Subscribe now to and start applying to auditions!

Read this article on the new and improved Backstage.com!
Click here for the beta version.

Awards Season

Inside Every Recent Oscar Winner for Original and Adapted Screenplays

Inside Every Recent Oscar Winner for Original and Adapted Screenplays
Photo Source: Tarell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins of “Moonlight”: WireImage

You can’t have the year’s best films without the year’s best screenwriting. The Academy Awards, the moviemaking industry’s most visible and prestigious award ceremony, currently shines its spotlight on the scribes behind top feature films in two categories: one for a screenplay adapted from literature or another source, and one for an original work.

These categories have a long, varied history. The Best Original Screenplay prize was first awarded in 1940, separating it from the Best Story distinction, which was awarded until 1957—when the category was changed to Best Adapted Screenplay. The Academy has a specific set of rules delineating what makes an adapted screenplay versus an original, and though some rules are intuitive, there are exceptions; for example, all sequels are automatically considered adapted.

As a part of their illustrious history, the screenplay awards have nominated literary greats including George Bernard Shaw, August Wilson, Jane Campion, and John Steinbeck. Woody Allen holds the most nominations with 16 across both categories. Check out this deep dive into the recent history of the two accolades below. And keep checking in with Backstage’s awards coverage to see who takes home this year’s honors; in contention for the adapted prize for the year 2017 are “Call Me by Your Name,” “The Disaster Artist,” “Logan,” “Molly’s Game,” and “Mudbound,” and for original screenplay, “The Big Sick,” “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “The Shape of Water,” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

READ: ‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Dunkirk,’ ‘Phantom Thread’ Among 2018 Academy Award Nominees

Year in consideration: 2016
Best Adapted Screenplay
“Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, from the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Cast: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, André Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Janelle Monáe, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders
Director: Barry Jenkins
Distributor: A24
Premiere history: Telluride Film Festival, Sept. 2016; wide release Oct. 21, 2016
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali, won), Best Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris), Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Best Original Screenplay
“Manchester by the Sea,” Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Distributor: Roadside Attractions, Amazon Studios
Premiere history: Sundance Film Festival Jan. 2016, wide release Nov. 2016
Other Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Casey Affleck, won), Best Supporting Actor (Lucas Hedges), Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams)

Year: 2015
Best Adapted Screenplay
“The Big Short ,” Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, from the book “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis
Cast: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt
Director: Adam McKay
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Premiere history: AFI Festival Nov. 2015; wide release Dec. 11, 2015
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale), Best Editing

Best Original Screenplay
“Spotlight,” Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy
Cast: Billy Crudup, Brian d’Arcy James, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci
Director: Tom McCarthy
Distributor: Open Road Films
Premiere history: Venice Film Festival Sept. 3, 2015; wide release Nov. 6, 2015
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Mark Ruffalo), Best Supporting Actress (Rachel McAdams), Best Editing

Year: 2014
Best Adapted Screenplay
“The Imitation Game,” Graham Moore, from the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Mark Strong
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Premiere history: Telluride Film Festival Aug. 2014; wide Release Nov. 2014
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch), Best Supporting Actress (Keira Knightley), Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Production Design

Best Original Screenplay
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., and Armando Bo
Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Premiere history: Venice Film Festival Aug. 27, 2014; limited release Oct. 17, 2014; wide release Nov. 14, 2014
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director (won), Best Actor (Michael Keaton), Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton), Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone), Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

Year: 2013
Best Adapted Screenplay
“12 Years a Slave,” John Ridley, from the memoir “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northup
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong’o, Adepero Oduye, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Michael Kenneth Williams, Alfre Woodard
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Premiere history: Telluride Film Festival Aug. 2013; wide release Nov. 8, 2013
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director, Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender), Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o, won)

Best Original Screenplay
“Her,” Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Scarlett Johansson
Director: Spike Jonze
Distributor: Warner Brothers
Premiere history: New York FIlm Festival Oct. 2013; wide release Dec 2013
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Production Design

