Stephen King famously said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Reading scripts can give you an idea of how to push the boundaries while keeping your script moving at a good pace for your reader. Like a book, you want your reader to get immersed in your story. The best way to do this is to learn from those who succeeded.
For now, our list will only include film screenplays and stay modern. Everyone has an argument for why classics are the best examples, but I think we can all agree they are outdated. Not many people go to the theaters for slower-paced, dialogue-heavy, minimal action films. They stand as milestones of cinematic excellence and achievement, but those aren’t the films that are currently being written and produced. There may be a time when they’re back in fashion, but for now, we’ll stick with films people would have seen in the last twenty years.
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Get Out (2017)
Written by Jordan Peele, this 2017 sensation was applauded for its originality and incredible writing. Whether you’re writing a psychological horror or just want to study the writing of a screenwriter who continues to churn out jaw-dropping scripts, this is a great place to start. Peele’s casual writing style isn’t something you’d be taught in universities or from a book, but it helps the readers get an intimate idea of the main character. The sooner the reader attaches to the main character, the better the outlook on your script.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
If you’re tired of the action-focused sensational box office hits, Wes Anderson’s script for The Grand Budapest Hotel is just as artistic and meticulous as his directing. Heavy with description and narrative, this script can be a little rich for those not looking for an emotional odyssey. The script is character-focused and written with care such that both the film and the script are two different journeys, one for the audience and one for the reader. Even with his detailed descriptions, Wes Anderson was still able to keep it under 120 pages.
The Incredibles (2004)
It might seem weird to have a children’s animated film on this list, but you’d be surprised how well-written these stories are. From Inside Out to Coco, these stories are given the most tailored and well thought out themes with timeless narratives and characters. This script by Brad Bird is a great read for beginners or those who want to brush up on formatting and pace. The Incredibles is the universal example of three act structure and perfectly woven plots and themes. With a good balance of action and character development, this script is not only a pleasure to watch, but the best script to study first.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1989)
Where are all the action films? No, we haven’t forgotten. However, Lawrence Kasdan’s script for Raiders of the Lost Ark isn’t just a great Indiana Jones action flick — it’s a great example of how to elegantly write exposition. There’s a lot to cover from history to decoding clues that the audience can easily get confused in. Kasdan uses visuals to guide us through most of the wordy exposition, but also employees Indy’s passion. It’s hard not to listen to someone when they’re gushing about something they’re excited about. Especially when the audience has already bonded with Indy in the beginning sequence and fallen in love with his charm, his excitement for history and love of anthropology infects the audience too.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Good comedy seems easy, but writing it is a delicate procedure. It’s all about balancing timing, context, and audience expectations. This can be difficult especially with a bigger, broader audience. Look no further for the best comedy script than a tag team of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. With Wright’s expertise on pacing and visual jokes paired with Pegg’s comedic storytelling Shaun of the Dead, one of the Cornetto trilogy, is a fantastic example. Watching the film, you can feel the fast-paced movement that holds your attention and its mirrored in the script. Wright and Pegg know how to get the audience to let down their guard with well-crafted jokes and signature montages.
For writers working with a budget, a great example of a script that makes the most of what it has is Saw written by Leigh Whannell and James Wan. Of course, this is a great script for those who are writing horror and suspense, but also for anyone trying to really internalize that common advice “less is more”. Whannel and Wan utilize everything from sound to smells to give the reader an immersive experience without doing much else than turning out the lights. By being clever and inventive, their writing stands out and draws the reader in. Even better, it lingers in their minds even after the read is over.
The Matrix (2001)
Introducing a whole new world and new concepts in a sci-fi film can be difficult. Audiences can easily be confused or bored and lose interest. When you think of the Wachowski’s masterpiece, you don’t think of exposition — you think of action and special effects. Before pitching the film to Warner Bros., the Wachowskis actually got two comic book artists to help storyboard their script. This added investment into their story, enhancing the script. It flows better and feels more refined with the action easier to visualize in the mind of the reader.
If this isn’t enough example scripts for an avid reader like you, check out The Script Lab’s Screenplay Library. For fun, read scripts for movies you haven’t seen or are going to see and then watch it. See if it moves like the script or note if there’s anything different that makes one better than the other. Finding where produced scripts can be better can help you look more critically at your own work.
Beverly Peders is a Screenwriting graduate from Drexel University. She loves all visual writing mediums and has experience in writing plays, comic books, screenplays, TV sitcoms, and video games. Worldbuilding is her favorite and she obsesses over anthropology and linguistics. In her spare time, you may find her trying to get over her fear of heights at a rock wall or adopting yet another plant because she can’t afford an actual pet.