The script is the flesh, body, and soul of any film. Quite often, filmmakers dismiss the screenplay as a mere blueprint. However, it is the basic skeleton that props up the entire film and highlights its origin and its most enduring feature.
When you think of some of the best films of all time, the musical scores, the cinematography styles, and the film creation styles vary. However, it is the script that drives home the message, remains most memorable, and leaves an imprint on our hearts and minds.
As a homage to this art, we have compiled a list of some of the best screenplays to have ever been written. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, as these may vary if you are looking for specific genres. However, these are some of the most stellar works that every aspiring screenwriter must check out before starting their screenplay writing journey.
Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen is well-known for writing compelling and wonderful screenplays. However, Annie Hall (originally titled Anhedonia – the inability to be happy) deserves a special mention. True to its name, Annie Hall is a story of constant despair where we witness the very relatable failure of humans not to appreciate what they’ve got until it is forever gone.
While the script naturally does an excellent job of laying the foundation for the story, it is also the superb editing that makes the film even more delightful. So one of the greatest takeaway for writers would be – writing is beautiful, but editing is divine. You need to keep refining your script until you are left with the true essence of what you wish to convey.
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Billy Wilder is a celebrated screenplay writer and highly deserves the fame that comes his way. He displays great diversity and versatility, from the most heart-wrenching and dramatic scenes to rib-tickling comedy.
And speaking of comedies, Some Like It Hot is one of the best comedies to have ever been made. You will come across several zingers, observational humor, and jokes that continue right up to the last line.
Even when the setting of the film transitions from Chicago to Florida, and the protagonists continue to escape the mob and poverty, the writers keep the viewers engaged and involved at every point along the way.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Sunset Boulevard marks a momentous milestone of Hollywood as it shifted from silent films to ones with sound. Screenwriters will naturally connect with a story of Hollywood on a whole new level. In this film, we can experience the trials and tribulations of a famous movie star who is realizing that her youth and fame are both fading.
In this journey, she exploits a young screenwriter who, in turn, is exploiting her too! The writing is hopeful yet dismal, glamorous yet jaded, and cynical yet idealistic, which is a perfect narrative of anything related to Hollywood.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Citizen Kane has emerged as a legend amongst screenwriters and movie buffs, and for all the right reasons.
The screenplay for Citizen Kane reflects the experimental nature utilized by Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles. It starts off with a simple question, “What’s Rosebud?” and you find yourself going down the rabbit hole of a great story told excellently. Viewers get the opportunity to examine Kane intimately through various angles, whether through former wives, friends, or even his staff members.
The screenplay for Citizen Kane deserves to be a required text for all aspiring screenwriters.
We will always have Casablanca
What is not to love about this film? It has an excellent plot, brilliant characters, great arcs, a spectacular setting, and a meaningful message. Its simplicity makes it evergreen. The conflict of having to choose between a free world and the love of his life is enough to make us feel Laszlo’s pain, and the ending of the film is bound to leave you wanting more. Almost every line in the film packs a punch.
Casablanca is the perfect example of a polished piece of art that not only manages to gather critical acclaim but also registers commercial success!
Long before screenplay software was a thing, Joseph Stefano produced this masterpiece that possibly breaks every rule of scriptwriting that you may learn at school!
For starters, the movie does not have any character that would qualify as a protagonist. Maybe when you think of it hard enough, Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) would be the closest fit. However, the fact that she gets killed off even before the film’s interval and her character is far from likable; she wouldn’t be your typical protagonist.
The most endearing character in the entire film is Norman Bates, an iconic role played by Anthony Perkins. His character continues to resonate with the audience even when they learn about his truth. It’s tough not to empathize with him!
The suspenseful twist near the end of the movie is one of the most definitive models for writing a twist ending even to this day!
Forrest Gump (1994)
Forrest Gump is best remembered for the innocence and purity portrayed on screen by the incredibly gifted Tom Hanks. However, one must give solid credit to Eric Roth to create an exemplary screenplay using a book writing template that continues to remain relevant decades later. The movie follows the traveling angle narrative, where we see an appreciable amount of character development.
In addition to tracking the character arc, we also witness how everyone that comes in contact with the protagonist undergoes changes.
In addition to the above films, a special shoutout goes to Chinatown (1974), which is, by far, the most formally perfect film script to have ever been written. It successfully captures the impossibility of executing a good deed in a world of darkness and crime.
To be an excellent screenwriter, you will have to start your journey by writing well-written screenplays. The above list is a great place to get started on this journey. You may also follow the Writer’s Guild of America to keep up with the world of scriptwriting.