12 Years a Slave joins list of Oscar winning films based on books

When 12 Years a Slave won the Academy Award for Best Picture on March 2, 2014, it made history as the first film about slavery, or the black experience in America, to be given this award. The film is based on the memoir written by Solomon Northrup, a free black man who was drugged and sold into slavery in 1841. Therefore, it also joined the ranks of Academy Award-winning movies adapted from books.

Books usually experience a surge in sales when they are made into films, and especially when those films do well. 12 Years a Slave is no exception. Though Northrup’s memoir was written 161 years ago, the film’s release brought it back into the contemporary literary world. The edition that is currently selling the most copies in the movie tie-in edition, with a forward written by the film’s director, Steve McQueen.

According to Publishers Weekly, the sales of this edition reached an all-time high during the holidays in 2013, selling 3,000–5,000 copies a week. During the first several weeks of 2014, they dropped off a bit, but when the Academy Award nominations were announced, sales picked up again. They nearly doubled the week after the announcement, soaring back to the highs of the holiday season.

Now that the film has won best picture, those sales are likely to remain high for at least the next several weeks. There have been a number of other Best Picture winners based on previously published books over the years. Here are a few of the most recent ones.

  • Slumdog Millionaire – The 2008 Winner for Best Picture, directed by Danny Boyle, was adapted from the 2005 novel Q & A, by Indian author Vikas Swarup.
  • No Country For Old Men – Adapted for the screen from the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, this film won Best Picture in 2007. It also won the awards for Best Director (The Coen Brothers) and best adapted screenplay.
  • Million Dollar Baby – This 2004 Best Picture winner, starring Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, and Morgan Freeman, was based on a collection of short stories by boxing manager F.X. Toole. This collection’s original title was Rope Burns, but after the movie’s success, it was re-published with the title Million Dollar Baby.
  • The Return of the KingPeter Jackson’s film adaptation of the second and third book in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy won Best Picture in 2003.
  • A Beautiful MindThis 2001 Best Picture winner was based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of a prodigy named John Nash who developed schizophrenia. The biography was written by Sylvia Nasar.
  • The English Patient The 1996 winner was adapted from Michael Ondaatje’s novel of the same name, published in 1992.
  • Schindler’s ListThe Best Picture Winner for 1993, a film about the Holocaust directed by Steven Spielberg, was adapted from the book Schindler’s Ark by Australian writer Thomas Keneally. The U.S. version of the book was called Schindler’s List, and after the film, the book was released in other countries under that name as well.

 These are only the most recent Best Picture winners based on previously published books. One of the earliest winners, 1939’s Gone With the Wind, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name by Margaret Mitchell, has been criticized for glorifying the South during slavery. 12 Years a Slave, the most recent film to join this list, does exactly the opposite. It is unfortunate that this story, published 161 years ago, did not reach mainstream American consciousness until the film’s release in 2013.