Oscars 2019 Category Breakdown: Best Original Screenplay

Here’s how this works: every day leading up to the Oscars, I break down each of the 24 categories. The goal is to both familiarize everyone with the category itself (how it works, what its history is and how you go about figuring out what’s gonna win) while also making it easier to reference when I write my giant article with picks and everything. A lot of the leg work is already here. But really, the goal is to see if there’s anything to look for leading into Oscar night that could be a shortcut to me picking the category.

What we do is — I give you all the winners of the category throughout history, go over all the recent trends if there are any, discuss the precursors and whether or not they matter, and then we talk about this year’s category and how we got to it, and then just look at where we are and rank the nominees in terms of their likelihood of winning (at the current moment in time. Of course, things can and will change going into the ceremony). It’s all pretty simple. I’ve done this every year. Everyone should know the drill.

Today is Best Original Screenplay, and boy, do I get happy when more Best Pictures come from original scripts than adapted ones.

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

2017 Get Out The Big Sick

Lady Bird

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

2018 Green Book The Favourite

First Reformed

Roma

Vice

It’s a screenplay category, so the WGA is the big precursor, and then we have BAFTA and BFCA. Technically the Globes give out a Screenplay award too, but it’s a single category that includes everything. Plus, it’s the Globes.

The big note for this, though, is that the WGA does have ineligible scripts (the big one this year is ineligible at the WGA). But typically you have a good idea of the category just by looking at it too. But we’ll start with the WGA.

Here’s the WGA’s recent history in this category:

  • 2018: Eight Grade wins the WGA and Green Book wins the Oscar. (Eighth Grade was not nominated for the Oscar.)
  • 2017: Get Out wins both WGA Original and the Oscar.
  • 2016: Moonlight wins WGA Original and won the Oscar for Adapted. So I guess they were right?
  • 2015: Spotlight wins both WGA Original and the Oscar.
  • 2014: Birdman is ineligible for the WGA and wins the Oscar. The Grand Budapest Hotel wins WGA Original.
  • 2013: Her wins both WGA Original and the Oscar.
  • 2012: Django Unchained is ineligible for the WGA and wins the Oscar. Zero Dark Thirty wins WGA Original.
  • 2011: Midnight in Paris wins both WGA Original and the Oscar.
  • 2010: The King’s Speech is ineligible for the WGA and wins the Oscar. Inception wins WGA Original.
  • 2009: The Hurt Locker wins both WGA Original and the Oscar.
  • 2008: Milk wins both WGA Original and the Oscar.
  • 2007: Juno wins both WGA Original and the Oscar.
  • 2006: Little Miss Sunshine wins both WGA Original and the Oscar.
  • 2005: Crash wins both WGA Original and the Oscar.
  • 2004: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind wins both WGA Original and the Oscar.
  • 2003: Lost in Translation wins both WGA Original and the Oscar.
  • 2002: The WGA winner and the Oscar winner were not nominated in the other’s category. So this one’s a blank.
  • 2001: Gosford Park wins both WGA Original and the Oscar.
  • 2000: You Can Count on Me wins WGA Original and Almost Famous wins the Oscar.

We’ve only got two instances in 20 years where something was eligible at the WGA and lost and still won the Oscar. One is last year, which is unhelpful all around, because Eighth Grade wasn’t even nominated for the Oscar. But both Green Book and Roma, the presumed favorites, lost at the WGA. But at least the winner wasn’t nominated, so it didn’t really throw that much of a wrench in the plans. 2000 is the only time where something won the WGA, was nominated for the Oscar and then lost.

BAFTA, meanwhile, is 11/19. In seven of the eight misses, the Oscar winner was also nominated there (Her being the exception). And BFCA, since they split their Screenplay categories in 2009, are 8/10. Their misses were in 2009, where they picked Quentin, who lost to The Hurt Locker in the end, and then last year, where they voted for First Reformed, which lost. The Globes are 13/19 since 2000 in their Screenplay winner winning one of the two categories. Which is solid, all things considered.

Also, just so we’re clear about this part, here’s a lost of all the times the Best Picture winner did not win Best Screenplay (either category):

  • 2017, The Shape of Water loses to Get Out.
  • 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.

32 times out of 91 Best Picture winners. So generally look at those, but also pay attention to the precursors.

Best Original Screenplay

1917

Knives Out

Marriage Story

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Parasite

This category was pretty straightforward. The only real major alternatives were The Farewell and Booksmart. Booksmart hit all the big precursors but also felt like something they’d leave off. And The Farewell just never got the real support anywhere to contend. Plus 1917 was showing huge support across all the guilds, so it makes sense these were the five.

Currently, only BFCA and the Globe have announced, and both went to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Quentin is ineligible for the WGA, which he’s always been, despite two previous Oscar wins and nearly a third, and I don’t think we need a BAFTA winner to rank these five.

Rankings:

5. Knives Out — Sorry, Rian Johnson. But at least they nominated you. This is the only nomination for the film. The last time a non-Best Picture nominee won this category was Eternal Sunshine, aka Charlie Kaufman in his third nomination after arguably two snubs (and the only Picture nominee it had to beat was The Aviator, which wasn’t that difficult). And the last time a film won Original Screenplay with it being it’s only nomination? 1957. Designing Women. So yeah, unless this wins WGA or BAFTA, it’s the fifth choice and is never gonna happen.

4. Marriage Story — Best Picture nominee, six nominations overall and Noah Baumbach. However, no precursors to this point (and I can’t see BAFTA going its way, and a WGA win, if it happens, will be tainted either way because of the Quentin ineligibility) and this is Buambach’s first nomination. Hard to see it happening, so I’ll keep it the fourth choice for now, even though in the end I might be persuaded to bump it up to third.

3. 1917 — It’s the presumed Best Picture frontrunner, which should command enough respect to make it a third choice. Do we all think on a pure ‘screenplay’ level that Marriage Story should be put above it? Sure. But the Best Picture winner tends to also come along in Screenplay a lot of years. Though this is a war movie, so it doesn’t need to and would make sense if it didn’t. But I am gonna show it that respect for the moment and we’ll see if either the WGA goes there in the end. BAFTA didn’t nominate it either, which tells you something. But I’m thinking this doesn’t ever get higher than third.

2. Parasite — It’s a big Best Picture contender and perhaps the consensus favorite film of the year. I suspect this will win the WGA in the absence of Quentin and we’ll see which way BAFTA goes between the two. But until this wins some precursors I can’t consider it the favorite just yet, even though clearly it’s a 50/50 proposition.

1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — It’s Quentin and he’s won it twice, and this time he’s got a major Best Picture nominee. Granted, he had one with Basterds and lost. But that was to Hurt Locker, which won Best Picture. He’s already got a Globes win (meaningless, but helpful) and a BFCA win (more helpful). He can’t win the WGA because he’s ineligible, but if he wins BAFTA, then this should be a done deal. If Parasite wins both, then we talk and we’ve got an interesting toss up on our hands. But for now, he’s gotta be considered the favorite based on what we’ve seen so far.

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One response

  1. Baumbach was nominated in this category for 2005’s The Squid & the Whale. He’s a two-time Oscar nominee now.

    January 25, 2020 at 1:49 pm

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