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50 Of The Best Screenplays To Read And Download In Every Genre

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best screenplays to read

We’ve been strong advocates for the benefits of reading screenplays for a long time as it’s one of the simplest ways to learn how to write. With that in mind, we’ve put together a mega list of the fifty best screenplays to read for aspiring screenwriters. 

This list of the best screenplays to read is grouped into the five main genres you’ll find in Hollywood today: Drama, Comedy, Action/Adventure, Thriller and Horror. (We prefer to call Sci-Fi, Western, Romance, etc. sub-genres of these five and you’ll find examples of these in the lists belw too.)

Both “shooting” scripts and “spec” scripts are included in this list. If you’re an aspiring screenwriter trying to break into the industry with a spec, though, it’s important to ignore all the little formatting quirks that often come with shooting scripts. Sluglines with periods instead of dashes, large chunks of descriptive text, excessive use of camera angles and so on, are all expressions of writers who’ve made it.

If you haven’t yet, keep things simple by sticking to regular spec script formatting. So, without further ado, it’s time to get reading…

Best Screenplays To Read – Drama 

best screenplays to read
1. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
screenplay by Charlie Kaufmann

Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy erases memories of being with girl. This is a typically Kaufmanesque screenplay and one of his very best. Watch out for the long chunks of description, though, as this style isn’t recommended in spec scripts.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

2. Good Will Hunting
screenplay by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck

The script began life as Damon’s final assignment for his Harvard playwriting class before he asked Affleck to help turn it into a screenplay. They then set about developing the story into a thriller about a young man targeted by the FBI, and it was Rob Reiner who persuaded them to turn it into a drama and focus on the relationship between Will and his psychologist.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

3. Jerry Maguire
screenplay by Cameron Crowe

Easily the best of Crowe’s screenplays to date and the one that broke him into the Hollywood A-list. Earned a Best Screenplay nomination and is also a personal favorite of screenwriter, Craig Mazin.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

4. Little Children
screenplay by Todd Field and Tom Perrotta

Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, this is a skillfully woven tale about suburban angst that retains a very novelistic feel. An excellent case study in how to make Voice Over work for not against your script.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

5. Lost In Translation
screenplay by Sofia Coppola

Coppola spent six months writing a series of short stories and “impressions of Tokyo” that went on to become a seventy-page script. As understated as the movie itself, this screenplay is a real lesson in how to construct “small” scenes that move the story forward and keep the reader interested.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

6. Straight Outta Compton
screenplay by Johnathan Herman and Andrea Berloff

Unsure of what direction the script should take, a first draft arose out of ten months of research, interviewing as many people associated with rap group NWA as possible. The result was this blistering account of the group’s rise and fall, and was only Berloff’s second produced feature and Herman’s first.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

7. The Truman Show
screenplay by Andrew M. Niccol

Originally a dark sci-fi thriller set in New York City and titled “The Malcolm Show”, Niccol’s one page treatment would go on to become one of the greatest screenplay high concepts in movie history.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

8. Up In The Air
screenplay by Jason Reitman

Like the Truman Show, this is another screenplay that expertly weaves comedy into its overall drama. Adapted from the novel by Walter Kirn, this is a modern classic and definitely one of the best screenplays to read for aspiring screenwriters, no matter what their genre preference.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read
best screenplays to read

9. The Visitor
screenplay by Tom McCarthy

This is arguably a better screenplay than the one McCarthy won an Oscar for: Spotlight. Beautifully tight and sparse writing about a lonely professor learning to loosen up after discovering an immigrant family living in his New York apartment.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

10. Whiplash
screenplay by Damien Chazelle

Having already won acclaim as a short film, also called Whiplash, Chazelle decided to adapt it into a feature and the result is one of the best screenplays to read and greatest movies of recent years.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

 

Best Screenplays To Read – Comedy

best screenplays to read

1. (500) Days Of Summer
screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber

Neustadter and Weber began this screenplay by simply writing down on index cards all of the most painful relationship experiences they’d ever had. Many of them wound up in the final screenplay and it’s this mixing of realism with its avant-garde structure that makes the script so great.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

