One of the most prestigious honors a screenwriter can be given is the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Over the years, we’ve seen sweeping stories of romanticism like the original Titanic, as well as stories of war like The Hurt Locker, win the award. We’re going to list all the scripts that have won the Academy Award for Best Original screenplay, then we’re going to rank some of the greatest.

original screenplay Oscar movies

All Best Original Screenplay Winners

Before we pick our favorite Best Original Screenplay Oscar winners, let’s recap every single recipient of the award to date:

best original screenplay academy award

All best original screenplay Oscar Winners

  • 1940 - Preston Sturges, The Great McGinty 
  • 1941 - Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles, Citizen Kane
  • 1942 - Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin, Woman of the Year 
  • 1943 - Norman Krasna, Princess O’Rourke 
  • 1944 - Lamar Trotti, Wilson
  • 1945 - Richard Schweizer, Marie-Louise
  • 1946 - Muriel and Sydney Box, The Seventh Veil 
  • 1947 - Sidney Sheldon, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer 
  • 1948 - Given to Adapted Screenplay The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  • 1949 - Robert Pirosh, Battleground
  • 1950 - Charles Brackett, D.M. Marshman Jr. and Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard 
  • 1951 - Alan Jay Lerner, An American in Paris 
  • 1952 - T.E.B. Clarke, The Lavender Hill Mob 
  • 1953 - Charles Brackett, Richard L. Breen and Walter Reisch, Titanic
  • 1954 - Budd Schulberg, On the Waterfront 
  • 1955 - Sonya Levien and William Ludwig, Interrupted Melody 
  • 1956 - Albert Lamorisee, The Red Balloon 
  • 1957 - George Wells, Designing Woman 
  • 1958 - Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith, The Defiant Ones 
  • 1959 - Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin, based on a story by Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse, Pillow Talk 
  • 1960 - I.A.L. Diamond and Billy Wilder, The Apartment 
  • 1961 - William Inge, Splendor in the Grass 
  • 1962 - Ennio de Concini, Pietro Germi, and Alfredo Giannetti, Divorce Italian Style 
  • 1963 - James R. Webb, How the West Was Won 
  • 1964 - Peter Stone and Frank Tarloff, based on a story by S. H. Barnett, Father Goose 
  • 1965 - Frederic Raphael, Darling
  • 1966 - Claude Lelouch and Pierre Uytterhoeven, based on a story by Lelouch, A Man and a Woman
  • 1967 - William Rose, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner 
  • 1968 - Mel Brooks, The Producers 
  • 1969 - William Goldman, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • 1970 - Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North, Patton
  • 1971 - Paddy Chayefsky, The Hospital 
  • 1972 - Jeremy Larner, The Candidate 
  • 1973 - David S. Ward, The Sting 
  • 1974 - Robert Towne, Chinatown
  • 1975 - Frank Pierson, Dog Day Afternoon 
  • 1976 - Paddy Chayefsky, Network
  • 1977 - Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman, Annie Hall 
  • 1978 - Robert C. Jones and Waldo Salt, based on a story by Nancy Dowd, Coming Home 
  • 1979 - Steve Tesich, Breaking Away 
  • 1980 - Bo Goldman, Melvin and Howard
  • 1981 - Colin Welland, Chariots of Fire 
  • 1982 - John Briley, Gandhi
  • 1983 - Horton Foote, Tender Mercies 
  • 1984 - Robert Benton, Places in the Heart 
  • 1985 - William Kelley and Earl W. Wallace, based on a story by Kelley, E. Wallace and Pamela Wallace, Witness
  • 1986 - Woody Allen, Hannah and Her Sisters 
  • 1987 - John Patrick Shanley, Moonstruck
  • 1988 - Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow, based on a story by Morrow, Rain Man
  • 1989 - Tom Schulman, Dead Poets Society
  • 1990 - Bruce Joel Rubin, Ghost
  • 1991 - Callie Khouri, Thelma and Louise 
  • 1992 - Neil Jordan, The Crying Game 
  • 1993 - Jane Campion, The Piano 
  • 1994 - Quentin Tarantino, based on a story by Roger Avart and Tarantino,
    Pulp Fiction 
  • 1995 - Christopher McQuarrie, The Usual Suspects 
  • 1996 - The Coen Brothers, Fargo
  • 1997 - Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting 
  • 1998 - Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare in Love
  • 1999 - Alan Ball, American Beauty 
  • 2000 - Cameron Crowe, Almost Famous 
  • 2001 - Julian Fellowes, Gosford Park
  • 2002 - Pedro Almodovar, Talk to Her 
  • 2003 - Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation
  • 2004 - Charlie Kaufman, based on a story by Pierre Bismuth, Michael Gondry and Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • 2005 - Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco, based on a story by Haggis, Crash
  • 2006 - Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine
  • 2007 - Diablo Cody, Juno
  • 2008 - Dustin Lance Black, Milk
  • 2009 - Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
  • 2010 - David Seidler, The King’s Speech 
  • 2011 - Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris 
  • 2012 - Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained 
  • 2013 - Spike Jonze, Her
  • 2014 - Armando Bo, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Nicolas Giacobone and Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
  • 2015 - Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight
  • 2016 - Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
  • 2017 - Jordan Peele, Get Out
  • 2018 - Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly and Nick Vallelonga, Green Book
  • 2019 - Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won, based on a story by Bong, Parasite
  • 2020 - Emerald Fennelldouble-dagger, Promising Young Woman

