It’s fair to say, that films based on novels aren’t rare, and in the past they’ve been recognised by the Academy just as readily as original screenplays. Here then, are the previous winners of the Best Picture Academy Award which were based on novels or books. Note: It’s entirely likely that I’ve missed some off the list, feel free to comment if you know of any winners which were based on books and are not listed here.
Also, don’t forget, these are just the winners, lots of the nominated movies that don’t win were based on books as well.
Slumdog Millionare (2008) – the movie is based on “Q & A”, written by Vikas Swarup, first published in 2005.
No Country for Old Men (2007) – the Coen brothers adapted this from the novel of the same name, originally written by Cormac McCarthy and published in 2005.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) – adapted from a little known work of fiction of the same name, by a quaint British author called J. R. R. Tolkien, first published in 1955.
A Beautiful Mind (2001) – Akiva Goldsman adapted this from the original (unauthorised) biography of the same name, written by Sylvia Nasar and published in 1998.
The English Patient (1996) – based on The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje and originally published in 1992.
Forrest Gump (1994) – adapted from the 1986 novel of the same name, written by Winston Groom.
Schindler’s List (1993) – based on the novel Schindler’s Ark, written by the Australian novelist Thomas Keneally and published in 1982.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – originally a book by the same name, published in 1988 and written by Thomas Harris.
Out of Africa (1985) – adapted from Isak Dinesen’s memoirs of the same name, originally published in 1937. Isak is better known as Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke. Perhaps.
Terms of Endearment (1983) – adapted from the novel of the same name, published in 1977 and written by Larry Mcmurtry.
Ordinary People (1980) – based on Judith Guest’s first novel (Ordinary People) published in 1976.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) – based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey.
The Godfather (1972) – arguably the best known gangster movie ever made, The Godfather was adapted from the 1969 novel by Mario Puzo.
The French Connection (1971) – adapted and fictionalised by Ernest Tidyman, this movie is based on the non-fiction and snappily titled The French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics, and International Conspiracy (published in 1969).
Midnight Cowboy (1969) – based on the 1965 novel by James Leo Herlihy.
Oliver! (1968) – based loosely on the original book Oliver Twist by Dickens (published in 1838), with significant influences from the stage musical.
Tom Jones (1963) – surely the oldest novel in the list, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling was published in 1749 and written by Henry Fielding.
Ben-Hur (1959) – the Charlton Heston classic was based on the 1880 Lew Wallace novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.
Gigi (1958) – adapted from a novella of the same name published in 1944 and written by the colourful Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) – based on the 1952 French novel, Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai by Pierre Boulle (English translation by Xan Fielding in 1954).
Around the World in 80 Days (1956) – based on the classic 1873 novel by Jules Verne (originally published in French as Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours).
All the King’s Men (1949) – Based on the 1947 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, first published in 1946 and written by Robert Penn Warren.
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) – this film was based on Laura Z. Hobson’s 1947 novel of the same name.
The Lost Weekend (1945) – based on Charles R. Jackson’s first novel (The Lost Weekend), published in 1944.
How Green Was My Valley (1941) – adapted from the 1939 book How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn.
Rebecca (1940) – based (through various adaptations) on the 1938 novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier.
Gone with the Wind (1939) – one of the most famous films of all time surely, and based on Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer-winning 1936 novel of the same name.
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) – based on the 1932 Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall novel of the same name.
It Happened One Night (1934) – although technically not a book, this movie was based on Night Bus, a magazine story by Samuel Hopkins Adams. The film did extremely well, being the first to win all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay), something that wouldn’t be seen again until One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975.
Cimarron (1931) – adapted from the book of the same name, published in 1929 and written by Edna Ferber.
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) – a 1929 novel originally published in German (Im Westen nichts Neues) and written by Erich Maria Remarque.
So, if anyone tells you that Hollywood didn’t rely on books and comics as source material so much in the past, you can remind them it’s always been this way. Not only have they been turning to novels and books as the inspiration for movies since they first introduced sound and colour, but they’ve been recognising the brilliant results of book adaptations all along.