope and Glory

Radio Days

1988 Rain Man Big

Bull Durham

A Fish Called Wanda

Running on Empty

1989 Dead Poets Society Crimes and Misdemeanors

Do the Right Thing

Sex, Lies and Videotape

When Harry Met Sally…

1990 Ghost Alice

Avalon

Green Card

Metropolitan

1991 Thelma & Louise Boyz N the Hood

Bugsy

The Fisher King

Grand Canyon

1992 The Crying Game Husbands and Wives

Lorenzo’s Oil

Passion Fish

Unforgiven

1993 The Piano Dave

In the Line of Fire

Philadelphia

Sleepless in Seattle

1994 Pulp Fiction Bullets Over Broadway

Four Weddings and a Funeral

Heavenly Creatures

Three Colors: Red

1995 The Usual Suspects Braveheart

Mighty Aphrodite

Nixon

Toy Story

1996 Fargo Jerry Maguire

Lone Star

Secrets & Lies

Shine

1997 Good Will Hunting As Good as It Gets

Boogie Nights

Deconstructing Harry

The Full Monty

1998 Shakespeare in Love Bulworth

Life is Beautiful

Saving Private Ryan

The Truman Show

1999 American Beauty Being John Malkovich

Magnolia

The Sixth Sense

Topsy-Turvy

2000 Almost Famous Billy Elliot

Erin Brockovich

Gladiator

You Can Count on Me

2001 Gosford Park Amélie

Memento

Monster’s Ball

The Royal Tenenbaums

2002 Talk to Her Far from Heaven

Gangs of New York

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Y tu mama también

2003 Lost in Translation The Barbarian Invasions

Dirty Pretty Things

Finding Nemo

In America

2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind The Aviator

Hotel Rwanda

The Incredibles

Vera Drake

2005 Crash Good Night, and Good Luck

Match Point

The Squid and the Whale

Syriana

2006 Little Miss Sunshine Babel

Letters from Iwo Jima

Pan’s Labyrinth

The Queen

2007 Juno Lars and the Real Girl

Michael Clayton

Ratatouille

The Savages

2008 Milk Frozen River

Happy-Go-Lucky

In Bruges

Wall-E

2009 The Hurt Locker Inglourious Basterds

The Messenger

A Serious Man

Up

2010 The King’s Speech Another Year

The Fighter

Inception

The Kids Are All Right

2011 Midnight in Paris The Artist

Bridesmaids

Margin Call

A Separation

2012 Django Unchained Amour

Flight

Moonrise Kingdom

Zero Dark Thirty

2013 Her American Hustle

Blue Jasmine

Dallas Buyers Club

Nebraska

2014 Birdman Boyhood

Foxcatcher

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Nightcrawler

2015 Spotlight Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Straight Outta Compton

2016 Manchester by the Sea 20th Century Women

Hell or High Water

La La Land

The Lobster

The WGA is the guild to look at here, but they can only help so much, especially with all the ineligibles and category swaps. But, you know.

  • 2016: Moonlight won WGA Original and won the Oscar for Adapted. So I guess they were right?
  • 2015: Spotlight won both the WGA and the Oscar, and two of the WGA nominees went Adapted at the Oscars.
  • 2014: Birdman was ineligible for the WGA and won the Oscar. The Grand Budapest Hotel won the WGA.
  • 2013: The WGA and Oscar category were the same and Her won both.
  • 2012: Django was ineligible for the WGA and won the Oscar. Zero Dark Thirty won the WGA.
  • 2011: Midnight in Paris won both, and the category only had two nominees the same.
  • 2010: Inception won the WGA, but The King’s Speech won the Oscar. The King’s Speech was ineligible for WGA.
  • 2009: The Hurt Locker won both, and the category was only two the same.
  • 2008: Milk won both and that was the only similarity between the two categories.
  • 2007: Juno won both and the category was 4/5 the same.
  • 2006: Little Miss Sunshine won both and the category matched 3/5.
  • 2005: Crash won both and the category matched 3/5.
  • 2004: Eternal Sunshine won both and the category matched 3/5.
  • 2003: Lost in Translation won both and the category matched 3/5.
  • 2002: Two different winners, the category matched 3/5. The two winners weren’t nominated on either category.
  • 2001: Gosford Park won both and the category matched 3/5.
  • 2000: Almost Famous won the Oscar and You Can Count on Me won the WGA, and the category matched 4/5.

So, okay, the WGA, when the winner is eligible, does match up a lot of the time.

For what it’s also worth, BAFTA, going back to 2000, is 11/17. In all six misses, the Oscar winner was nominated five of those times (Her was the only Oscar winner BAFTA didn’t nominate for Screenplay). The only one they got right when the WGA got it wrong was last year, with Manchester by the Sea (but that’s just because WGA went Moonlight, which also won an Oscar). I believe Almodovar was ineligible for WGA in 2002, otherwise that would have been a second.

