• Simon Stephenson accuses
    The Holdovers
    of blatant plagiarism, claiming the entire screenplay was copied line-by-line from his script
  • The writer provided evidence to the Writers Guild of America, stating that key elements such as story, characters, and dialogue were identical.
  • Despite being in the industry for 20 years, Stephenson insists that the similarities between the two screenplays are not a case of mere coincidence.



After becoming a sleeper hit favorite for the Oscars, The Holdovers is being accused of plagiarism. The 2023 dramedy revolved around a teacher at an all-male boarding school in ’70s New England who finds himself stuck supervising a handful of students left on campus during the Christmas break with the help of cafeteria manager Mary. Led by Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa, the movie was a critical and commercial hit, landing five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Giamatti, Best Supporting Actress for Randolph and Best Original Screenplay for David Hemingson.

A new report from Variety reveals that Simon Stephenson, best known for co-writing the story of the 2021 Pixar movie Luca, is accusing The Holdovers of having plagiarized his Black List script entitled Frisco. In an email exchange acquired by the publication, the writer raised his concerns to the Writers Guild of America indicating that the Oscars 2024 favorite blatantly copied his unproduced dramedy project, while another email thread from late February saw him accusing the movie of taking “the meaningful entirety” of his script, including its “story, characters, structure, scenes, dialogue“, which he described as “brazen“. See Stephenson’s various email accusations below:

I’ve encountered a credits-related issue on quite a high profile WGA-covered project. The evidence The Holdovers screenplay has been plagiarized line-by-line from Frisco is genuinely overwhelming – anybody who looks at even the briefest sample pretty much invariably uses the word “brazen.”

I can demonstrate beyond any possible doubt that the meaningful entirety of the screenplay for a film with WGA-sanctioned credits that is currently on track to win a screenwriting Oscar has been plagiarized line-by-line from a popular unproduced screenplay of mine. I can also show that the director of the offending film was sent and read my screenplay on two separate occasions prior to the offending film entering development. By ‘meaningful entirety’ I do mean literally everything — story, characters, structure, scenes, dialogue, the whole thing. Some of it is just insanely brazen: many of the most important scenes are effectively unaltered and even remain visibly identical in layout on the page.

I’ve been a working writer for 20 years – in my native UK before I came to the US – and so I’m very aware that people can often have surprisingly similar ideas and sometimes a few elements can be ‘borrowed’ etc. This just isn’t that situation. The two screenplays are forensically identical and riddled with unique smoking guns throughout.

Will The Holdovers’ Plagiarism Accusation Hurt Its Oscar Chances?

Stephenson’s Frisco script, of which he is claiming The Holdovers plagiarized, is said to have the story of “a world-weary middle-aged children’s doctor and the 15-year-old patient he gets stuck looking after“, admittedly similar to that of The Holdovers‘ emotional story of a troubled teacher caring after a 15-year-old story he’s inadvertently in charge of caring for. The Luca writer is said to have raised his concerns with multiple WGA board members, which is said to be “still being discussed internally“, though sources report he has been pushing for a proper investigation due to the movie’s Oscar campaign.

This wouldn’t mark the first time a movie found itself mired in controversy heading into the Oscars season. Guillermo del Toro was similarly accused of plagiarism for The Shape of Water, though the case was dismissed, while Green Book‘s Best Picture win sparked controversy due to reports of voters not wanting to award the Netflix-released Roma and the family of the former movie’s focus subject, feeling it to be an inaccurate depiction of him. Roman Polanski’s Best Director win also sparked backlash due to his pleading guilty to a statutory rape charge at the time.

While Payne and Hemingson aren’t under the same scrutiny as Polanski, the fact they are being accused of plagiarism does raise the question whether The Holdovers will be overlooked at the Oscars. Looking back at prior ceremonies, the closest situation to this would be Shape of Water or The Disaster Artist, for which James Franco won the Best Actor Golden Globe, though was not nominated come the Oscars due to his legal troubles. With The Holdovers already facing stiff competition from the likes of Barbie, Oppenheimer and May December, among others, it may ultimately lose its biggest nominations.

Source: Variety

The Holdovers Poster

The Holdovers

The Holdovers is a comedy-drama film starring Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham, a prep academy professor hated by peers and students alike. Stuck at the academy for the holidays with no family or friends to visit, he finds himself in the company of a bright-but-troublemaking young student named Angus and the school’s head cook, Mary. Together, the three will create a makeshift family as they bond during the holiday season.

Alexander Payne

Release Date
November 10, 2023

MiraMax , Gran Via

Focus Features

David Hemingson

Paul Giamatti , Da’Vine Joy Randolph , Dominic Sessa , Carrie Preston

133 Minutes

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