Now that we’ve listed every film to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, let’s rank some of the best!

Best Screenplay Oscar Winners

20. Get Out (2017)

Best Screenplay Award Winners  •  Read the Get Out Original Screenplay

Jordan Peele breathed new life into the horror genre with his 2017 film
Get Out. But although the film received a lot of critical acclaim, many were uncertain whether or not it would be honored by the Academy — horror movies and horror scripts don’t have a great track record of success at the Oscars.

Get Out proved its doubters wrong though and ultimately took home the top honor for Best Original Screenplay because of its brilliant social commentary and multi-layered themes. 

Best Original Screenplay WInners

19. Divorce Italian Style (1962)

Divorce Italian Style Wins the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay

Divorce Italian Style, or Divorzio all’italiana, was the third foreign language film to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The script features some brilliant dialogue, and a clearly defined story arc.

Nowadays, Divorce Italian Style is perhaps most well-remembered for star Marcello Mastroianni’s performance, but it would have never been possible if not for Ennio de Concini, Pietro Germi, and Alfredo Giannetti’s script.

Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay

18. Fargo (1996)

Oscar Best Original Screenplay  •  Read The Fargo Screenplay

The Coen Brothers are two of the most prolific screenwriters of their generation. As a pair, they have been nominated for six screenwriting Oscars; three for Best Original Screenplay and three for Best Adapted Screenplay. 

Fargo is the Coen brothers only Oscar-winning original script. In the years since its release, Fargo has inspired countless scripts that were either spiritually inspired by or directly inspired by its story.

Best Screenplay Oscar Winners

17. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

There are a lot of people who consider Charlie Kaufman one of the greatest living screenwriters. Personally, I’m not his biggest fan, but it’s easy to see why so many love his works. When I think Kaufman, I think of two words: ambition and vision.

Every script from Kaufman is something different, something absurd, or something surreal. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is probably his most famous script and the only one to nab him an Oscar win.

Best Original Screenplay WInners

16. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Academy Award for Best Screenplay Winners  •  Read The Dog Day Afternoon Screenplay

Dog Day Afternoon was inspired by an insane real-life bank robbery by John Wojtowicz, who the film suggests, wanted to use the stolen bank funds to pay for the gender reassignment of his partner.

The greatest part of the Dog Day Afternoon screenplay is how it instills within us this fervent sense of hysteria we only experience when pushed to the absolute edge. The chaos of the bank robbery is excellently communicated through dialogue and scene descriptions.

Oscar Winning Screenplays Ranked

15. Manchester By The Sea (2016)

Best Screenplay Award Winners  •  Read The Manchester By The Sea Screenplay

Manchester By The Sea is one of the more quaint scripts to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in recent years. In many ways, I’d argue that it’s harder to pull off what writer Kenneth Lonergan did with Manchester By The Sea than it is to make a big-budget script. 