Oh, and because we can, BFCA — who only split up the Screenplay categories in 2009 — 7/8. Missed in ’09 (taking Quentin, who lost to Mark Boal in the end), otherwise they’ve hit every year since. Though last year was a tie with Manchester and La La Land. So they were set regardless.

Oh, and before we get into who won what, one last thing to chew on — 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.

31 times ever out of 89 (or 90, if you count Sunrise). But we can talk about that in depth during the picks article. Here, that’s just something you should know before we get into the rankings.

Best Original Screenplay

The Big Sick

Get Out

Lady Bird

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This category felt like the right one all the way through. Some question about The Big Sick getting on in the end. The other four were locks all the way. But that fifth spot could have been any number of choices. The Post. Phantom Thread. Darkest Hour. I, Tonya. So you had to figure out which was gonna get it, but otherwise it went according to expectations. The guild had 4/5, not having Three Billboards (I, Tonya instead), as it wasn’t WGA eligible. BFCA had all these five, plus The Post, for fun. BAFTA had I, Tonya instead of The Big Sick. So it was kinda dicey, but it seemed like it was gonna end up this way more likely than not.

Now, in terms of precursor wins — Get Out won the WGA and BFCA. McDonagh (in a single category) won the Globe (being ineligible for the WGA). BAFTA is on Sunday, but seeing as how In Bruges won there nine years ago over eventual Oscar-winner Milk, I suspect McDonagh will take that too. But I can’t say for sure. I’m just gonna talk about this one now in terms of how I see it, and then reconfigure based on what happens at BAFTA.

Rankings:

5. The Big Sick — “I’m just lucky to be nominated” really applies here. It wasn’t even a sure thing to get on the nominations list. No way this has any support over the other four to make any kind of headway here. Being nominated is the reward for this one.

4. The Shape of Water — I can’t believe I’m saying that the current Best Picture favorite is a fourth choice in the Screenplay category, but here we are. Even The Artist was a second choice. Plus, Best Picture winners (assuming this is the winner and not the film I’m listing as the favorite in this category) win just about 2/3 of the time. 58 times out of 89. But this is an insanely strong year where eight of the nine Best Picture nominees are based on original screenplays, and this has exactly zero precursors to this point. Seems like they’re gonna reward Guillermo in Director only (which will be the opposite of the favorite in this category). Fortunately it is just under 2/3 of the time, because otherwise I’d have to forcibly call this more of a contender than it feels like. Because right now, it feels like a ‘yeah, and that’s there too’ nominee.

3. Lady Bird — Greta Gerwig just ran into buzzsaws this year. This sucks. I’d want to vote for this in almost any other year. But so far, no wins. It’ll get votes because people adored this movie, but I don’t know how far it gets in the end. With Guillermo tapped to win Best Director, all the votes for her might funnel here instead of there to the people who took Guillermo over her. Then again, I could also say that for our next contender, who does have precursor wins. I think she’s a moderate contender, but can’t place her any higher than third at the moment.

2. Get Out — It has a BFCA win, which is not insignificant, as they have guessed the Original Screenplay winner correctly for the past seven years straight, and more importantly, has a WGA win. Based on those two alone, you should consider it a favorite at the moment. But with my presumptive favorite ineligible at the WGA and seemingly on tap for a BAFTA win, I’m comfortable putting this here. That’s not to say it can’t or won’t win the Oscar (because absolutely it can and just might), I just feel like the odds slightly favor this next nominee over this one in the end.

1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — Doesn’t this feel like it’s gonna win? Sure, Inglourious Basterds felt like it was gonna win too, only to lose to The Hurt Locker. Up in the Air also felt like it was gonna win that year and lost to Precious. Things happen. But here, if The Shape of Water doesn’t win Best Picture, chances are, this will. And that’ll add to that stat about Best Picture winners winning Best Screenplay. But that aside — I feel like it probably would have won the WGA had it been nominated, and I think it’s gonna win BAFTA. All around, this feels like it’s your favorite going into Oscar night. Not the on paper favorite, but the spiritual favorite. I think it is a dual til the end with this and Get Out (it’s feeling a lot like the Birdman/Grand Budapest duel that ended up going Birdman’s way in 2014). Whether or not this wins, the way this category goes will give you a big hint at how Best Picture is likely to turn out. If Get Out beats this, then expect to see The Shape of Water win Best Picture (or some big upset like Lady Bird or Get Out). If this wins, then the Best Picture win is firmly in play (but not guaranteed. Just a stronger possibility). Of course, if this wins Editing, then all the eyebrows are gonna raise. Either way, I’m calling this the favorite, because that’s what it feels like.

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