Academy Awards for Best Picture – based on books

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.

2012 Oscar Nominees based on Books

As usual, some of the movies up for Oscars in the 84th Academy Awards are based on books.  Have you read any of them?  I’m fascinated by film adaptations of books, and for me the important bit is that they are an adaptation.  You can’t always do on the big screen the same stuff you do in a book, it doesn’t necessarily translate.  I think you have to find the essence of the story, introduce it, develop it and then close it in a very short period of time.  The tools are different in moving pictures and as a result, the approach has to vary as well.  People get too tied down to ‘it being exactly like the book’ when in fact the key is, does it tell the same story, with the same impact.

Clearly there’s plenty of scope for getting it wrong, and a lot of scope for upsetting the original author depending on how much creative control they have or want, but I think the last group of people who should be defensive over the original source are the readers or the movie goers themselves.  Taking someone elses creative art and adapting it is a huge responsibility, which I’m sure most screenwriters and directors are more than aware of.

Anyway, here they are, the 2012 Oscar Nominations for movies based on books!


Hugo is up for a bunch of awards, including Best Picture, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Directing and Film Editing (and a bunch more, seriously)!  Hugo is based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.


Based on Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, and also up for Best Picture as well as Writing (Adapted Screenplay) and offering Brad Pitt a chance for Actor in a Leading Role.  I believe the book is non-fiction.

The Descendants

Another adaptation up for Best Picture, The Descendants is based on the book of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings.  It’s also in the running for Best Director, Actor in a Leading Role (Clooney this time) and a couple of others.

The Help

Yet another book adaptation in the running for Best Picture.  The Help was written by Kathryn Stockett, and is giving Viola Davis a shot at Lead Actress, and Jessica Chastain as Supporting Actress.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Yep you guessed it, in the running for Best Picture!  Also has a chance at pulling in Best Supporting Actor for Max von Sydow (and in my view, he deserves it, because he’s all round awesome)!  The book has been out since 2006 although Amazon appears to think it’s a ‘film tie-in’, which I’m sure isn’t true. It’s written by Jonathan Safran Foer.

War Horse

Six of the nine nominations for Best Picture are book adaptation, with War Horse being our last.  War Horse (based on the book of the same name by Michael Morpurgo) is also up for a bunch of technical awards such as Art Direction, Original Score and Sound Editing.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

As well as giving Rooney Mara a chance at Best Actress, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is up for a couple of technical awards (Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Film Editing).  Originally written by Stieg Larsson, it’s been adapted twice now, once in 2009 in Swedish and this time by Hollywood.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

The classic novel, written by John le Carré, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is in the running to give Gary Oldman a Best Actor award (along with Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score).

My Week with Marilyn

I believe My Week with Marilyn is based on two books combined.  Both are by Colin Clark, “The Prince, The Showgirl and Me” and “My Week with Marilyn”.  The film offers Michelle Williams a chance at Best Actress and Kenneth Branagh as Best Supporting Actor.

While researching this post, I found conflicting sources on whether The Iron Lady was based on a Margaret Thatcher Biography (Margaret Thatcher Volume One) by John Campbell.  I couldn’t find anything definitive, so I’m not listing it here specifically.

So, 6 of the 9 movies up for Best Picture are book adaptations and another 3 adaptations offer chances for actors, actresses and movie technicians to be recognised.  Not a bad potential haul for literature.

Addendum: I am reminded that although these awards take place in 2012, technically they are the 2011 Academy Awards.