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Hollywood Insider Adapted vs. Original Screenplays, Box-Office, Oscars, Academy Awards

Photo: The Power of A Screenplay/Adapted vs. Original Screenplays

Adapted vs. Original Screenplays? What does the viewer want? Ultimately, the answer is a good film. But a decision must be made every time someone picks a movie to watch. This decision is based on what they are willing to watch in exchange for their time. And this decision can be analyzed from the point of view of  ADAPTED vs. ORIGINAL screenplays. Is there one category that is preferred over the other? And is there one that can be deemed better than the other? Both categories have a lot of history behind them and many reasons to laud one over the other.

The adapted vs. original definition can be tricky, though, so we’ll clear that out of the way first. In a Vox article, the point is made that Spotlight was categorized as an original screenplay even though it’s based on a true story. It was classified as an original screenplay because it was not based on a single primary source. For this article’s purpose, we will say that any screenplay based on source material is adapted, but will defer to the Academy’s ruling when using the Oscars as a sample test. 

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What does the Audience Pay More For? Adapted vs. Original? 

One way you can track what viewers prefer is how they spend their money. In recent years, there have been many sequels made, franchises established, and movies rebooted. This shows that there is a high demand for films based on source material. This is reflected in the top domestic lifetime grosses of the past ten years. Of the highest-grossing films (domestically) over the last ten years, only one can be out and out viewed as original: Inside Out. The other three that could fit the bill are Star Wars: Episodes VII and VIII and Incredibles 2. But these are based on established worlds and characters, so they will be considered adapted because of their basis on source material.

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One out of ten seems like a tremendous victory for adapted screenplays, but if you look at the top three worldwide grosses, two out of three are original screenplays (Avatar and Titanic vs. Avengers: Endgame). These original screenplays have fought off the competition, aside from Endgame, for over ten years (Titanic over twenty). From that point of view, the original screenplay seems to be holding its own when it comes to the top-grossing films. And four others of the top ten all-time highest worldwide grosses are based on original screenplays. Since we are counting films that fall under this umbrella as adapted, adaptations take the prize for which the audience puts their dollar on.

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Which Get the Most Oscars? Adapted vs. Original?  

To answer this question, we looked at the winners of each category, original and adapted, to see which won more Oscars over the past ten years. Original screenplays won five of the ten years compared to adapted, which won three of the ten years. Two of the years came out as draws. The total Oscars numbers tally to 18 for adapted and 24 for original. Original screenplays also beat out adapted five to three for Best Picture of the eight that won. Below are the results of the two categories head to head over the past ten years.

Adapted vs. Original

2020— JoJo Rabbit (1) Parasite* (4)

2019— BlacKkKlansman (1) Green Book* (3)

2018— Call Me By Your Name (1) Get Out (1)

2017— Moonlight* (3) Manchester by the Sea (2)

2016— The Big Short (1) Spotlight* (2)

2015— The Imitation Game (1) Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)* (4)

2014— 12 Years a Slave* (3) Her (1)

2013— Argo* (3) Django Unchained (2)

2012— The Descendants (1) Midnight in Paris (1)

2011— The Social Network (3) The King’s Speech* (4)

*Which film won Best Picture that year.

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Original screenplays narrowly beat out adapted, but the numbers are consistent with how they compare head to head. This is only considering one award ceremony, which has a subjective ranking compared to how much money a film makes. Still, it can pick out movies that might not always get the marketing or viewership they deserve.

Conclusion

From the two comparisons made in this article, the results are split. Adapted screenplays beat out original in the category or overall gross, and original beat out adapted for the awards. Adapted gave a much better fight in the awards category than original made in the total gross, though. So the overall winner of the adapted vs. original debate goes to adapted. 

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Adapted screenplays have a built-in audience that knows the source material, rather than original screenplays that are an unknown entity going to the screen. This can give adapted screenplays a head start for attracting viewers. However, that doesn’t mean original screenplays don’t have juggernauts in the history of film. Many films like The Sting, The Apartment, and Sunset Blvd. are classic original screenplays. And many have revolutionized film for the modern viewer like Do the Right Thing and The Matrix

In conclusion, this article’s first question is probably the most important: What does the viewer want? Ultimately, the viewer wants a good film. And both categories can deliver. 

Which do you prefer? 

By Drew Ross

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Author

  • Drew Ross writes for Hollywood Insider with the aim of bringing the reader an uplifting and insightful experience. He combines his degree in film and business to show a unique point of view on cinema and his beliefs coincide with Hollywood Insider's values of promoting positive and meaningful content. Drew enjoys reading at the pace of one to two books a week and loves movies of all genres. He has placed in two screenwriting competitions and has short stories published by The RavensPerch, The Book Smuggler's Den, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and Drunk Monkeys.

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