2. Bridesmaids
screenplay by Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig

This screenplay broke new ground by having female characters indulge in moments of “poop humor” in a way not seen before on screen. But beyond the infamous wedding dress scene, there’s a heart to this script and a vulnerable protagonist with whom we can all identify.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

3. The Hangover
screenplay by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

Written on spec by writing team Lucas and Moore (Four Christmases, Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past) this script is a near-perfect execution of a very high concept original idea.

best screenplays to read
Best Screenplays To Read

4. Hannah And Her Sisters
screenplay by Woody Allen

Bookended by Thanksgiving dinner parties and with a novelistic feel, this screenplay is a perfect blend of comedy with weighty themes about the meaning of life. While Allen himself may remain dissatisfied with the ending, this is without doubt one of his best screenplays to read.

best screenplays to read
Best Screenplays To Read

5. Mean Girls
screenplay by Tina Fey

Saturday Night Live queen, Tina Fey, turned her hand to feature writing with this adaptation from a book by Rosalind Wiseman. The writing is just as smart, funny and relevant as when the movie first came out over ten years ago.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

6. Planes, Trains & Automobiles
screenplay by John Hughes

Some may put a movie like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or The Breakfast Club as their choice of quintessential John Hughes comedies, but for us it’s this hilarious Steve Martin/John Candy two-hander. Essential reading if you’re writing a comedy road trip movie, or any comedy for that matter.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

7. Sideways
screenplay by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor

Rex Pickett’s novel begins with Miles at home and takes a while before he hits the road with Jack. Payne and Taylor, however, get the story moving right off the bat by opening with Miles getting ready for the trip, and the pace doesn’t let up in this darkly funny story of middle-agnst.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

8. Stranger Than Fiction
screenplay by Zach Helm

Dismissed by some as Charlie Kaufman-lite, this is a real gem of a screenplay. Imaginative, thought provoking, high concept and, best of all, extremely funny.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read
best screenplays to read

9. There’s Something About Mary
screenplay by Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, John J. Strauss, and Ed Decter

One thing many aspiring comedy screenwriters fail to do is add set pieces to their spec screenplays. From Ted picking Mary up for prom, to getting arrested for cruising, read this script and learn how to elevate a simple situation into a big comedic set piece.

best screenplays to read
Best Screenplays To Read

10. When Harry Met Sally
screenplay by Nora Ephron

Heavily influenced by Woody Allen, this screenplay grew out of a simple conversation between Ephron and the movie’s director, Rob Reiner: can a man and woman ever remain just platonic friends? The result was this classic of the Romantic Comedy genre.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read


Best Screenplays To Read – Action/Adventure

best screenplays to read

1. The Bourne Ultimatum
screenplay by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, and George Nolfi

Reading this script feels like you’re watching Peter Greengrass’ choppy, frenetic direction. It’s all right there on the page and studying this script will really show you how to give action scenes a sense of urgency.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

2. The Dark Knight
screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan helped bring a much darker edge to the Batman franchise with Batman Begins and this collaboration with his brother is an even better screenplay. Absorb all you can from this exceptional piece of work.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

3. Die Hard
screenplay by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. DeSouza

De Souza reportedly wrote the script to this seminal action movie as if the antagonist, Gruber, were the protagonist. He said, “If he had not planned the robbery and put it together, Bruce Willis would have just gone to the party and reconciled or not with his wife. You should sometimes think about looking at your movie through the point of view of the villain who is really driving the narrative.” Wise words indeed.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

4. Ocean’s Eleven
screenplay by Ted Griffin

Griffin took the story and script from the 1960 version and, with the help of Steven Soderbergh’s direction, created one the coolest heist movies of all time. Definitely one of the best movie scripts to read and study if you’re an Acton writer.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

5. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring
screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson

Adapted of course from J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, Walsh, Boyens, and Jackson approached writing the screenplay by making significant edits and zeroing in on much more on Frodo’s story with the ring. Absolute required reading for any aspiring Fantasy Adventure writers.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

6. Inside Out
screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley

There are so many writing lessons to be learned from reading this script: the way all the characters’ emotions are chosen for optimal conflict, the way Riley isn’t interested in stereotypically “girlie” pursuits but is a hockey enthusiast, the way the theme of emotions connecting people together is thread through her journey, etc. Yet another Pixar classic.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

