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June 25, 2009 4:14 PM   Subscribe

ScreenplayFilter: What are the best screenplays that you've ever read?

What are the best screenplays you've ever read, produced or unproduced? (And, if they're unproduced, where could I secure a copy to read?)

You know what I mean -- the ones that you pick up and suck you in, entirely, wholeheartedly, until you are seeing the movie through your own eyes. Those which are so well-written, well-thought out, and clever, that you can't help but be impressed by the screenwriter's talent and artistry.

For me and my marginal experience, it's The Shawshank Redemption, Michael Clayton, Stranger Than Fiction, and Syriana. But what are yours?
posted by the NATURAL to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In the event that this isn't deleted as Night of the Living Chatfilter, I will say that L.A. Confidential is an extraordinarily good screenplay -- great adaptation of a really complex, dense novel. I was also pretty impressed with the screenplay for Ed Wood.
posted by scody at 4:25 PM on June 25, 2009

John Sayle's Lone Star is often mentioned in the "tightest screenplays" category, and for good reason.
posted by ORthey at 5:10 PM on June 25, 2009

posted by ORthey at 5:10 PM on June 25, 2009

Jon Spaihts's script PASSENGERS is a recently fantastic script.

I recall grinning on every page as I read William Goldman's HEARTS IN ATLANTIS. Good script ≠ good movie. THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS is another solid one. Of course, THE PRINCESS BRIDE and MISERY are classics, and BUTCH CASSIDY.

ADAPTATION is pretty great. JUNO equal parts infuriating and brilliant, for the same reason.

Seek out writers more than movies -- read lots of Darabont and Gilroy and Sayles, as have been mentioned above. Are you looking to be inspired for something you're working on, or do you just enjoy the form? If you're looking for inspiration, then you'll want to read the big names, too -- Orci & Kurtzman, David Hayter, The Wibberlys, Zak Penn. They write huge, expansive scripts, and they know how to handle the written word in just the right way that connects with readers/execs/directors/talent. Of that bunch, the Wibberlys are probably the best writers -- NATIONAL TREASURE is a strong script (don't forget the equation: good script ≠ good movie, but you knew that already). I wouldn't know where to acquire the unproduced or unpublished scripts, but surely there are script websites where you can search by author.

John August's website has many of the scripts he's worked on, produced and unproduced, in the library section. He's quite a good writer. His stuff alone could keep you busy for awhile.
posted by incessant at 5:51 PM on June 25, 2009

Chinatown by Robert Towne.
posted by philip-random at 6:00 PM on June 25, 2009

A lot of times a great screenplay makes a not-so-great in point - The Sixth Sense.

Sling Blade was a great one. Seconding Adaptation (great movies). The Truman Show was also a fantastic screenplay.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:04 PM on June 25, 2009

Best answer: I really liked reading Swingers. Jon Farveau is a talented comedic writer. This little film was written far more succinctly and with better comic timing than the big-budget crap floating around, and is far better than most of its indie brethren.
posted by thisperon at 6:04 PM on June 25, 2009

Alex Garland is a strong screenwriter as well. SUNSHINE was a great read.
posted by incessant at 6:10 PM on June 25, 2009

Best answer: The Sixth Sense is taught in a lot of screenwriting courses.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:37 PM on June 25, 2009

I'd have to say that Terrence Malick's screenplays for Badlands and Days Of Heaven were two of the best I've ever read. He has a simple and direct way of describing the action that produces a profound effect as the story progresses. His visual style is quite complementary to his writing in both simplicity and depth. He doesn't add a lot of extraneous material to the script. If you're looking for inspiration, his work is certainly a good example of restraint in both writing and visual style.
posted by OccamsRazor at 6:52 PM on June 25, 2009

Best answer: Although it may not be revolutionary, I really enjoyed Almost Famous. There's also a good interview with Cameron Crowe in the paperback edition.
posted by brina at 7:12 PM on June 25, 2009

Five Screenplays by Preston Sturges I think the screenplays included here are just about the most brilliant comedic scripts ever written. These films are stolen from on a constant basis by the best filmmakers working in the business today. Do yourself a favor and at least see if a local library has this on the shelf.

