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Early Oscar Predictions: The Screenplays

Best Picture and Best Screenplay nominations tend to be united. Of the eight or nine films up for Best Picture, you can bet that many of those will also be featured in the screenplay category. It makes sense, after all, that if a movie gets a Best Picture nomination, its screenplay should be rewarded as well. But of course it isn’t always the case — there are a few misses here and there. The potential Best Picture winner can win without a screenplay nomination — it’s not impossible, but of course the pairing always helps.

Between 2006 and 2016 three films that won an Oscar for original screenplay also won Best Picture, while six adapted screenplay winners matched Best Picture during the same period. All together that means that nine out of the past ten Best Picture winners also received one of the screenplay awards. The only one to miss was The Artist, which had no dialogue (although it was still nominated for original screenplay).

Whatever film you’re thinking of for Best Picture (unless we’re talking about something like Titanic), generally speaking you want it to be full of actors and also be in position for a directing and screenplay nomination at the very least. Then again, it could come in with a whole raft of nominations, like La La Land did last year with 14, and still lose Best Picture.

It looks like this year the heat is in original, not adapted. I’ll explain.

So far, in original screenplay, we have three strong possibilities out of the gate: Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, and Mark Boal’s Detroit. These three films are about survival, weirdly enough. They are about surviving the night. Surviving the week. Surviving period. Phantom Thread by Paul Thomas Anderson will likely be considered, as will Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s original work for The Papers. Guillermo Del Toro co-wrote The Shape of Water with Vanessa Taylor based on his own original story concept.

Downsizing is an original screenplay by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Suburbicon is by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney, and Grant Heslov. Battle of the Sexes is an original screenplay from Simon Beaufoy. All the Money in the World is an original screenplay by David Scarpa. Mother! by Darren Aronofsky and Wonder Wheel by Woody Allen are both, of course, original. And Darkest Hour is an original script by Anthony McCarten. The Current War is written by Michael Mitnick.

Many have been hoping that The Big Sick has a shot at a nod. It’s written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon.

In adapted, we have James Ivory’s Call Me By Your Name from the novel by André Aciman, which could be a strong contender to win the whole thing. Hillary Jordan’s novel Mudbound was adaptated by Dee Rees and Virgil Williams. Coming up there’s Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Molly Bloom’s memoir Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker, Victoria and Abdul‘s screenplay by Lee Hall is based on the book by Shrabani Basu. Last Flag Flying by Richard Linklater and Darryl Ponicsan, based on Ponicsan’s novel. Wonderstruck the movie and the book were written by the same author, Brian Selznick (who also wrote Scorsese’s Hugo). Blade Runner 2049 is, of course, an adapted screenplay by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green — based on the original story by Philip K. Dick, originally adapted in 1982 by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples.

Since the preferential ballot was implemented in 2009, screenplay has had a tight relationship with Best Picture. All the major categories have a correlation with Best Picture, but none are as strong as directing and screenplay. Below we chart the overlap between Best Screenplay nominations and Best Picture. As you can see, before 2009, the pairings are more scarce in both screenplay categories for nominated films that were also in the Best Picture lineup. It’s still way too early to know for sure how this is going to go, but from the looks of it right now, I’d bet that whatever complementary Best Picture and screenplay heat there is this year will come from the original screenplay category.

Adapted Screenplays that won Best Picture
2016: 5/5 – Moonlight
2015: 4/5
2014: 4/5
2013: 4/5 – 12 Years a Slave
2012: 5/5 – Argo
2011: 3/5
2010: 5/5
2009: 4/5
2008: 4/5 – Slumdog Millionaire
2007: 3/5 – No Country for Old Men
2006: 1/5 – The Departed

Original Screenplays that won Best Picture
2016: 3/5
2015: 2/5 – Spotlight
2014: 3/5 – Birdman
2013: 4/5
2012: 3/5
2011: 2/5
2010: 4/5 – The King’s Speech
2009: 4/5 – The Hurt Locker
2008: 1/5
2007: 2/5
2006: 3/5

There is a slightly better chance for a Best Picture winner to have an adapted screenplay than an original one. I would guess that the reason for this is that adapted works tend be regarded as involving more research and more character development, not to mention their pre-existing literary cachet, whereas original screenplays often tend to reflect the personal world of the writer.

Either way, it’s probably impossible to tell how it’s going to go since there are so many films ahead of us to be seen. Choosing the five from original will be the hardest because we’re going on very little information in some cases.

One thing we know for sure: one film will win Best Picture and that film’s screenplay will likely win too.