READ: Inside Every Recent Oscar Best Director Winner

Year: 2012
Best Adapted Screenplay
“Argo,” Chris Terrio, from the book “The Master of Disguise” by Antonio J. Mendez and the article “The Great Escape” by Joshuah Bearman
Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Clea Duvall
Director: Ben Affleck
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures
Premiere history: Telluride Film Festival Aug. 31, 2012, wide release Oct. 12, 2012
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin), Best Film Editing (won), Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score

Best Original Screenplay
“Django Unchained,” Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, Don Johnson
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Premiere history: wide release Dec. 25, 2011
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz, won)

Year: 2011
Best Adapted Screenplay
“The Descendants,” Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash, from the novel “The Descendants” by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard
Director: Alexander Payne
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Premiere history: Toronto International Film Festival Sept. 2011; wide release Nov. 2011
Other Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (George Clooney), Best Editing

Best Original Screenplay
“Midnight in Paris,” Woody Allen
Cast: Owen Wilson, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen
Director: Woody Allen
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classic
Premiere history: Cannes FIlm Festival May 2011; wide release May 2011
Other Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Art Direction

Year: 2010
Best Adapted Screenplay
“The Social Network,” Aaron Sorkin, from the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella
Director: David Fincher
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Premiere history: New York Film Festival Sept. 2010; wide release Oct. 1, 2010
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Jesse Eisenberg), Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Film Editing (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Sound Mixing

Best Original Screenplay
“The King's Speech,” David Seidler
Cast: Anthony Andrews, Helena Bonham Carter, Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Guy Pearce, Geoffrey Rush, Timothy Spall
Director: Tom Hooper
Distributor: Momentum Pictures
Premiere history: Sept. 6, 2010 Telluride Film Festival; UK-wide release Jan. 7, 2011
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (won), Best Actor Colin Firth (won), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Geoffrey Rush), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Helena Bonham Carter), Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Set Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing

Year: 2009
Best Adapted Screenplay
“Precious,” Geoffrey Fletcher, from the novel “Push” by Sapphire
Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz
Director: Lee Daniels
Distributor: Lionsgate
Premiere history: Sundance Film Festival, January 2009; Wide Release November 6, 2009.
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Gabourey Sidibe), Best Supporting Actress (Mo’Nique, won), Best Film Editing

Best Original Screenplay
“The Hurt Locker,” Mark Boal
Year: 2009
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Evangeline Lilly, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Guy Pearce
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Premiere history: Sept. 2008 Venice Film Festival; wide release June 26, 2009
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director (won), Best Actor (Jeremy Renner), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won), Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing (won), Best Sound Editing (won)

READ: ‘Get Out,’ ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Take Home Top 2018 WGA Awards

Year: 2008
Best Adapted Screenplay
“Slumdog Millionaire,” Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufort, from the novel “Q & A” by Vikas Swarup
Cast: Rubina Ali, Tanay Hemant Chheda, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar, Madhur Mittal, Dev Patel, Freida Pinto
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Premiere history: Telluride Film Festival Aug. 30, 2008; UK-wide release, Jan. 9, 2009
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture (won), Director (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Editing (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song (won), Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

Best Original Screenplay
“Milk,” Dustin Lance Black
Cast: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, Alison Pill, Victor Garber, Denis O'Hare, Joseph Cross, James Franco
Director: Gus Van Sant
Distributor: Focus Features
Premiere history: Limited Release, October, 2008; Wide release November, 2008
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Sean Penn, won), Best Supporting Actor (Josh Brolin), Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score

Year: 2007
Best Adapted Screenplay
“No Country for Old Men,” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, from the novel “No Country for Old Men” by Cormac McCarthy
Cast: Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Garret Dillahunt, Tess Harper, Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Kelly Macdonald
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Distributor: Miramax Films/Paramount Vantage
Premiere history: Cannes Film Festival May 19, 2007; wide release Nov. 9, 2007
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director (won), Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem, won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

Best Original Screenplay
“Juno,” Diablo Cody
Cast: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J. K. Simmons
Director: Jason Reitman
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Premiere history: Telluride Film Festival Sept. 2007; wide Release Dec. 25, 2007
Other Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Ellen Page)

Check out Backstage’s film audition listings!

What did you think of this story?
Leave a Facebook Comment: