ByBenjamin Eaton, writer at
Resident bookworm and semi-professional nerd. Find me on Twitter: @Singapore_Rice
Benjamin Eaton

The Academy Awards have always flirted with literature. At the inaugural ceremony in 1928, 7th Heaven, a drama based on the play of the same name narrowly lost out on the prestigious award to Wings. A third of the nominations that year were adaptations (yes, fine, there were only three nominations, but still). Skip ahead a few years to 2016 when Leonardo DiCaprio finally won the coveted for Best Actor, much to the appreciation of Tumblr and the wider meme society. The Revenant was another adaptation, drawing on Michael Punke's novel of history and folklore in a harrowing tale of survival.

This year's continue the trend of favoring films based on stage shows, novels, and short stories. Almost half of the nine nominees for Best Picture this year are adaptations:

  • by Denis Villeneuve (possibly the best Science Fiction film of the century), was based on the 1998 short story "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang.
  • is Denzel Washington's big-screen debut, and is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name.
  • , while based on historical fact, heavily draws on the non-fiction novel Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly.
  • , the Australian drama by Garth Davis is based on the non-fiction novel A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose.
  • by Barry Jenkins is based on the play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue."

Didn't know a few of them, right? We only have to wait a few weeks to see if another great work of fiction translated well enough for the Academy to gift it a little golden man. Until then, check out this list of Academy Award-winning films you didn't know were based on books:

10. 'Gone With The Wind'

'Gone With The Wind' [Credit: Loew's Inc.]
'Gone With The Wind' [Credit: Loew's Inc.]

The historical romance Gone With The Wind is credited as one of the greatest films of all time. It was epic in every sense of the word, from its notoriously difficult production to its lasting legacy. When adjusted for inflation, it remains the most commercially successful film in box office history. Sorry, Jim Cameron.

It was adapted from Margaret Mitchell's 1936 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. Both the book and the film have come under fire for historical revisionism and their portrayal of slavery. It was dubbed "Southern plantation fiction" for its lack of engagement with the real issue of slavery and caste societies, choosing instead to focus on the plight of a privileged, white, plantation owner. Despite, or perhaps because of this, the novel is widely analyzed from a colonial perspective and has been credited for triggering changes to the way African-Americans were depicted in cinema. It's no , but I suppose it's something.

Most Significant Difference Between the Film and the Book:

That killer final line delivered by Rhett Butler is slightly tweaked, and it is still one of the most quotable lines in cinematic history. In the novel, the line is simply: "My dear, I don't give a damn", but that slight addition of "frankly" hammers home just how beyond caring Butler finally is. However, it was the word "damn" that initially drew attention to the final line, as it was prohibited by the Motion Picture's Association Production Code.

Film legend claims that producer David Selznick was fined $5,000 for the profanity, but in actual fact, the MPA rules were tweaked prior to the film's release. The new rules stated that expletives like "damn" and "hell" are acceptable if used in a scene of "dialogue based upon historical fact or folklore, or a quotation from a literary work." I told you that books were ever-influencing Hollywood.

9. 'All About Eve'

Bette Davis in 'All About Eve' [Credit: Fox]
Bette Davis in 'All About Eve' [Credit: Fox]

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the drama All About Eve holds the record as the only film in history to receive four female acting nominations. In total, it was nominated for an astonishing 14 Academy Awards, a feat only matched in 1997 by Titanic, and this year with the Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone comedy-drama .

It was based on the short story "The Wisdom of Eve," and subsequent play written by Mary Orr, but the film didn't credit the author for her inspiration. She had, however, sold the story to 20th Century Fox for $5000, and received a Screen Writers Guild award for the story. Swings and roundabouts, eh?

Most Significant Difference Between the Film and the Short Story:

There's a powerful scene in the back of a car in the film adaptation, in which Margo Channing opens up about the difficulty of being successful and being a woman:

“…funny business, a woman’s career. The things you drop on the way up the ladder so you can move faster, you forget you’ll need them again when you get back to being a woman".

In the play, however, Margo is happily married to a man who shares her success, showing none of this conflict between marriage and career. It's an interesting point to add in to a film that received the record nominations for female actors, yet won none.

8. 'The Sound Of Music'

Maria and the von Trapp children in 'The Sound Of Music' [Credit: Fox]
Maria and the von Trapp children in 'The Sound Of Music' [Credit: Fox]

How do you solve a problem like Maria? Cast Julie Andrews to play her in a timeless adaptation filled with catchy musical numbers. The story of the Trapp family seems as fictional as they come: A stern Austrian captain hires a governess to raise his children, but falls for her charming, clumsy, and un-authoritarian ways. But wait! It's also set against the rise of Nazism in Eastern Europe, culminating in a daring escape from the increasing fascism engulfing Austria.

