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5 Of The Best Movie Scripts To Learn From In Each Genre

Drama, Comedy, Action/Adventure, Thriller And Comedy

 

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November 11, 2015 94 comments
Best Movie Scripts

As we’ve said before on this site, we believe that the one of the best tools screenwriters have at their disposal, are professional produced movie scripts. There is nothing else that gives you the practical experience of how it all comes together than reading a film script that has actually been produced.

And not just the spec screenplay that was originally sold, although those are excellent resource points, but the actual movie script that mirrors the final film. But what are the best film scripts to read, and why?

In this post we break down some of the best screenplays to read in each genre — Comedy, Drama, Action/Adventure, Thriller and Horror — and why you need to read them.

And if you’ve already read them, why you need to read them again, as it’s only by not just reading scripts, but by really breaking them down, getting inside them and figuring out why they work, that you’ll get the most out of them as a writer.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at…

Best Movie Scripts #1 – American Beauty

Genre: Drama
Writer: Alan Ball

BEST MOVIE SCRIPTS

Alan Ball graduated from Florida State University with a degree in theater arts, went on to write for the theater and then television, penning the hit comedies Grace Under Fire and Cybil.

Although there are elements of comedy in American Beauty, for which he won the Oscar for best screenplay in 2000, it is overall a drama, and in our opinion a modern masterpiece of screenwriting.

The script opens with Jane staring into the camera — a handheld device operated by an unseen man — nonchalantly discussing killing her father.

We then cut to said father — a loser named Lester Burnham — and follow him as he begins another miserable day at the office, all the while hearing his Voice Over from beyond the grave.

In fact the opening twenty-five pages are a masterclass in how to establish character, stakes and genre as the screenplay pulls you into a web of lies set in a suburban hell.

There are some truly terrific examples of how to write a scene in this script and one of our favorites is the “cute meet” between Lester and his daughter Jane’s best friend, Angela:

BEST MOVIE SCRIPTS

Alan Ball has a terrific visual style which you’ll pick up and imbibe into your own writing while reading and studying this script.

There are no major formatting quirks in Ball’s writing, but the first thing you may notice when you open American Beauty is that he likes to underline his sluglines.

Like we always say, there are no “rules” when it comes to screenplay formatting, but there are differences between a spec script’s style and a pro script’s style.

For the sake of simplicity it’s probably best to keep things simple, and this means not underlining sluglines in your spec script.

Alan Ball can do it because he’s Alan Ball. You’re not, so why give a script reader even the slightest reason to be turned off or distracted while reading your spec?

movie scripts

best movie scripts

Best Movie Scripts #2 – Youth In Revolt

Genre: Comedy
Writer: Gustin Nash (from the novel by C.D. Payne)

best movie scripts

Sure we could’ve picked any number of comedy script classics for this section — Groundhog Day, Annie Hall, Some Like It Hot etc — but we thought we’d go with a little underrated comedy gem by the name of Youth In Revolt.

Why? Because its a great modern comedy script and Gustin Nash’s writing is funny as hell.

Nash broke onto the scene after writing nine spec screenplays with a comedy he wrote in four weeks called Charlie Bartlett.

After reading C.D. Payne’s novel Youth In Revolt, Nash decided to adapt it into a screenplay.

He said at the time, “Here was a chance to take credit for writing something that was much better than what I’d come up with on my own.”

Nash is being modest, as his take on Youth In Revolt is a blast and the movie is every bit as good as the book.

If you’re an aspiring comedy writer, you’ve probably already been told to include more jokes, make the reader laugh (preferably out loud) and generally pack in as much humor in every line as you possibly can.

Well, Nash’s film script is a perfect of example of how you do just that.

Here are the opening few paragraphs:

best movie scripts

Note how from the opening page Nash has us laughing — how he introduces a protagonist in Nick Twisp who’s readily identifiable from his dialogue and actions.

From there on in, the script is a comedy riot of teenage angst and sexual yearning, with a nice side helping of surrealism thrown in for good measure.

Read it and see how consistent the tone is throughout — funny and absurd, yet with an emotional heart and great characters — and see the level your comedy spec needs to aspire to.

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Best Movie Scripts #3 – Raiders of the Lost Ark

Genre: Action/Adventure
Writer: Lawrence Kasdan

best movie scripts

Lawrence Kasdan was commissioned by George Lucas to write Raiders of the Lost Ark, but how it all came together was very much a group effort between Kasdan, Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

All three worked on fleshing out the script during a series of now infamous story meetings in January 1978, the result of which was quite possibly the best action/adventure movie script ever written.

Action/adventure movies are notorious for having great concepts but thin characterizations.

This screenplay, however, is a wonderful example of how to elevate the hero’s personality above the paper thin cut-outs found in many.