7. Lone Survivor
screenplay by Peter Berg

The big takeaway from reading this screenplay is the value of research. Berg met the families of the deceased, had the story’s protagonist, Luttrell, move in with him while writing the script, and embedded with Navy Seals for a month in Iraq. Now that’s dedication to the craft.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

8. Looper
screenplay by Rian Johnson

Johnson has said of writing the script he wanted it to be character based rather than focus on the mechanics of time travel, and drew inspiration from movies such as The Terminator, 12 Monkeys, and Witness.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read
Best Screenplays To Read

9. The Matrix
screenplay by Larry Wachowski and Andy Wachowski

The Wachowski brothers pitched the script to Warner Bros. who were initially skeptical of its philosophical musings and obviously tricky special effects for the time. The brothers then decided to bring on board underground comic book artists Steve Skroce and Geof Darrow to storyboard the entire film, shot-by-shot. Warners were impressed and the rest, as they say, is history.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

10. Zombieland
screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick

Having kicked the idea around for several years, Reese and Wernick originally wrote the story as a TV spec. It was director, Ruben Fleischer who helped develop it into a feature by adding in a specific destination to the characters’ road trip in the form of the amusement park.

best screenplays to read
Best Screenplays To Read

 

Best Screenplays To Read – Thriller

best screenplays to read

1. Collateral
screenplay by Stuart Beattie, Frank Darabont, and Michael Mann

Beattie originally had the idea for the movie aged seventeen while riding in the back of a cab in his native Sydney. He worked up a two-page treatment called The Last Domino, which he turned into a screenplay and was later lucky enough to be put in touch with Darabont and then Mann who both contributed revisions.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

2. The Departed
screenplay by William Monahan

Monahan’s reworking of the original Asian gangster movie Infernal Affairs as a fight between Boston’s police department and the Irish American crime scene is very impressive. In fact, it earned him a Best Adapted Screenplay award from not only the WGA but also the Academy Awards.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

3. Flightplan
screenplay by Peter Dowling, Larry Cohen, Terry Hayes, and Billy Ray

This script is a great example of the “self-contained” thriller, perfect for any budding screenwriters looking to film on a low budget. Dowling’s original pitch involved an airport security guard’s son going missing on a business trip, and it was Ray’s idea to make the protagonist female and to place more emphasis on her shattered psyche in a post-9/11 world.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

4. The Girl On The Train
screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson

Yet another terrific screenplay based on a novel. Much like the screen adaptation of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, this screenplay also moves the action from the UK to the US and expertly plays with the reader’s perceptions of the protagonist, Rachel.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

5. Nightcrawler
screenplay by Dan Gilroy

Gilroy had the initial idea for Nightcrawler way back in 1988. He spent years developing the screenplay, playing with making Lou as a traditional “good guy” protagonist and with making the story a murder mystery. In order to break with stereotype, though, he finally hit upon the idea of creating an “anti-hero success story” and the result is this exceptional (slugline free) screenplay.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

6. No Country For Old Men
screenplay by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

This Coen brothers’ adaptation from the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy is notable for it’s refusal to rely on dialogue to move the story forward. Reading the script you can see why Josh Brolin, who plays Llewelyn Moss, was initially nervous: “I mean it was a fear, for sure, because dialogue, that’s what you kind of rest upon as an actor, you know?”

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

7. Prisoners
screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski

Guzikowski based the script on his own short story, which in turn was inspired by The Tell-Tale Heart in which a father gets revenge on the man who kills his kid in a hit and run by sticking him down a well. A great thriller script from an upcoming writer.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

8. Reservoir Dogs
screenplay by Quentin Tarantino

Sure, many of the tropes have been copied almost to the point of cliche by a generation of later writers, but this script was groundbreaking for its time and impossible to ignore if you want to call yourself a screenwriter.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read
best screenplays to read

9. Training Day
screenplay by David Ayer

When asked about whether he was surprised about the success of Training Day, Ayer replied “No. That was a shocker. I wrote that script on spec out of frustration. I was trying to make sales writing mediocre scripts, I guess, trying to anticipate what the studios would buy, and I wrote that for myself. I was tired of second guessing the system and I just wanted to say something.” Great advice for any aspiring screenwriter.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

