Top 20 Original Screenplays (English)
Updated: Mar 22, 2022
What makes a great screenplay? Conventional thinking says there are only seven types of stories. So, to write one of the seven and to stand out, a screenplay must be fresh, something creative that cannot be compared to with anything else. There doesn’t have to be snappy or entertaining dialogue, but it must tell a story the viewer gets lost in and can’t predict where they're going. This is a list for today. There are a dozen more that could have made it. It I might feel differently about it tomorrow. But, as of now, this is my top 20 best English original screenplays of all time.
20. Arthur (1981)
The boy (Dudley Moore) who can afford not to grow up. That is until he meets the love of his life (Liza Minnelli) who isn't in his class (literally) and his surrogate father, the butler Hobson (John Gielgud), becomes sick. It is only then that he learns to take control of his life. This is a witty and sweet screenplay by Steve Gordon.
19. Thelma & Louise (1991)
Callie Khouri's script tells the story of two friends (Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis) who make plans for a getaway but as fate would have it come against male aggression of which both have been battered from before. Louise dishes out her own justice and the women find themselves running from the law. This film is a twist from the male buddy movies that cinema is littered with. This film is more exciting them most of them with cutting dialogue and a perfect ending.
18. Chasing Amy (1997)
Kevin Smith's story about a guy (Ben Affleck) who falls in love with a lesbian (Joey Lauren Adams) and does all he can to make their relationship work including offering to have sex with his best friend (Jason Lee). It's a film about twentysomethings exploring ideas, relationships and friendships. This is one of the most original scripts ever written.
17. Boogie Nights (1997)
Paul Thomas Anderson's take on the porn industry during the late seventies and how it evolved with the advancement of technology in the eighties. Mr. Anderson tells a heartbreaking story making us care about characters we wouldn't think we should care about.
16. The Crying Game (1992)
Miramax used a great marketing campaign to whet the public's appetite about seeing this film by telling us to please not reveal the secret so we don't ruin it for other people. And boy, what a secret! I sat up in my chair when it was revealed. But it wasn't a gimmick. Neil Jordan's story borderlines on a crime movie but goes much deeper than that with a backdrop of British and I.R.A struggles. He has a lot of twist and turns in it but like most good stories, love triumphs in the end.
15. The Sting (1973)
David S. Ward's story of two conmen (Robert Redford and Paul Newman) going after a major gangster (Robert Shaw) has a lot of twists and turns and even the ending keeps the audience guessing. This movie is still as fun today as it was when it first came out.
14. The Piano (1993)
Jane Campion's tale of a mute (Holly Hunter) whose only comfort in life is her piano and is what comforts her through her ugly marriage. Ms. Campion's career has been spent making movies that explore the inner workings of human beings and this script is the best one.
13. Boyz n the Hood (1991)
John Singleton's intense story brings us into a world of friends trying to do their best to become adults but are trapped between the gangs and police. Heartbreaking and yet fulfilling. We know they have nowhere to turn except toward their own perseverance and strength.
12. North By Northwest (1959)
Probably the ultimate script for action-adventure films. It was curated to Alfred Hitchcock's desires to have a climatic finish on Mount Rushmore, put a man in a position of being attacked in an open field without shelter and to film a murder inside the United Nations. Screenwriter Ernest Lehman delivers. While giving us an exciting chase movie he's also creative enough to leave out the important stuff like what is it the bad guys have that the good guys want and the rescue scene at the end where it jumps past the rescue and wedding and finishes at the honeymoon. Great script writing.
11. Coming Home (1978)
Most wouldn't consider this a war film but no other film shows the results of battle better. Jon Voight physically wounded; Bruce Dern mentally wounded and Jane Fonda in between. Strong and powerful with incredible performances and director Hal Ashby at the top of his game.
10. An Unmarried Woman (1978)
Paul Mazursky's take on what happens to the wife when the husband has an affair and leaves. She adjusts and finds her footing in this life and lives it on her own terms. Brilliant.
9. Tootsie (1982)
It may have to take men dressing as women to find out how mistreated women are in the workplace. That's the gist of this Sydney Pollack film. Add a complicated love triangle and a supporting cast including Bill Murray, Jessica Lange and Charles Durning and we have one of the funniest, heartfelt movies ever made.
8. Chinatown (1974)
Robert Towne's look at corruption from way up high involving those who appear on the cover of your daily newspapers. Jack Nicholson is way over his head and almost loses his nose in the process. Filled with a lot of unexpected turns this is a film and screenplay that a viewer can discover something new at every showing.
7. Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee's fable of racial conflict and how it affects a neighborhood and the people who live there. A film that stands out in its originality as we get a close look at each characters' love and frustrations. A modern classic which proves its relevance every decade.
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
One of the most imaginative screenwriters of all time, Charlie Kaufman's stories know no boundaries or restrictions. His imagination takes off and we're invited into a world and mind of a breakup that we haven't visited before even though it feels familiar.
5. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Is this the beginning of the film? Is it the middle? Did the ending already happen? Quentin Tarantino's episodic parable is filled with poetic language, people and places never before examined in cinema and one of the most original cinematic experiences ever.
4. Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen's comedy discarded the fourth wall and most conventions as well. A romantic tale that showed not only what the characters did but what they thought. Still imaginative and still poignant when it comes to relationships.
3. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Tom Stoppard's tale of how Shakespeare came about to write one of the greatest romantic tragedies of all time. There have been few screenplays as witty and ingenious as this. You don't have to be familiar with the Bard or theatre but if you are the pearls will keep popping up.
2. Moonstruck (1987)
John Patrick Shanley's Brooklyn romance set against Puccini's La Boheme is a romantic comedic gem with such off beat performances to compliment such off beat characters. We not only learn why men chase women but also that love will drive us all crazy.
1. Network (1976)
Paddy Chayefsky's prophetic take on the corporate owned news divisions on television. A satire, yes, but reveals more truths about people, corporations and individuality than anything else written. Its as relevant today as it was fresh back in the seventies. A masterpiece.