In fact, making Indiana Jones a compelling protagonist, was the first thing Lucas concentrated on in those early story meetings and by reading the movie script you get a great sense of how it’s done.

For example, see how they partly achieve this by giving Indy a personal motivation to his quest in the shape of Marion.

The Raiders of the Lost Ark screenplay is also a fantastic tool for learning how to create all those twists and turns required in an action/adventure movie.

Kasdan achieves this by utilizing seven specific sequences, each one taking Indy alternately closer and further away from his goal — the Ark of the Covenant.

(You can read more about how Kasdan achieves this in our screenwriting book “Master Screenplay Sequences.”)

And reading the script will also give you the opportunity to check out one of the best exposition scenes in history — Indy’s blackboard scene with Brody and the army intelligence guys:

best movie scripts
Just studying this scene alone will tell you all you need to know about hiding on-the-nose dialogue.

In short, this is an essential screenplay and film to study for all those wishing to write action/adventure.

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Best Movie Scripts #4 – Fargo

Genre: Thriller
Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

best movie scripts

The other Best Screenplay Oscar winner on our list is the Coen Brother’s crime thriller masterpiece, Fargo.

In 2006, the film was preserved by the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and you’re not going to go far wrong by studying the screenplay.

Much of the Coen’s work is described as “genre-bending” and the film script for Fargo is no exception, mixing elements of thriller and comedy to wonderful effect.

Humor can be a powerful weapon in any genre but reading this script will give you an idea of just how powerful.

From Jerry’s magnificent bumbling, to Marge’s ho-hum police procedural work, to Carl and Gaear’s squabbling, the characterizations all make superb use of humor to elevate the screenplay above the average thriller.

Another factor that helps with this is the film’s theme, which shines through just as well in the screenplay as in the movie.

And like in all the Coen’s scripts, the writing is terse but incredibly evocative.

Check this description of Gaear’s execution of some passers-by, for how to convey so much with so few words:

best movie scripts

Like Alan Ball, the Coens’ like to mess around with sluglines, and in this case by almost dispensing with them entirely.

Again, stick to the conventions on this one, but other than that copy, crib and steal as much as you can from two masters of modern cinema.

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Best Movie Scripts #5 – The Conjuring

Genre: Horor
Writers: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes

best movie scripts

The Conjuring, written by twin brothers Chad and Carey Hayes, was something of a hit when it was released in 2013.

The reason this specific horror screenplay is great, is because of the way the Hayes brothers make us feel the tension, the mood, the dread and the pacing throughout.

By the end we are gripping the edge of our seats and don’t even realize it — something that’s particularly hard to do with today’s seen-it-all-before horror audience.

The Conjuring also makes use of some interesting formatting, using CAPS and bold and underlining in ways that are so subtle, and so manipulative to our reading experience, it is like a visceral punch in the gut.

You feel the visuals in this screenplay.

You feel the air move as the hands come out beside you and clap from the darkness.

You feel the dread in your chest with whatever is standing behind the door telling the young girl it’s going to kill her family.

This is a masterful script when it comes to delivering a screenplay a director can cinematically see, because it is all there on the page. Like this one:

best movie scripts

(You read more about how to leverage suspense in your writing style in this post.)

The best thing about this movie script is that it takes our main characters and brings up obstacle after obstacle, just when they feel like they finally have the upper hand.

It also plays on the deepest possible fears of each character, and you don’t even realize it’s happening because the writing on the page just sucks your eye along at such a frantic pace, you can’t look away and even think of what else is happening.

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best movie scripts

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Once you’ve read our selection of the best film scripts once, and then gone back in and watched the movies, the most important thing is to study the screenplays.

It’s like a detective at a crime scene. He or she doesn’t just take a cursory look around, make a few notes and go back to the station. No — they dig in deep, analyze the scene with a fine tooth comb, go over every possible angle.

This is what you should be doing with a screenplay.

Yes there are many screenwriting books out there on the craft, and screenwriting courses you can take which help to nail down finer tunings, as well as script coverage which adds another layer of knowledge for your screenwriting mastery.

But the best movie scripts themselves have everything right there on the page.

Taking a screenplay, studying it, breaking it down, seeing how you add tension in a way that is real and smart and so slick in its application that you don’t notice your hands are sweating until you flip the page, is such a powerful learning experience.

It flows with such fierce speed that you can’t flip the page soon enough to see where his next obstacle will come up.

This is what the best film scripts do.

So read all of these scripts, study them, reverse engineer them, break them down, and then use what you learned and apply it in your own writing.

Best Screenplays To Read

94 Comments
  1. Dianna Sandora says:

    What would you say is the best script to read for Fantasy. (Tolkien and CS Lewis type)

    1. Julian Boyance says:

      I constantly recommended Silence of the Lambs as a go to great script to read.

      1. Script Reader Pro says:

        Good call, Julian.