We’re often told that we can make a story about anything — and that’s true, but it’s very difficult to make audiences care about something that lacks magnitude. Manchester By the Sea shows us how we can take a small subject matter and make it into a universal story.

Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay

14. The Producers (1967)

Oscar Original Screenplays  •  Read The Producers Screenplay

Mel Brooks is regarded as one of the great comedy writers of the 20th century and his 1967 film The Producers is one of his best. One great screenwriting exercise is to think of the most asinine subject matter possible, and begin writing it out — that must have been what Brooks did with The Producers.

The film follows two Broadways financiers who have to stage the worst musical possible. Their plan? Stage a musical that glowingly praises Nazis called “Springtime for Hitler.” The Producers wasn’t exactly “universally praised” upon its release in 1967, but over the years it’s developed a cult following, largely due in part to its biting satire.

Best Screenplay Oscar Winners

13. Her (2013)

Spike Jonze certainly deserved the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Her. In another writer’s hands, Her could’ve easily been a heavy-handed tale about the perils of AI, but Jonze found humanity hidden in robotic subject matter.

Her is a surprisingly tender film that makes great use of two great performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. But it should be noted that everything that’s structurally great about Her was built in the script.

Oscar Winning Screenplays Ranked

12. Lost in Translation (2003)

Academy Award for Best Screenplay Winners  •  Read The Lost in Translation Screenplay

Fun fact: Sofia Coppola won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay 33 years after her father, Francis Ford Coppola won the same honor. The duo are the only father-daughter combo to ever win the award.

Lost in Translation is an iconic film and its script is a big reason why. There are so many moments in the script where Coppola lets the images speak for themselves — that may sound like an easy thing to do, but it’s remarkably difficult to pull off.

Academy Award Winning Writers

11. Almost Famous (2000)

Oscar Original Screenplays  •  Read The Almost Famous Screenplay

Has anybody ever had as cool a career as Cameron Crowe? At age 16, Crowe started writing for Rolling Stone covering up-and-coming rock bands. He then turned his experience working for Rolling Stone into a screenplay that went on to win an Academy Award.

Almost Famous has a great script and one of the best movie soundtracks of all-time. In between Crowe’s time at Rolling Stone and writing the script for Almost Famous, he went undercover as a high school student and wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Best Original Screenplay WInners

10. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Best Screenplay Award Winners  •  Read the Pulp Fiction Screenplay

Pulp Fiction is widely regarded as Quentin Tarantino’s best work and one of the best movies of the 1990s. Tarantino wrote the Pulp Fiction script based on stories by himself and Roger Avary.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the Pulp Fiction screenplay is its non-linear structure. Since scenes take place out of sequential order, we’re enticed to see how things will come together. In the end, Pulp Fiction proves to be more than the sum of its parts.

Best Academy Award Winning Writers

9. The Apartment (1960)

Academy Award for Best Screenplay Winners  •  Read The Apartment Screenplay

The Apartment screenplay from Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond is an absolute classic. At the time of its release, The Apartment was considered scandalous and socially risque. 

The script follows a lonely office-worker who allows executives to use his apartment for their extramarital affairs — but when a woman he admires becomes ensnared by his boss, he risks losing everything to save his morals.

Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay

8. On the Waterfront (1954)

Screenplay of the Year 1954  •  Read the On the Waterfront Shooting Script

On the Waterfront won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1954, but it was technically based on a true-crime report by Malcolm Johnson, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his work.

Technicalities aside, On the Waterfront is truly an incredible story, and it features one of Marlon Brando’s best performances.

Best Screenplay Oscar Winners

7. The Usual Suspects (1995)

Who Won Best Screenplay in 1995?  •  Read The Usual Suspects Screenplay

If you’ve ever dreamed of becoming a screenwriter, and you haven’t read
The Usual Suspects, then you definitely should. I hate to use the term “standard,” but The Usual Suspects really does take all of the story beats we consider “standard” and executes them to perfection.

