Books at the Movies · Special Features

And the Oscar Goes To…Part One

Last night’s Academy Awards Ceremony was jam-packed with some of Hollywood’s best actors, amazing directors, great skits, thought-provoking monologues, and moments that were a long time coming (Congratulations Leo!).

photo courtesy of Leo’s Twitter Account

One of the greatest takeaways from last night, however, was the fact that so many of the nominees started with a book. Books-turned-movies have been a part of the Oscar culture since the second Academy Awards Ceremony in 1930, where, according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website,  screenwriter Bess Meredyth was nominated twice for writing achievement. The films, A Woman of Affairs and Wonder of Women, were both based on books: The Green Hat by Michael Arlen and Die Frau Des Steffen Tromholt (The Wife of Steffen Tromholt) (respectively).

Neither garnered an Academy Award for the distinguished writer but set precedent for the sheer volume of screenplays adapted from books that would follow. Numerous books went on to inspire Academy Award-nominated films, making the Hollywood culture richer in terms of quality and (let’s be honest) revenue. Better still, several of these book-turned-movies have actually WON Oscars in one or more categories.

It is no easy job to compile a list of 86 ceremonies worth of Oscar-winning book-based movies, so I have included just a small number below and, in the interest of keeping posts from becoming too long, it has been split into three parts.

Some of you may be surprised that some of these films were based on books, while others are famous fan-favorites. Which books are you surprised to see “technically” win an Oscar?



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1940 (12th Academy Awards Ceremony) – Gone With the Wind (1939) Based on Margaret Mitchell’s famous novel of the same name. Frankly my dear, I’m sure you’ll give a damn that Gone With the Wind won EIGHT Academy Awards:

  • Best Actress – Vivien Leigh
  • Best Supporting Actress – Hattie McDaniel
  • Best Director – Victor Flemming
  • Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Best Cinematography, Color
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Picture

I think my favorite part about this was the fact that Hattie McDaniel won Best Supporting Actress. McDaniel was the first African American to be nominated for an Oscar. She paved the way for legions of actors of color to be a part of Hollywood’s biggest ceremony (the last two years notwithstanding).


treegrows in brooklyn
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1946 (18th Academy Awards Ceremony) – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) Based on Betty Smith’s American classic that follows the Nolans and their two children in early 20th century Brooklyn. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards but only won one:

  • Best Supporting Actor – James Dunn

 According to, Peggy Ann Garner received a “juvenile” Oscar for her portrayal of Francie Nolan.





photo courtesy of imdb.comthe

1960 (32nd Academy Awards) – The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) Adapted from perhaps the most famous diary in history, The Diary of Anne Frank brought to life the tales of both the anguish and bleak hope felt by many during the Holocaust. Frank’s diary, published posthumously by her father Otto inspired the movie that went on to win three Oscars:

  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Shelley Winters
  • Best Cinematography, Black/White
  • Best Art Direction – Set Direction, Black/White



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1963 (35th Academy Awards) – To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) For decades, To Kill a Mockingbird remained Harper Lee’s only novel until the recently released sequel (which was written before the beloved classic). Mockingbird inspired the film that inspired a nation during the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. The inspiration book-turned-film won three Oscars:

  • Best Actor – Gregory Peck
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
  • Best Art Direction, Set Direction – Black/White

According to, Peck, as beloved father Atticus Finch, had a speech that went on for nine full minutes. Peck nailed the scene in one take, a testament to his supreme acting skills.


lilies of the field
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1964 (36th Academy Awards) – Lilies of the Field (1963) This film was based on William E. Barrett’s short novel of the same name. The novel and film follow the unique frienship between black, ex-soldier Homer Smith and Mother Maria, the head of a group of German nuns. The film won one Oscar:

  • Best Actor – Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier was the first African American actor to win an Oscar for a leading roll.




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1969 (41st Academy Awards) – Charly (1968) Based on Daniel Keyes’ novel Flowers for Algernon, Charly follows the story of a mentally-challenged man who undergoes an experiment that gives him the intelligence of a genius. The heart-wrenching film about humanity and innocence won one Oscar:

  • Best Actor – Cliff Robertson

Flowers for Algernon was originally based on a short story that Keyes wrote. It was also named Flowers for Algernon




rosemarys baby
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1969 (41st Academy Awards) – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)  Based on the equally suspenseful book of the same name, written by Ira Levin, Rosemary’s Baby tells the story of newly pregnant Rosemary Woodhouse and her increased suspicion of the eccentric neighbors that have taken her husband into their circle of friends.

  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Ruth Gordon

According to, author Ira Levin felt that the film adaptation of his novel was the most faithful book-to-film adaption in Hollywood, up to that point.




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1973 (45th Academy Awards) – The Godfather (1972) The Godfather is a cult classic film that, for the majority of society, has outshone the fame of its source, the book of the same name written by Mario Puzo. The film won three of the eleven Oscars it was nominated for:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Actor – Marlon Brando
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium

Though the success of the original spawned two sequels, it is the only one to be entirely based on the source book. The Godfather II does have a few scenes that are found in Puzo’s novel, but is otherwise completely new material.


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1975 (47th Academy Awards) – The Great Gatsby (1974) Another cult classic, The Great Gatsby is a work of art that succeeded in both mediums of page and film (the recent remake of the film starring my dear DiCaprio will be discussed in part three). F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beloved satire of opulence and hypocrisy makes for an amazing film, if a little bleak. The film won both Oscars it was nominated for:

  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Music, Scoring Original Song Score and/or Adaptation




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1976 (48th Academy Awards) – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) The iconic film is based on Ken Kasey’s book of the same name which is, in turn, based on his real-life experiences working at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in California. It won five academy awards and was the second in the history of the Oscars to win all of the major categories:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Actor – Jack Nicholson
  • Best Actress – Louise Fletcher
  • Best Director – Milos Foreman
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted From Other Material

According to, author Ken Kasey was reportedly deeply unhappy with the way his novel was adapted and refused to watch it.




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1983 (55th Academy Awards) – Sophie’s Choice (1982) Based on the novel of the same name written by William Styron. The film has been lauded by critics, a number of whom have claimed that Meryl Streep’s performance is one of the top film performances in the history of film. It’s no surprise, then, that while the film only won one Oscar, it was Streep who took home the golden statuette:

  • Best Actress – Meryl Streep

According to, author Styron envisioned actress Ursula Andress as the titular lead.



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1986 (58th Academy Awards) – Out of Africa (1985) Originally written under the nom de plum Isak  Dinesen, Karen Blixen’s memoir is a lush account of her life on her plantation in Kenya. Reviewed as “deliciously described” and “sharply painted” by famous author John Updike, the memoir was an easy choice for a film, though, according to, it took nearly two years for the director and writer to settle a central plot line to expand their film on. Their hard work paid off in the form of seven golden statuettes:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director – Sydney Pollack
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Art Direction, Set Direction
  • Best Sound
  • Best Music, Original Score


As I mentioned at the beginning, it would be a triumphant task to feature every single book-to-film Oscar win, but I want to give a diverse selection. However, the post would be absurdly long, thus the separation into three parts.

Part Two
Part Three

I hope you enjoyed it so far! There is so much more to see. Stay tuned!


11 thoughts on “And the Oscar Goes To…Part One

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