2024 Best Picture nominees back when they were books

Every great movie has to start somewhere

Overhead view of several old books in sunlight on a wooden surface
(Image credit: Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images)

Reverse-engineer half of 2024's Oscars Best Picture nominees and you wind up with a handful of eminently readable fiction and nonfiction from more than 200 years of English-language writing. Ready to get flipping?

'American Fiction': 'Erasure,' Percival Everett

Percival Everett, in the world of writers' writers, is a kingpin. His fans read his work repeatedly and proselytize how much his literary output is undervalued. With "Erasure," Everett skewered Black representation in the American publishing machine by embedding two narratives in the text. One, the tale of a writer, Thelonius "Monk" Ellison, trying to shake up his writing while negotiating his interactions with his family; the other, a book Ellison writes as a satirical response to stereotypical Black literature. In Cord Jefferson's film adaptation, "American Fiction," inevitable adjustments were made to Everett's text. 

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Some, like playwright Michael R. Jackson, bemoaned the film's stripping the book of its teeth. Others, like critic and writer Lavelle Porter, admired "American Fiction," with Porter writing, "We've been trying to tell y'all about how dope this man's writing is. Now maybe more people will listen and read."

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'Poor Things': 'Frankenstein," Mary Shelley

When it debuted in 1818, the horror-tinged novel did not garner much attention. Perhaps, in part, because the author, Mary Shelley, was overshadowed by her poet husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. The work went on to be adapted for numerous stage productions. Films, too, like the famous 1931 version with Boris Karloff cemented Doctor Frankenstein and his monster in the public's psyche. It wasn't until the 1970s and 1980s, though, that 'Frankenstein' became part of the literary canon. "The women's movement and increased awareness of "Other" perspectives — points of view considered outside the traditional mainstream — changed the way readers understood Shelley’s 1818 novel," wrote Courtney Suciu in the library-resource publication ProQuest. Then, in 2023, the feminist reading of 'Frankenstein' was amplified in Yorgos Lanthimos' "Poor Things," in which the monster, played by Emma Stone, is a woman.

'Oppenheimer': 'American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer,' Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin

The film from summer of 2023 was an event. So, too, was the creation and publication of this 700-some-odd-page book by two preeminent biographers. The 2005 biography won the Pulitzer Prize for biography or autobiography. In 2021, director Christopher Nolan read Bird and Sherwin's analysis of Oppenheimer's life, and two years later Nolan's film adaptation of their biography took over the globe. Sherwin died before the film debuted, but the film resonates with issues society currently faces. The film, as Bird noted in an interview at Princeton's Institute of Advanced Study, could "stimulate a national — and even global — conversation" about "the role for a scientist in a society drenched with technology." 

'The Zone of Interest': 'The Zone of Interest,' Martin Amis

Their titles are identical, but make no mistake: There are oodles of differences between Martin Amis' 2014 novel and Jonathan Glazer's 2023 film adaptation. For the book, Amis fictionalizes Nazi commandant Rudolf Hoss as Paul Doll, who is stationed at Auschwitz and is one of three narrators. Glazer's movie undoes the fictionalization of Hoss and instead focuses entirely on the relationship between Hoss and his wife, Hedwig, and what their life is like living adjacent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Glazer's movie has been polarizing. Some critics have been moved by its inhumane artfulness; others, like Manohla Dargis in The New York Times, dubbed it "a hollow, self-aggrandizing art-film exercise." The original book was also somewhat divisive. "Amis is a wizard possessing the ambition to take on weighty themes, but he is above all a word wizard," wrote Tova Reich in The Washington Post, while also noting that his character depictions are "not particularly new or enlightening."

'Killers of the Flower Moon': 'Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,' David Grann

Author David Grann is a nonfiction legend. Three of his magazine articles and one of his books were turned into movies before the same treatment happened to "Killers of the Flower Moon." Grann's deep reporting and storytelling acumen have created him a legion of fans over the years. Two of those fans include Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, the famed director who oversaw the three-and-a-half-hour opus that tells the story of the murders in the Osage nation during the 1920s. Murders known as the Reign of Terror were, as Grann uncovers, committed by white men who were trying to wrest the Osage people's oil-rich land from underneath them. DiCaprio and Scorsese love them some Grann: They bought the film rights to Grann's latest book, "The Wager," before it was even published.

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