Which books were the 2020 Oscar adapted screenplay nominees based on?

Only three of the five screenplays were based on traditional books this year, with the remaining contenders being adapted from a comic and an unproduced play.

Though there’s a great Hollywood tradition for adapting beloved books into movies, inspiration for Oscar-nominated movies often come from a wide number of sources. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was based on”Can You Say…Hero?” an Esquire article from 1998, for example. The critically acclaimed 2015 movie The Martian began as a self-published 2011 novel by Andy Weir. And while the parade of Marvel and DC adaptations hitting theaters seems neverending these past few years, comic book characters have found new life on the big screen for more than half a century. 

This year’s Best Adapted Screenplay nominees are no different. While three of the scripts were based on traditionally published books (one a beloved classic at that), one is adapted from on an unproduced play and the other is loosely based on a 1988 comic. Here are the source materials that served as the inspiration for the 2020 Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nominees:

The Irishman

I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa by Charles Brandt

Martin Scorcese’s latest hit began when Robert De Niro read Charles Brandt’s I Heard You Paint Houses to prepare for a role as a retired hitman in a movie he and Scorcese intended to make with Paramount, entitled Frankie Machine. But De Niro found himself connecting more to Brandt’s book, in which Sheeran, a man who orchestrated more than 25 hits for the mob, confesses the details of his unusual life to Brandt from the perspective of an 82-year-old man looking back on his career. This reminiscing perspective appealed to De Niro, who took it to Scorcese and industry executives and suggested this was the story Scorcese and De Niro should make instead. The result is The Irishman, which stars De Niro as Sheehan and Pacino as Hoffa. (And if anyone’s curious about the title of Brandt’s book: “I heard you paint houses” were the first words Hoffa ever said to Sheehan, which was mob lingo for “I heard you do hit jobs.”) Steve Zaillian, who co-wrote Gangs of New York, wrote the screenplay for the film, occasionally meeting with Brandt throughout the process in order to improve the script.

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