Alright, yes, I'm a big fan. The movie is actually based on Maria von Trapp's memoir, "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers." The author, Maria, initially despaired at the idea of writing a memoir, but was pressured into it by a friend who believed her story couldn't go to waste. She only started writing to prove to that friend that she had no writing talent whatsoever. Her book went on to become a best-seller, and the film adaptation knocked Gone With The Wind off its perch as the then highest-grossing film of all time (not adjusted, obviously).

Most Significant Difference Between the Film and the Book:

There're a few relatively major changes from book / reality to the film version of The Sound Of Music, but one of the most notable was the change to how the von Trapp's escaped post-Anschluss Austria. In the film, the characters hike over the Swiss mountains in a now iconic shot which is supposed to bookend the film with Maria's early hikes into the mountains. In reality, the family simply got on a train to Italy, but that's not nearly as cinematic.

7. 'Dances With Wolves'

Kevin Costner in 'Dances With Wolves' [Credit: Orion Pictures]
Kevin Costner in 'Dances With Wolves' [Credit: Orion Pictures]

America's expansion into the West is and always has been a contentious subject. The bloody expansion into aboriginal territories has been mythologized by shootouts, saloons, swing doors, and John Wayne.

Dances With Wolves is a different story. While, yes, it does trade in the trope of a white savior, the movie is saturated from start to finish with an impending finality: the sense that the west is disappearing. Based on the Michael Blake novel of the same name, Dances With Wolves doesn't glorify the daily conquest of settlers but displays the steady progress of communication between a defeated Lieutenant and the Sioux nearby. This is a Western that displays something like a conscience. It was also the first Western to win the Academy Award for Best Picture since 1931.

Michael Blake did write a sequel titled The Holy Road. A film adaptation has long been in the works, but Kevin Costner has claimed he won't take part.

Most Significant Difference Between the Film and the Book:

In the novel, Lt. Dunbar deals with the Comanche, not the Sioux. Kevin Costner was made an official member of the Sioux tribe after the film's release, thanks to his peaceful portrayal of the tribe's everyday life. He nearly threw away the goodwill gesture a little while later by attempting to build a resort on Sioux sacred lands, but naturally thought better of it.

6. 'The Silence Of The Lambs'

Antony Hopkins in 'The Silence Of The Lambs' [Credit: Orion Pictures]
Antony Hopkins in 'The Silence Of The Lambs' [Credit: Orion Pictures]

Oh, Hannibal Lecter. The inherently creepy, charming, psychopath that's left audience concerned about Antony Hopkins's presence on screen ever since. His presence alone is terrifying, but the film's use of suspense and its visceral portrayal of violence make for genuinely uncomfortable viewing.

Thomas Harris's novel The Silence Of The Lambs always had cinematic potential. It was widely considered the greatest thriller written in years at the time of its release, winning the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel. His cannibalistic psychopath remains one of the most enduring aspects of his literary franchise, but Hopkins really made the character his own in the film adaptation. Among his notoriously improvised lines was this eerie little gem:

Most Significant Difference Between the Film and the Book:

The Academy Awards is no stranger to controversy, and the nomination of The Silence Of The Lambs for Best Picture was met with ire from the LGBT community for its portrayal of transexuals as deranged and violent. In the novel, Dr. Danielson is distinctly clear that the character of Buffalo Bill is an individual with deep psychological problems in an impassioned speech:

"The incidence of violence among transsexuals is a lot lower than in the general population. These are decent people with a real problem — a famously intransigent problem. They deserve help and we can give it. I'm not having a witch hunt here."

Director Jonathan Demme applauded the LGBT community for flagging his film up on this mistake, and his next film Philadelphia, fore-fronted gay rights in a powerful portrayal of civil injustice.

6. 'Schindler's List'

Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson in 'Schindler's List' [Credit: Universal Pictures]
Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson in 'Schindler's List' [Credit: Universal Pictures]

If Silence Of The Lambs makes for uncomfortable viewing, then Schindler's List makes you feel ashamed. It's a harrowing story of the building persecution that Jews faced in Europe during World War II and the redemption of Oskar Schindler, a money-grabbing industrialist looking to profit from the ghettoization of Polish Jews. The film is a testament to the artistic nature of filmmaking, with any number of sequences, shots, and scenes jumping out as some of the most strikingly disturbing visuals in cinema. Whether it's the nightmarish depiction of the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto, or the agonizing shower sequence at Auschwitz.

The history of the novel Schindler's Ark is a difficult one. Holocaust survivor Poldek Pfefferberg had made it is his life's aim to tell Schindler's story. His relationship with author Thomas Keneally is the subject of another book titled Searching For Schindler: A Memoir. Poldek's tenacity earned him the dedication of Schindler's Ark, which reads:

Who by zeal and persistence caused this book to be written.

The adaptation of Schindler's Ark to screen was similarly difficult, chiefly due to the nature of the subject matter. Spielberg obviously did go on to direct the film, but refused to accept a salary for his part in making it, claiming that he'd consider it "blood money." Instead, he used his share of the profits to fund the Shoah Foundation, which honors and remembers Holocaust survivors.

