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30 Screenplays For Every Screenwriter To Read (Plus 20 Of Our Favourites)

30 Screenplays For Every Screenwriter To Read (Plus 20 Of Our Favourites)

Here’s a list of essential screenplays for every serious screenwriter to read – screenplays, not films. If you are a budding screenwriter, you can’t just watch the film and learn screenwriting from it. You must read the screenplay itself. 

Watch the film, but the screenplay is the thing. Read the rhythms. See scripts unfolding. 

I’ve noted a few places where you can get movie scripts online, but the web is a rich resource. You can find most things if you poke around. 

Hopefully, these scripts will give you a sense of how to format your screenplay, write dialogue, create captivating characters, and more.

Here’s the list. 

30 Must-Read Screenplays

1. Some Like It Hot

A deft blend of comedy and drama. Given there are two romances which matter, plus whether our two ‘ladies’ are going to get executed by the Mob, there’s a lot of plot to deal with and it’s done with wonderful grace and wit. A great film. (Read the script.)

2. Casablanca

Is this as good as everyone says it is? Casablanca is here because it tops most lists, though for me, the film is in the acting. The script itself plays a supporting role. (Read the script.)

3. Psycho 

A landmark in film-making and scriptwriting. To kill the heroine midway is a terrifically bold and (still) shocking decision, yet one that does not derail the film. If you tried the same in a novel, you’d kill the novel. Here, it works. (Read the script.)

4. Chinatown

Chinatown is magnificent, packing a ceaselessly interesting plot whilst combining two stories of real human weight (a corruption tale, an incest one). Decades after its making, the film packs emotional clout. Though Chinatown is often held up as a perfect example of the three-act drama, I do question that. Isn’t it, in fact, a film that brings plot twists steadily and unexpectedly throughout the film? Read the script and see what you think. (Read the script.)

5. The Godfather 

A film whose power comes from the emotional force of seeing a decent man corrupted by his family and his circumstances. The gangstery stuff is all great, but the central story is one of emotional destruction, handled so unflinchingly. Its script details the Italian-American mafia life in such rich texture, taking the film beyond its (stunning) visuals. (Read the script.)

6. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 

I love the sunshine in this film, the wit, the friendship, the lightness of touch. It’s a film willing to linger in places where plot isn’t being driven forward – a risky ploy in movie-making, but one that, in this instance, goes to create a film that is greater than a mere bank-heist Western. (Read the script.)

7. Bringing Up Baby

Mismatched lovers falling in love despite apparent unsuitability has never been better handled. Yes, the acting is spot on, but forget about that. The script has a wonderfully light touch, one that’s happy to get ever crazier as the long night draws on. And that final dinosaur scene? Lovely. (Read the script.)

8. American Beauty

A poignant film that starts with an astonishing script. Each character is beautifully formed, all with a convincing personality – before the actor comes to fill it – and each must deal with an aspect of appearances complimenting Lester’s own journey. That’s far too rare in movie scripts, but American Beauty shows how it can be done. Plus, on top of that, the drama is wonderful, its twists unexpected. (Read the script.)

9. Memento

Memento is told in reverse chronological order, but this wasn’t just Christopher Nolan trying to be smart. Its structure is vital not just to audiences stepping into the shoes of Leonard (an amnesiac), but to unveiling the crux of the tale, revealing the story just wasn’t what we thought it was. (Read the script.)

10. Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind

This film serves as a philosophical exploration of identity and love. It’s moving, thought-provoking cinema, delivering fully on entertainment as well. (Read the script.)

11. When Harry Met Sally 

When two graduates have a chance encounter it results in a short-term friendship. But they are forced to deal with their feelings for one another when they meet again five years later. The witty dialogue and excellent characterisation are instantly apparent in both the film and the screenplay. (Read the script.)

12. To Kill a Mockingbird 

This 1962 classic is centred around Atticus Finch, a Depression era lawyer, who sets out to defend a black man, who is accused of raping a white woman. It’s expectedly harrowing and beautifully done. The final court scene is a particular standout. (Read the script.)

13. Carol

A woman who works at a department store encounters the beautiful Carol who’s shopping for a Christmas gift for her daughter. Things take an unexpected turn when they develop feelings for one another. This film excels at drawing you into the protagonists’ worlds. (Read the script.)

14. Pulp Fiction 

In this crime drama, a group of criminals and misfits are brought together in the underworld after a series of incidents. This is a much beloved classic which will entertain you as much as it will teach you about film. (Read the script.)

15. Rear Window 

This 1954 film centres around a photographer who is stuck in his apartment with a broken leg. Bored, he begins to surreptitiously spy on his neighbours and, after lots of monotony, comes across something shocking. This is the screenplay to examine if you want some guidance on pacing and building suspense. (Read the script.)

16. Gone Girl

The screenplay for this psychological thriller was written by the author of the book it’s based on and it shows. The characterisation is excellent and the pacing is perfectly executed as you are drawn into the worlds and minds of a husband-and-wife pair of unreliable narrators. (Read the script.)

17. The Shawshank Redemption 

A man who receives a life sentence in prison becomes a rather unconventional prisoner, all while claiming his innocence in the murders of his wife and her lover. This film has a pretty even focus on character development and plot, making it both engaging and thought-provoking. A classic which became more popular in the years after its release than when it was initially released. (Read the script.)

18. Little Miss Sunshine

When their young daughter wants to participate in a beauty pageant, a family travels across the country in the hopes of making her dream come true. This film goes way beyond its premise, and tells a coming-of-age tale while also navigating family dynamics and mental illness. Sharp, funny, and brutally honest, this is a must-read (and see). (Read the script.)

19. Get Out

While we all love familiar tropes and happy endings, nothing beats a good plot twist. In this horror/thriller, it’s probably one you won’t see coming. Or, at least, you won’t expect every detail of it. The acting, writing, and directing all align here to create a film and screenplay which instantly captivate. (Read the script.)

20. Room

After years of being held captive for seven years by a kidnapper, a young woman and her son strive for freedom. Another film based on a book (with the screenplay written by the author), the majority of this tale is told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy, a unique viewing point which enables the reader/viewer to comprehend things that the narrator cannot. This is as simultaneously heart wrenching and endearing on the page as it is on the screen. (Read the script.)

screenplays

And to complete the top thirty, hats off to these, the next 10 screenplays to read (and watch): 

  1. Annie Hall 
  2. The Sting 
  3. Apocalypse Now 
  4. The Usual Suspects 
  5. Shakespeare in Love 
  6. The Best Years of Our Lives 
  7. LA Confidential 
  8. Raging Bull 
  9. The Life of Brian 
  10. 12 Angry Men 

20 Of Our Favourite Screenplays

If you’re looking for more screenplays to tear through, here are 20 more of our favourites:

  • The French Connection 
  • Little Women (2019)
  • The Manchurian Candidate 
  • Citizen Kane
  • Blade Runner 
  • High Noon 
  • La La Land 
  • Thelma and Louise
  • Dead Poet’s Society
  • Pan’s Labyrinth
  • The Silence of the Lambs
  • Gravity
  • Misery
  • American Hustle
  • Bridesmaids
  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • Ladybird
  • The Social Network
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • The Breakfast Club

These scripts contain a wide range of themes and topics, and it might be helpful initially to read scripts from the genre you want to write/are writing in. But whether you’re a screenwriter who writes comedies, or one who favours thrillers, every one of these screenplays will help you learn and grow as a writer.


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