      2. jared says:

        i acn’t reed

  2. Gussie Parker says:

    Hello can you help me with my screenplay?

    1. SRP says:

      Hi Gussie, feel free to drop me a line with your questions to info [at] scriptreaderpro.com

  3. Mabel Charles says:

    Thanks. Those scripts has given me a great insight.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re welcome Mabel.

  4. Richard says:

    Thanks for sharing these brilliant screenplays with us. I’m an action writer and Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of my all time favourites.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re welcome Richard!

  5. Scott Smith says:

    Hi there, what would you say are the 3 top scifi scripts I should read?

    Thank you for this wonderful website.

    1. SRP says:

      Hi Scott, thanks for your kind words.

      There are so many to choose from and I guess it depends what kind of sci-fi you’re aiming to write, but I would say (in no particular order):

      10 Cloverfield Lane
      The Matrix
      Children Of Men

      You can find some great screenplay resources here: http://www.scriptreaderpro.com/screenplays-online/

  6. Scott Smith says:

    Thank you very much for the suggestions. I just watched 10 cloverfield. I’ve had trouble finding it either in it’s current form or when it was “The Cellar”. I love the Matrix but never thought of reading it for some reason and Children of men, very good call.

    I found your resources outstanding. What a collection of scripts. Thank you again for taking the time to respond to my post. I have just recently found your website and it has really elevated my writing. I’m working on a very high concept idea with a director for a team of sci-fi producers and your site has helped immeasurably. Really, thank you for this gem of a site. I’m drawn to selfless resources and this site is bookmarked for me.

    Cheers!!

    1. SRP says:

      You’re welcome Scott. Feel free to drop us a line if you have any screenwriting questions and best of luck with the script.

      1. daniyel says:

        can you help me l realy need your help any one his help to write my screenplay and sell iy

  7. Rod says:

    Some great movies thanks! How about animated films? Are the scripts any different?

  8. Nik says:

    `Top script how bout GONE WITH THE WIND”!!!!

  9. Shaggy Bear says:

    Fargo is so overrated. As is American Beauty.

    1. mahey says:

      When i read fargo.i found very difficult to read coen terese writing..but american beauty was phenominal and for me one of the best

  10. Toby Hart says:

    Forget the overrated Big Lebowski, this is THE BEST FRIGGING COEN BROTHERS MOVIE EVER.

  11. Leonard says:

    American Beauty is my favorite film of all time.

  12. Pranay patel says:

    Sir in hindi langauge style

  13. Paul says:

    Superbad is beter than crappy Youth in Revolt.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Each to their own!

  14. Tucker says:

    Hi I love Michael Cera but not seen this one. Thanks for the heads up.

  15. David Frazier says:

    Top horror scripts to read besides the conjuring. Thank you very much, that is my genre of choice.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re welcome, David.

  16. Paul Rose Jr says:

    I would recommend Scott Derricksen & C Robert Cargill’s “Deliver Us From Evil”

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Good suggestion, Paul.

  17. 94Chr says:

    Hi there, this is quality stuff. Keep it coming!

  18. Drew says:

    Uѕually I do not read article on screenwriting, however I wish to say that this write-up very impressed me. Keep up the good work.

  19. Sheila E says:

    Great post! 🙂

  20. Dianna says:

    Thanks I really learned a lot about genre from this.

  21. Diggy says:

    Thx 🙂

  22. Tommy Guerro says:

    Raiders > Romancing The Stone

  23. Laura Hudson says:

    I feel like re-watching American Beauty now *sigh*

  24. Sarah Carlson says:

    I discovered your 5 Of The Best Movie Scripts To Learn From In Each Genre page and noticed wish you could’ve done more. Great work.

  25. Thomas Sanderson says:

    Great post! Have nice day ! 🙂

  26. Sal Barbier says:

    Great examples.

  27. Robert Moore says:

    Hey there, I haven’t seen Youth In Revolt but will do.

  28. Cleaver says:

    Thinking about getting into writing again… It was too hard before but reading things like this motivates me again. Thanks.

  29. Tim says:

    Very well put together post and scripts, my hat goes off to you all.

  30. Shoshana says:

    American Beuaty is sooooo boring. I fell asleep when my friend tried to show it to me. 🙂

  31. Kirby says:

    Where’s THE BIG LEBOWSKI dudes?!?!?! THE GREATEST screenplay of ALL TIME!!!

  32. Thomas says:

    Great post! Have nice day ! 🙂

  33. Graham says:

    I just rewatched The Third Man.. what a movie.. Know it’s not on the list but does anyone know where I can get the screenplay?

    1. Clint says:

      Graham, reading scripts for classic movies can tell you a lot about how to tell a great story, but the formatting is vastly different from the way it’s done in modern scripts. If you ever see this post and you’re still interested in the script, send me an e-mail at texvanwinkle(at)gmail(dot)com.