Most Significant Difference Between the Film and the Book:

Spielberg quite rightly exercised a lot of creative license to tell a bold, visual story, so there're plenty of differences between the book and the film. Amon Goeth's morning ritual of shooting people from his balcony is untrue, as it was too far to accurately hit anyone. Keneally claims that sources vary on what actually happened, with some claiming that he would simply walk out every morning to execute somebody.

If you didn't know already, this clip is distressing:

4. 'Braveheart'

Mel Gibson in Braveheart
Mel Gibson in Braveheart

Sidebar: I'm English, and I still love this film, despite the depiction of us as nasty, raping bastards. In part because, while it might be broadly inaccurate, it's still in the right ballpark. Mel Gibson tells an extravagant and bloody epic of Scottish resistance through a romantic scope, but there're kernels of historical fact in this sensational blockbuster.

"The Actes And Deidis Of The Illustre And Vallyeant Champioun Schir William Wallace" is an 15th century epic historical poem by Blind Harry, translated into English roughly as: "The Wallace." It tells the story of a Scottish knight who rose to prominence during the Wars for Scottish Independence. That much at least is true.

Most Significant Difference Between the Film and the Book:

"The Wallace" is primarily folktale, so accuracy is something of a moot point. However, Braveheart has still been raked over the coals as one of the most historically inaccurate films ever made. Take the role of Princess Isabella, who Wallace impregnates by the end of the film. Isabella was actually two years old and living safely in France at this point in time, but he needed to wrestle the girl from the bad guy and conquer her with sex to win, so history is written by Hollywood, I suppose.

3. 'Forrest Gump'

Tom Hanks in 'Forrest Gump' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
Tom Hanks in 'Forrest Gump' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Tom Hanks has to be up there with the most beloved actors of all time, in no small part because of his Oscar-winning portrayal of the kind-hearted Forrest Gump. His depiction of the athlete is iconic and infections, with a host of quotes from the film never failing to bring a smile to the faces of fans:

Robert Zemeckis's comedy-drama Forrest Gump was an immediate success following its release, earning over $677 million worldwide during its theatrical running, and winning 6 Academy Awards. It's based on the Winston Groom novel of the same name, and while it focuses on the same character, this is another example of an actor taking a role and *ahem* running with it. A single instance of Tom Hanks's facial acting towards the end is simply heartrending.

Most Significant Difference Between the Film and the Book:

In the novel, Forrest Gump becomes an astronaut and befriends a male orangutan called Sue after a crash landing leaves him stranded in New Guinea where he's forced to farm cotton for a tribe of cannibals. Why that didn't make the final film, I don't know.

2. 'A Beautiful Mind'

Russel Crowe in 'A Beautiful Mind' [Credit: Universal Pictures]
Russel Crowe in 'A Beautiful Mind' [Credit: Universal Pictures]

Nobel prize winner John Nash was something of a big deal. He was an exceptional mathematician, contributing to fields of thought that most people aren't even aware of. Partial differential equations, anyone? The subject of Nash's brilliant mind was explored in the biography A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar, which was adapted into the mind-bending Russell Crowe film of the same name.

Whether you've seen the film or not, you probably know about the twist. It's largely considered among the best plot twists in cinematic history, ranking alongside "I see dead people" and the fact that Jigsaw was in the room the whole time.

Most Significant Difference Between the Film and the Book:

You guessed it. Ron Howard's film depiction of Nash's schizophrenia results in something very lucid and complex. His hallucinations have their own narrative, which build to the aforementioned twist. The reality of this condition is much messier. Sylvia Nasar defended the movie, claiming that the filmmakers:

"Invented a narrative that, while far from a literal telling, is true to the spirit of Nash's story."

1. 'Slumdog Millionaire'

Last but certainly not least, we come to the Danny Boyle drama Slumdog Millionaire, which was described at the time as "the feel-good film of the decade." It released to wide critical acclaim, receiving more Oscar nominations in 2008 than any other film that year. The movie is adapted from Vikas Swarup's novel Q & A, a rags-to-riches novel inspired by the story of an ex-British Army Major who was found guilty of cheating on the TV show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Swarup said:

"If a British army major can be accused of cheating, then an ignorant tiffin boy from the world's biggest slum can definitely be accused of cheating."

The story unfolds in a stop-start way, a fact which has been criticized and praised in equal measure. It has an almost episodic nature, which perfectly reflects the subject matter of a boy's interrogation and the stories that inform each answer.

Most Significant Difference Between the Film and the Book:

In the movie, Jamal goes on the show in an attempt to make contact with his long-time love Latika. The novel's version is much grittier. His girlfriend is a prostitute, and he goes on the show in the hope of winning enough money to have her released from her pimp.

There you go! Surprised? Let me know in the comments. I'll be following this up some point soon, so stay posted for more surprising adaptations.

Which of these films did you know was inspired by literature?

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