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The ‘Barbie’ movie is being considered for adapted screenplay. Here’s what that means

Margot Robbie in “Barbie,” which is eligible for adapted screenplay at the upcoming Academy Awards.Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

What exactly is an adapted screenplay? Is it based on a book? An experience? What about an eponymous doll with a penchant for pink?

These are the big questions the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has sparked as the “Barbie” movie angles for awards season.

The blockbuster film, which broke records upon its debut last summer, had been campaigning for the best original screenplay category at the upcoming Oscars, according to Variety. But ahead of Oscar voting, which begins Jan. 11, the writers branch of AMPAS ruled that the film is actually eligible for best adapted screenplay under the organization’s guidelines because because it is based on existing characters and credits Mattel in its billing.

Here’s what an adapted screenplay is, and why this distinction could be significant.

What makes a screenplay adapted or original?

There are two Academy Awards categories for screenwriting: Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay. The latter is for purely new works created by the writers, based on no source material other than their imagination.

The former, the adapted screenplay, is different. This category is for films based on some sort of preexisting work – whether that be a play, a book, or even a sequel (for example, “Toy Story 3,” which was nominated in the category in 2011).

That doesn’t mean adapted screenplays are better or worse than original screenplays. Some of your favorite Oscar nominees likely fall into the category: “Top Gun: Maverick” (a sequel), “12 Years a Slave” (based on a memoir) and “Joker” (based on the character and comic book franchise) are all considered adapted by the Academy’s standards.

Even the “Transformers” movies – which have been nominated for a few Oscars – would be considered adapted, as they are based on a toy line and are largely composed of sequels.

Has this happened before?

“Barbie” is trickier. While AMPAS considers the movie an adapted screenplay, the Writers Guild of America feels differently. “Barbie” will compete in the WGA Awards as an original screenplay.

AMPAS and the WGA usually align on what screenplays are adapted and what are original, but every so often they differ, with AMPAS tending to be more conservative. Case in point: The organization famously labeled the 2016 film “Moonlight” an adapted screenplay because it was based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney called “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” that was never actually produced for the stage. “Moonlight” did go on to win in the category, and was considered to be an original screenplay by the WGA.

What does this mean for ‘Barbie’?

This is where things get interesting. In terms of awards, winning for adapted is not very different from winning for original – an Oscar trophy is an Oscar trophy, after all.

But some categories could be harder to win in than others. If “Barbie” is nominated for best adapted screenplay, writers Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach will likely face, according to Variety, “Killers of the Flower Moon” by Eric Roth and Martin Scorcese (based on a book by David Grann) and “Oppenheimer” by Christopher Nolan (based on an autobiography of Oppenheimer called “American Prometheus”).

Meanwhile, the original screenplay category this year will likely feature films like “Past Lives,” written by Celine Song, and “The Holdovers,” written by David Hemingson.

None of this changes the fact “Barbie” will likely be a talker at the 2024 Academy Awards, whether the doll gets a statuette or not.

Nominations for the 96th Academy Awards will be announced on January 23. The ceremony will take place on March 10th.

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