      Clint

  34. Anita says:

    Awesome scripts. Very much enjoyed reading.:)

  35. Charlotte says:

    Greetings from Erbach, Germany. I wish to come one day to Los Angeles and learn how to write scripts properly.

  36. Jim says:

    Reading Raiders right now. The beginning’s soo different from the movie.

  37. Ned says:

    Love this post guys. I’m looking for the screenplay to This Is 40 if anyone knows where I can get it.

  38. Park says:

    Awesome guys.

  39. Stu says:

    Not been writing much recently but am looking to get back into it. This site is really inspiring, thanks to you all.

  40. Maddie says:

    I really need to read more scripts. This has given me the kick up the ass I needed. Thx!

  41. Sal says:

    Excellent post. I am going to read all these.

  42. Julian says:

    I’ve not seen Youth in revolt, looks interesting. Thanks for the heads up .

  43. Sara says:

    I’m looking to get a fifth draft of my script ready to send to you guys soon. Thanks for the info!

  44. Guy says:

    American Beauty, what a film! Is it just me or were movies better back in the 1990s?

  45. Bettina says:

    Does anyone know where I can get the Easy A screenplay?

  46. Jasper says:

    I’m going to read all of these – thanks for posting.

  47. Peter says:

    Thanks for this guys. I love Youth In Revolt, great choice.

  48. Tony X says:

    I love all these movies. Good job.

  49. Montel says:

    Excellent thank to you for sharing these screenplays.

  50. Neva A says:

    Thanks for excellent screenplays, I was looking for this ..

  51. Troy Berkow says:

    Youth In Revolt LOL.

    1. Mahey says:

      Real movie misses most of the scenes and essence in script

  52. Omar Melik says:

    I think your scripts you chosen are very interesting. Thank you.

  53. Riley Veitenheimer says:

    Great scripts, thanks for the share.

  54. Brian says:

    My story is based on real life about a kidnapping in 1993. Lot’s of excitement, strong characters and moving story. Looking for buyers.

  55. daniyel says:

    l have a many storys tollking the real live and the fantasy world but screen plAys or script are reAly hard so pleas l need some advise to write my screenplay

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You can check out our services here: http://www.scriptreaderpro.com/our-script-coverage-services/ and feel free to send us an email if you have any questions. http://www.scriptreaderpro.com/contact-us/

  56. Toby Reynolds says:

    We’re missing something here..

  57. Polly Barnes says:

    Were can I find the script to Inception?

  58. Lex Luther says:

    I will start reading now.. Let’s see how it helps my writing…

  59. Dead Wood says:

    Nice job. I’m so glad i found you guyz.

  60. Ralph Richards says:

    Nice post but no films by women of color??

  61. Joel Gunderssen says:

    We know reading scripts are really good to help your writing but we don’t do enough of it. Nice kick up the butt this post.

  62. Ray Ford says:

    These scripts rock, thanks for sharing script writer :->

  63. Brian P says:

    K, nice post.

  64. My story i want to sell now, but can you help me?

  65. Paul Maguire says:

    I want to know why you chose these five movies and not much better ones. Boyhood, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonlight, Tangerine, I Daniel Blake, The Tree of Life, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close… The list is ENDLESS and you choose old crap like American Bueaty.

  66. Raymond Nef says:

    5 phenomenal elements from ‘Disney on the topic of its polar environment remembers 100 numerous Magic’

    inside party 100 a great deal of disney pleasure, over 50 that is fun-filled cartoon figures generally wearing snow skates as well as,while going through in “disney to do with its polar environment celebrates 100 time spent sorcery” every water wells Fargo station around Philadelphia within jan. 3.

  67. Nat Willis says:

    Thanks you scripts writer pro!!

  68. Mahey says:

    I had Read Youth in Revolt script..I rolled out loudly when i read the script, but when i watched the film most of the scenes are cut out(obviously the best ones)and few of chracters are tweaked, and end it was not acheived half of the laughter it provoked in script..Can i know whats is the peculiar reason for script modification??

  69. Cal Parsons says:

    I had forgotten how good youth in revolt was.

  70. Gandianarta says:

    I like this article something very inspiring thanks.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad you found it helpful.

  71. Joel Abraham says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful script with us

  72. Becky says:

    “In America” (Jim Sheridan) is one of my favorite films. I have tried to find the screenplay but without success.

    Any suggestions? Thank you for the list and your site.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks Becky – sorry can’t find In America.

  73. Bessong Gladys Agbor says:

    i have a movie in my head but i don’t know how to start writing it.

  74. Bessong Gladys Agbor says:

    i have a movie in my head but i don’t know how to start writing it.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Have you seen our post on writing concepts/loglines? http://www.scriptreaderpro.com/movie-ideas/

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