To Have and Have Not is actually better than the film - and the film is fantastic. William Faulkner did the finall draft - there are some juicy bits that really need to be recycled.

Reservoir Dogs is also a great screenplay - its all there on the page and - personally - I think this is where Tarantino peaked. He will never be able to rip-off create anything as tight as this script.

I also suggest taking a look reading anything by Lem Dobbs, Burt Kennedy (his screenplays not his directed films), Dudley Nichols, Paul Schrader, David Mamet (for pacing), and anything by Powell & Pressburger.
posted by cinemafiend at 8:44 PM on June 25, 2009

If you like David Lynch, Ronnie Rocket is an engrossing read.
posted by CheshireCat at 11:08 PM on June 25, 2009

posted by secret about box at 11:52 PM on June 25, 2009

Best answer: Bruce Robinson's screenplay for Withnail & I is one of the funniest books I've ever read. The characters, scenes and action are so brilliantly described you could read it like a novel almost. The below is from memory, but should hopefully demonstrate how much richer it is than the online transcriptions. (Marwood has just been called a ponce by an Irish drunk and is telling Withnail why they have to leave.)

MARWOOD: I've been called a ponce.
A more pissed than sensible Withnail swivels on his stool.
WITHNAIL: What fucker said that?
The WANKER gets out of his chair and approaches. He is enormous and covered in red hair. At the ends of his arms are possibly the largest fists in existence, both bramble-patched with hair. WITHNAIL attempts to disasociate himself from MARWOOD but the technique is completely unsuccessful and he faces the WANKER.
WANKER: I called him a ponce. And now I'm calling you one. Ponce!
WITHNAIL: Would you like a drink?
The WANKER grabs WITHNAIL's tartan scarf and renders it unto the floor.
WANKER: What's your name? McFuck?
A couple of days pass while WITHNAIL searches for a suitable response.
WITHNAIL: I have a heart condition. If you hit me, it's murder.
The beast is working himself into some sort of violent lather.
WANKER: I'll murder the pair of yers!
MARWOOD gapes. Can WITHNAIL actually be saying what he's saying?
WITHNAIL: My wife is having a baby. Look, I don't know what my acquaintance did to upset you but it really is nothing to do with me. I suggest you both go outside and discuss it sensibly, in the street.
MARWOOD makes a move but WITHNAIL is way ahead of him, speeding out the door.

posted by permafrost at 4:53 AM on June 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Ahh, The Sixth Sense, I knew I forgot one up at the top. Thanks for the reminder! TSS was, I think, the most amazing script I've ever read (no hyperbole), which makes Shamylan's turn to the dark side that much sadder.
posted by the NATURAL at 5:07 AM on June 26, 2009

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery by Mike Meyers
Sprockets by Mike Meyers and Michael McCullers (unproduced)
Big Fish by John August
The Invention of Lying by Ricky Gervais and Matt Robinson (in post)
Exit Zero by Kurt Wimmer (unproduced)
Long Kiss Good Night by Shane Black
Panic Room by David Koepp

Scott Rosenberg scripts are always fun to read: Beautiful Girls, Con Air, Gone In 60 Seconds, Down and Under (before it became Kangaroo Jack), Bad Moon Rising (unproduced)
posted by sharkfu at 12:07 PM on June 26, 2009

I really enjoy Cohen Brothers screenplays. Since they know they're the ones who are going to be shooting the script, they "direct on the page" more than might normally be advisable, but they're good reads.
posted by Bookhouse at 1:18 PM on June 26, 2009

Kubrick's Napoleon tops my list. There is an excellent "7 Scripts you gotta read" piece at mypdfscripts here. Great background info on the scripts, including Blade Runner (a personal fav) and American Beauty.
posted by simplyscripts at 9:48 AM on November 12, 2009

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