As a young screenwriter, I was first told that if i want to succeed in the area of writing films, you have to read the great screenplays. Sure it sounds like meticulous work and as a matter of fact, it can be, but the pay off is always worth it. Some of the screenplays become even better if you’ve already seen the film multiple times.
The screenplay is the backbone of the film that brings the directors, actors, and crews a blueprint on what the film will eventually be. It is the settings, the time periods, the types of characters, and everything in between. Without the screenplay, there is usually no film, and you can tell a poor film by its script in a heartbeat, but at the end of the day, it’s the directors mission to get the best from everyone on board and treating the quality or less than stellar scripts with care.
For anyone who is interested in reading scripts or eventually writing them, I’ve devised a list of some of my personal favorites of all time that have helped me through this young process of devising and creating a quality film script.
10. Pulp Fiction (1994) written by Quentin Tarantino: Starting off with one of the most discussed films in certain circles, Tarantino’s award-winning script is actually a script that goes against all the rules of standard script writing. His use of language in certain sections of the script are not what traditionalists usually support, but it pays off. If there is one major component I’ve taken from reading this script countless times, it’s the dialogue. It’s never good to mimic another style and Tarantino has a style many folks try to mimic, but if you get anything from his script for Pulp Fiction, make sure you study his dialogue.
9. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) written by Frank Darabont: It was a great year for iconic films in 1994 and not many too more iconic and respected than The Shawshank Redemption. If there’s a pattern you should notice, it’s that great films that are considered classics tend to have the best screenplays. I read this for the first time last week and was blown away. Mind you, the film had great source material with Stephen King’s novel, but it delivers as a live-action film as well.
8. Do the Right Thing (1989) written by Spike Lee: People need to stop sleeping on Spike Lee. Sure the man has some controversy in his past with the style of films he has made, but they have merit, and strong artistic value. When he broke out with Do the Right Thing it brought a view-point on modern day racism like we’ve never seen before. Not to mention, the story takes place during only one day. The acute detail he brings to the script and the iconic characters are something worth admiring as a film fan and writer.
7. Taxi Driver (1976) written by Paul Schrader: One of the most iconic American films of all time, Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader brought to life a character study that delves into the world of vigilantism and psychoanalysis. It’s a n impressive feat to make a city like New York a character, but that’s exactly what happened when Schrader wrote this film. It’s vivid in detail through simplicity and nuance.
6. Casablanca (1943) written by by Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch: Without a doubt one of the greatest films ever written. We quote it, we know it, and it has inspired every film after it to some capacity. It’s a great example of what Hollywood magic is at its finest. It’s a script that holds up and still boasts relevancy to this day and it’s crisp in delivery.
5. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003) written by Phillipa Boyens: Epic. A script that has everything you can ask for in a film. It balances multiple story lines while having emotional depth, action, humor, imagination, and believability. There is not much you can’t learn from this script.
4. American Beauty (1999) written by Alan Ball: This script has a special place in my heart because it was the first script I ever read. I never thought of this as being such a superbly written screenplay until I read it and went back to watch the movie again, but it’s a technical masterpiece in writing. It’s darkly funny with adequately sprinkled in descriptions that fit nearly perfectly as a film transition. The film looks exactly as the screenplay was written which means it is so detailed that it took less work to adapt it for the director and actors.
3. The Social Network (2010) written by Aaron Sorkin: I give David Fincher all the credit in the world for making a great film, but it wouldn’t have been the film it became if it wasn’t for the kinetic levels of conversation drenched through the pages. It takes a special writer to put so many words into a script and have them all make perfect sense. It’s a touching story with a lot happening and is a testament to power of words in film. Even when nothing is happening, something is happening.
2. Citizen Kane (1941) written by Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles: Considered among the film fanatics one of the greatest, if not the most significant, film of all time, it’s not hard to see why. The script would fit in the present day effortlessly and it’s because its one of the many blueprints to films. It’s a mystery and a character study with a non linear plot that brings one of the greatest conclusions in film history. “Rosebud…”
1. The Godfather (1972) written by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo: This is a film that gave us a hero that becomes the villain while staying the one we root for. It’s the most back and forth struggle between a character that we’ve seen later, but never as good Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone. It also taught me that some of the most iconic and worthwhile scenes are at big events in the film e.i. a wedding/party and that it’s tough as hell to write these types of scenes which highlights how impressive this script is.