A common trait in most Academy Award winners in the top category has to do with the words spoken and the actions presented. For any film's odds to increase in winning the Best Picture trophy, their screenplay would have to be nominated. A win in either Original or Adapted Screenplay can inch a film closer to that prize.
For the 2014 Academy Awards, Alfonso Cuaron's science-fiction drama Gravity tied for the most nominations - but the screenplay he co-wrote with brother Jonas was not nominated. Despite this omission, there has been history in which a film didn't need a screenplay bid to claim the ceremony's top award. It should doom the film's chances of winning the Best Picture prize.
Yet it may not be entirely true.
Some of the first Best Picture winners - including the high-flying silent Wings, the musical The Broadway Melody and the ensemble drama Grand Hotel - did not have their scripts competing for any statuettes. They were not even nominated.
Looking over recent Oscar history dating from the 1990s to the present day, there have been several Best Picture recipients without any awards for their screenplays. Some of the winners had their scripts nominated, but walked out empty-handed; there was also one popular Best Picture-winning film in which the script was not on the final shortlist for Original and/or Adapted Screenplay.
2011: The Artist
French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius' homage to the silent film took on the fall of a popular action star (Jean Dujardin) and the rise of the leading lady (Berenice Bejo) who falls for him while trying to get his autograph. The film became a surprise worldwide sensation, and earned Dujardin and Hazanavicius the Best Actor and Director statuettes. Hazanavicius also scored a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, but its storyline had to be inspired by the fame-and-fortune tales of William Wellman's 1937 landmark A Star is Born. Perhaps for that reason, The Artist lost the Original Screenplay prize to Woody Allen for his 1920s-inspired romantic comedy Midnight in Paris.
2004: Million Dollar Baby
Clint Eastwood's boxing drama came out of nowhere during the 2004 Oscar season, ultimately upsetting two biopics for the top prize - Martin Scorsese's Howard Hughes epic The Aviator and the music-fueled Ray (which featured a Best Actor winning turn in Jamie Foxx). Journeyman writer Paul Haggis (who created the mountie dramedy Due South) took on the stories of professional cutman Jerry Boyd, a.k.a. F.X. Toole, and gave them a big-screen makeover. Despite Eastwood's triumphs, Haggis would not share in the glory, as his script lost to the Sideways duo of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. The following year, he secured two Oscars for writing and producing the race relations drama Crash, upsetting the heavy favorite Brokeback Mountain.
Bob Fosse's cynically-fueled 1920s-set Broadway show saw its adaptation push ahead the revival of the movie musical started by Baz Luhrmann's 2001 hit Moulin Rouge!, with action led by the multi-talented director/choreographer Rob Marshall. Its screenplay adaptation was penned by Bill Condon, who won an Oscar for the 1998 James Whale biopic Gods and Monsters and would go on to pen the adaptation for the 2006 Oscar-winning musical Dreamgirls. While Chicago won Best Picture, Condon did not win the Adapted Screenplay prize to Ronald Harwood for the Holocaust biopic The Pianist. He would not be the only one feeling the loss of Oscar gold - Marshall would be defeated by The Pianist's Roman Polanski, who was absent from the ceremony.
Ridley Scott helmed a sword-and-sandals epic with Russell Crowe as a Roman general who finds himself betrayed and sold into slavery, left fighting for his life. The big-budget drama opened during the early summer of 2000, where box office gold was assured - but usually not Oscar gold. Yet the film delivered twelve nominations and five victories including top prizes for Crowe and the film. Yet Scott and the writing trio of David Franzoni, John Logan & William Nicholson all left empty-handed, especially in the Original Screenplay category; the familiarity of the Roman epic genre may have doomed its chances. Cameron Crowe ultimately won for his 1970s coming-of-age drama Almost Famous.
Before he became the king of the box office with a staggering $2+ billion gross for 2009's Avatar, James Cameron had already achieved technical and commercial supremacy with an epic drama featuring a stowaway (Leonardo DiCaprio) falling for a rich socialite (Kate Winslet) backed up by the fall of the doomed titular luxury liner. The film's $200 million budget had initially made Titanic a Hollywood laughing-stock, but Cameron would joke his way to a then-record $1.8 billion, and turned DiCaprio and Winslet into two of their generation's screen icons. While the film would tie the record for most Oscars with eleven statuettes including wins for Best Picture and Best Director, Cameron's screenplay would not share in the glory. Even more surprising, it was a rare category in which Titanic was not nominated.
1996: The English Patient
Michael Ondaatje's epic novel became a blockbuster war epic when given to British filmmaker Anthony Minghella, and boasted a highly-acclaimed cast in nominees Ralph Fiennes & Kristin Scott Thomas and eventual winner Juliette Binoche. The World War II-set drama followed a Hungarian mapmaker (Fiennes), the relationship he shares with a British woman (Thomas), and the nurse (Binoche) who looks after him in the waning days of the conflict. The romantic sweep lured critics and audiences to appreciate the film, so much to the point it became fodder for a legendary sitcom (Seinfeld) to ridicule it. Yet The English Patient's nine wins were no joke, though Minghella's bid for Adapted Screenplay would leave him empty handed. He was upset by then-newcomer Billy Bob Thornton for the acclaimed feature version of his original short Sling Blade.
Before he delivered a religious blockbuster in 2004's The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson delivered the tale of Scottish hero William Wallace in what became the ultimate winner of the 1995 awards season. The three-hour biopic followed Wallace's leading Scottish troops against the English (led by Patrick McGoohan's King Edward), while also gaining the unlikely love of the French princess. Even as the film won Best Picture and Best Director for Gibson, the screenplay by Randall Wallace would not score a statuette in the Original Screenplay category - which was a rather unusual bid considering the use of a 15th century poem on William Wallace as the script's inspiration. Randall Wallace lost to Christopher McQuarrie for the ensemble thriller The Usual Suspects.
This hit film was a comeback for two great Hollywood landmarks: actor-director Clint Eastwood and the Western genre. The dark Western drama follows an aging killer (Eastwood) who decides to return to the trade as prostitutes offer a reward for the murder of two men who attacked one of their own. The drama brought together Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris, and the screenplay was written by David Webb Peoples, one of the two credited scribes of Ridley Scott's 1982 science-fiction classic Blade Runner. While Eastwood and Unforgiven were celebrated with wins at the 1992 Oscar ceremony, Peoples' script was not given such treatment. It lost the Original Screenplay prize to Irishman Neil Jordan, for his landmark and shocking screenplay for the drama The Crying Game.