10. The Usual Suspects
screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie

McQuarrie and director, Bryan Singer, both worked on the initial concept of five guys meeting in a police line-up — an idea given to Singer by Captain Renault’s line in Casablanca “Round up the usual suspects”. McQuarrie then worked up this masterfully complex story from one of own previously unpublished scripts.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

Best Screenplays To Read – Horror

best screenplays to read

1. Alien
screenplay by Walter Hill, Dan O’Bannon, and David Giler

Famed for its minimal, vertical writing style, O’Bannan would say of his original draft “I didn’t steal Alien from anybody. I stole it from everybody!” Classic 1950s sci-fi films such as Forbidden Planet, Thing From Another World, and Planet Of The Vampires, they’re all in here.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

2. Dawn Of The Dead (2004)
screenplay by James Gunn and Michael Tolkin

Although the screenplay only credits Gunn and Tolkin as rewriters of this George A. Romero script, in fact Scott Frank (Out Of Sight, Minority Report) was also brought in to add some oompf to the action sequences. A worthy remake of the 1978 original and one of Stephen King’s favorite movies.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

3. Final Destination
screenplay by James Wong, Glen Morgan, and Jeffrey Roddick

The origins of this screenplay — the best of the Final Destination series — are just as creepy as the film. As Reddick recounts, he was given the idea by a real life story of a woman whose life was saved by her mom who warned her not to take a flight that wound up crashing. Reddick then wrote the script as an X-Files spec, but was advised by a friend to reshape it as a feature.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

4. It Follows
screenplay by David Robert Mitchell

Not all great scripts come from great loglines, as Mitchell found while writing It Follows. Realizing that the concept of a young woman being followed by a supernatural force after a sexual encounter sounded like “the worst thing ever”, he refused to discuss the story when asked.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

5. Jennifer’s Body
screenplay by Diablo Cody

Fresh off her success with Juno, Cody originally intended to write a straight, slasher horror movie, but “the humor just kept sneaking in”. If you’re writing a horror with heavy doses of comedy involved, this is one of the best scripts to read.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

6. The Omen
screenplay by David Seltzer

Seltzer was commissioned by producer, Harvey Bernhard, to write a movie about the Antichrist after Bernhard was given the idea by a friend, Bob Munger. It took Seltzer exactly one year to write the screenplay and it would go on to be one of the most iconic horror movies of all time.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

7. The Ring
screenplay by Ehren Kruger and Scott Frank

Frank was brought in to do a rewrite after Kruger had penned three drafts of the script and eventually it went into production still incomplete. However, despite the inevitable complaints from fans of the original Japanese movie, Ringu, this is an excellent script that’s well worth breaking down and studying.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

8. Saw
screenplay by Leigh Whannell and James Wan

This script was born purely out of budgetary restrictions as writers Whannell and Wan deliberately wanted to write a horror as cheaply as possible that they could finance themselves. Inspired by low-budget movies such as Pi and The Blair Witch Project, they decided on the concept of two actors, one room, and one dead body. Easily one of the best screenplays to read for horror writers.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

9. Scream
screenplay by Kevin Williamson

Holed up in a hotel room in Palm Springs and desperate for a script sale, aspiring writer Williamson, knocked out a draft of the then called “Scary Movie” in three days from a treatment he’d already written. Granted, this was in the golden age of spec sales in the 90s, but if you can write a horror movie as good as this, you’ll get hired.

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

10. The Sixth Sense
screenplay by M. Night Shyamalan

Already a working screenwriter, Shyamalan’s big breakthrough came with this expertly crafted screenplay that pulls the wool over the reader’s eyes until the very end. If only he could stop trying to reproduce it…

best screenplays to read

Best Screenplays To Read

###

Added Bonus: You can download five more of the best screenplays to read in each genre in this post.

What’s your favorite screenplay? 

Is your favorite screenplay in our list? If not, please comment below and let us know what you think the best screenplay to read is that we’ve missed out.

49 Comments

  1. Izzy says:

    Hi, neat post – looks like I’ve got some reading to do 🙂

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Cheers, Izzy!