There’s nothing crazy about The Usual Suspects — it’s just a really well-told story that has a structurally solid foundation. Oftentimes, we get used to seeing sensational scripts win the big awards, but The Usual Suspects proves that sometimes it’s all about the fundamentals.

Oscar Winning Screenplays Ranked

6. Good Will Hunting (1997)

Oscar Best Original Screenplay  •  Read the Good Will Hunting Script

Did you know that Ben Affleck is the youngest writer to ever win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay? At the time of their win, Affleck was just 25, and co-writer Matt Damon was 27. Funny enough, the previous youngest winner was Orson Welles, who was 26 when he was given the award for
Citizen Kane.

Good Will Hunting proved that authenticity can sometimes be a script’s greatest strength. Affleck and Damon turned their hometown of Boston into the backdrop for an emotional story of two lost souls who help each other move past their own trauma.

For more on the film, check out our Good Will Hunting script teardown.

Best Screenplay Oscar Winners

5. Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Screenplay of the Year 1950  •  Read the Sunset Boulevard Screenplay

Sunset Boulevard was a film that changed the course of Hollywood at a pivotal time in its history. In many ways, Sunset Boulevard exposed the darkness that laid beneath the glitz and glamour of the Golden Age. 

Sunset Boulevard really is a brilliant script, both technically and narratively. You’d be hard-pressed to find a worthwhile screenwriting program that doesn’t assign Sunset Boulevard as part of its coursework.

Best Screenplay Oscar Winners

4. Network (1976)

Who Won Best Screenplay in 1976?  •  Read the Network Screenplay

It seems just about everyday when I sit down to watch TV news that I find myself thinking back to Paddy Chayefsky’s Network. I suppose that sentiment is true for most who have seen the film or read the script — there’s something utterly haunting about it, and subsequently, its implications on mass media. 

Paddy Chayefsky won two Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay
(The Hospital and Network), as well as one Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (Marty).

Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay

3. Annie Hall (1977)

Who Won Best Screenplay in 1977?  •  Read the Annie Hall Screenplay

Woody Allen has been nominated for more Best Original Screenplay Oscars than any other screenwriter, and it’s not even close. Federico Fellini takes second place with six nominations, a whopping ten spots below Allen.

Few would refute that Annie Hall is one of Woody Allen’s best movies.
Annie Hall is widely considered to be one of the greatest screenplays of all-time, original or adapted.

Best Screenplay Oscar Winners

2. Citizen Kane (1941)

Oscar Best Original Screenplay  •  Read The Citizen Kane Screenplay

To say that Citizen Kane is a masterpiece would be an understatement. Orson Welles became an overnight sensation for his work writing, directing, and starring in Citizen Kane, a film widely regarded as the greatest ever made. 

The Citizen Kane screenplay has been subject to controversy over the years. In the 1970s, reports circulated that Welles involvement in the scriptwriting process was minimal and that Herman Mankiewicz wasn’t given enough credit for his authorship. In recent years, those reports have been proven false — Welles and Mankiewicz share credit for the script and the Oscar. 

Best Screenplay Oscar Winner of All-Time

1. Chinatown (1974)

Screenplay of the Year 1974  •  Read The Chinatown Screenplay

There’s usually a fair amount of subjectivity in what gets the top honor on a list like this, but the script most deserving of the top honor here couldn’t be clearer. You’d be hard-pressed to find a dozen screenwriters who don’t consider Robert Towne’s Chinatown the best original screenplay of all-time.

Chinatown is a masterfully constructed story that leaves no threads loose. Perhaps that’s one reason why its ending is so well-regarded, and widely studied in college classrooms across the world.

Whether you’re a screenwriter, literary writer, or movie fan, there’s tremendous value in studying the Chinatown screenplay.

UP NEXT

Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar Winners

Many of the greatest screenplays of all-time were adapted from other works. In this next article, we look at some of the best adapted screenplays ever made, and how they were able to capture the hearts and minds of the Academy. You won’t want to miss the opportunity to download scenes from films like Moonlight, No Country for Old Men, and The Departed.

Up Next: Great Adapted Scripts →
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