What Is Best Screenplays of All Time…Really

By on March 25, 2013
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If I was to ask you to give me your top 10 best screenplays of all time, I wonder what you would say? The Godfather, Lord of the Rings, Casablanca, Titanic, Gone with the Wind – all sorts of films from different genres and from different time frames would no doubt populate the lists.

Of course as individuals we’ve all got our own preferences, so it’s unlikely that any two lists from two different people would be exactly the same. But in the same way that the Oscars nominate a number of films to be considered for winning a coveted Oscar prize, the WGA (Writers Guild of America), decided to poll their membership body back in 2005, for their top ten nominations for best screenplays ever. Some of the results may surprise you, but one thing is for sure. The top 101 listing has got some serious film royalty in it, and goes all the way to the 1930s to boot.

For far too long it has been the actors and the directors who have won all of the plaudits, notably from the inside of an incestuous film industry. Yet the original architects of the films, the screenwriters, have always been overlooked, eclipsed by the industry heavyweight looking after its own by way of its own choice. So let’s raise a glass and put our hands together for the WGA in organizing the 101 best screenplays of all time. Wanna know some the films if the top 101? Here we go…

Weighing in at number 98 is The Grapes of Wrath by the celebrated author John Steinbeck, and adapted into the screenplay by Nunnally Johnson.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho features as number 92 with the screenplay created by Joseph Stefano. We know that Hitchcock was a magnificent Director who had the knack of building unbearable tension like no other. But let’s give full credit to JS for a great screenplay that keeps certain scenes alive in peoples’ minds that they’ll probably take to the grave with them.

Forest Gump was voted in at 89, owing its positioning to a great screenplay by Eric Roth. Of course Tom Hanks gave a memorable performance as the hapless Forest, but didn’t he have some fantastic material to work with courtesy of Mr. Roth?

Another Hitchcock featured at number 83, this time it was Rear Window that got the votes. This movie owed its screenplay to a different screenwriter from Psycho, our writer in this instance being Michael Hayes.

The film business often throws up individuals who have all round ability. As well as being accomplished screenwriters they produce and direct too. One such individual is Mel Brooks who also added being a comedian and song writer to his achievements. He was one of the screenwriters for Blazing saddles which is number 6 in the all time favorite US film comedies, but it was his screenplay for The Directors, the hilarious rip off of Hitler and the Nazis in World War 2 that got into our top 101 at number 79.

I could go on forever, (well for a little while longer anyway), expounding some of the great screenplays that WGA screenwriters voted for and that got into the best screenplays top 101, but I’m going to cut to the chase and list the top 5.

In 6th it was All About Eve, screenplay by Joseph Mankiewicz. In 4th it was Citizen Cane, screenplay by Joseph’s brother Herman Mankiewicz, showing that screenwriting talent ran in the family. In 3rd it was Chinatown by Robert Towne. In 2nd it was the Godfather, by another of those multi talented individuals, this time one Frank Ford Copolla, and the number one slot went to Casablanca, whose screenplay was writing by Julius and Philip Epstein, with helping hand from Howard Coch.

I’m sure some of you will agree, disagree and just be downright pissed.  What say you?

About Joe Screenwriter

I've been working in Hollywood at a major film studio for over 10 years. I've read thousands of scripts, run a screenplay coverage company and worked for a successful producer. I'm not a screenwriter, but I know good scripts from bad and have built up a cornucopia of knowledge.

2 Comments

  1. Tony Dos Marido

    August 16, 2013 at 1:11 am

    I always think the screenplay for John Carpenters The Thing is a great example of the art. Little said with much going on and coming in at 90 minutes. Perfect.

  2. Manuela Maria Hahn

    August 16, 2013 at 1:18 am

    My favourite scripts of the past few years have been: Social Network
    In Bruges, I have to agree with Casablanca though, and to think they made it up as they went along…