Ever since the dawn of the medium, film has been borrowing from outside sources as inspiration for its cinematic endeavors. D.W. Griffith’s controversial Reconstruction epic, The Birth of a Nation, was based on Thomas Dixon’s racist ode to the KKK, “The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan.” F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu was based on Bram Stoker’s classic horror novel, Dracula (although the film failed to receive permission from the Stoker estate to do so, which almost led to the complete obliteration of the film after a court ordered the destruction of every copy of the movie). Thomas Edison’s The Sneeze is said to have been influenced greatly by Fydor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground.
Okay, so this last one isn’t true, but nevertheless, you get the picture. Hollywood loves to borrow ideas for their films from other narrative-bound arts, always have and always will. It may have something to do with an intellectual inferiority complex that the industry, even after the works of Renoir, Bergman, Fellini, Tarkovsky, and Kubrick, has never fully shaken, or maybe it is just because they want to see their favorite stories visually actualized in the alluring glow of the silver screen, but whatever the psychoanalytical basis for this insatiable preference, it is as much a part of the industry and its history as is the celebrity rag.
It will come as no surprise then that the Academy is not immune to this fascination with adaptation. Starting with the Oscar’s third film to be anointed Best Picture, All Quiet on the Western Front, based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, leading up to last year’s reigning champion, Argo, adapted by Chris Terrio partly from an article that appeared in Wired Magazine, the Academy’s affinity for films based on previously published material is well established.
Sometimes they are based on characters formally introduced in preceding films (Toy Story 3), sometimes they are based on highly regarded novels (Great Expectations). Other times the films are based on famous plays from esteemed playwrights (A Street Car Named Desire), while still other times they have very dubious ties to epic poems (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which is loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey). Whatever the nature of the source material may be, the added gravitas of “adaptation” is often beneficial in the eyes of Oscar, as 56 of the 85 Best Picture Oscars (about two-thirds of the winners) have gone to movies based on preexisting material.
This means that 2014′s ultimate Oscar champ may very well likely come from this year’s crop of adaptations. Although, somewhat unusually, I actually think this year’s Best Original Screenplay lineup features the deeper and more competitive roster. The prospective list of nominees in the adapted category is pretty front-loaded, with a bunch of big names inevitably fighting for the five slots, but no real viable dark horses lurking in the shadows (unless you think Baz Luhrmann’s financially successful, but critically ignored adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby, will somehow manage a nomination?)
There are though enough strong contenders (just barely) to fill out a list of ten very possible contenders without having to resort to fillers. There may be one or two surprise nominees in this category that surface along the way, but I will be quite stunned if the vast majority of the category’s nominees (if not all) are not from this list. If you yourself then happen to be a fan of cinematic interpretations, take a good look at these ten films, because these films are likely the best movies this category is going to see all year.
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