  2. Vivek says:

    You guys have done an amazing job by sharing this with us
    May God bless you.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re welcome, Vivek.

  3. Lynn says:

    This is a fabulous haul of screenplays – thanks so much! I especially appreciate being able to download them so I can read them even when not connected to the internet. If you can give us some of the iconic Rom-Coms I would really appreciate that. Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle. And some of the British films would also be appreciated – Pride, The Full Monty, Calendar Girls, Trainspotting, A Fish Called Wanda, Love Actually. Thanks!

  4. Edward Weems says:

    The list is impressive, but I would have liked to see Three Days of the Condor among that group of laudable scripts.

  5. blue says:

    Thank you for sharing. I would have liked to see a few Fincher screenplays. Also more science fiction like Predestination, Arrival….

  6. Cal says:

    Fantastic, great work guys. thanks so much for taking the time to put this together.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re welcome, Cal.

  7. Julie-Anne Goode says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. I am new to screenwriting and I will now be able to study screenplays. Thank you again

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      No problem Julie-Anne, hope you find them useful.

  8. Rico says:

    I have to say thank you so much

    I don’t have time to download all atm, I hope you keep this page up for awhile.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks Rico!

  9. Pravin says:

    Amazing! Next time please include mike Leigh and David fincher films.

  10. Mike Rubin says:

    No Wes Anderson on this list???

  11. Marcelo Carpinetti says:

    It would be great if you could include these films:
    Apocalypse Now, Barry Lyndon, Blade Runner, and specially The Fight Club.
    Thanks!

  12. Florencia says:

    Thank you so much! Whats a beautiful work you are doing. Thank you again

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks Florencia, really appreciate it.

  13. Tharun says:

    Many Thanks guys, saved all on my iBooks, currently working on my second feature, all these references really help.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re welcome, Tharun 🙂

  14. Emmett says:

    Hello. fantastic job. I did nnot anticipate this. This is a
    impressive list. Thanks!

  15. Jessie Wei says:

    Thank you so much! That’s a lot of reading material and hopefully, I’ll become a better writer because of it!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      No problem, Jessie!

  16. Khaled Nadim says:

    The Rover

  17. M says:

    You really shouldn’t refer to the Wachowskis with their dead names any longer, as they’ve been famously out of the closet as trans for quite some time now.

  18. Cristhian I.R. says:

    I’d add Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.. That’s a great one!

  19. Johnathan Pritchard says:

    You guys rock, thank you so much!

  20. Nick Goldsmith says:

    Hi. Do you have Paris, Texas available for download at all?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’ll find the script to American Beauty if you follow the bonus link at the end.

  21. Don Carpenter says:

    What a great resource! Thank you!

    The only reason I mention this is because you’ve asked. Do you know where I can get scripts for the 1950 Cyrano de Bergerac and Steve Martin’s Roxanne?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks Don. You can buy the Roxanne script on Amazon, not sure where you can get 1950 version though.

  22. Jack says:

    Τhat is such a great post. Keep it up guys, love this site.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks Jack!

  23. Dan Harrington says:

    Great scripts – thank you!!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re welcome, Dan.

  24. Dominic says:

    Firstly it’s Jerry McGuire not Jerry Maguire. Secondly I’ve read most of these anyway.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Pretty sure it’s “Maguire” 🙂

  25. Max Headroom says:

    Reading all these is going to take me some time but thank you so much for this. It’s definitly something I wasn’t doing enough of.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad we could help.

  26. Lukas T says:

    Love this website! You guys ROCK!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks so much Lukas 🙂

  27. Daryl N says:

    Wonderful. THANK YOU SRP!!!

  28. Do you have a copy of The Hunger Games?

    Thanx,

    Ronnie

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Here’s an early 2012 draft.

  29. Anne Sarausa says:

    Hello! thank you very much for the scripts, I’m from Brazil and I really enjoy reading in English to learn the language (mainly reading script’s from my favorite movies) I’ve been looking for script of My Own Private Idaho.. if You guys got it please let me know !! With love Anne !

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      This was the best version we could find.

  30. Cynthia says:

    A big thank you. I’m grateful beyond words can ever tell. I truly believe these scripts are going to make me a good writer. Thanks a lot.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re welcome Cynthia!

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