What are the best movie scripts to study as an aspiring screenwriter? Reading great screenplays is an important part of the learning process for any developing screenwriter. By looking at the work of great writers, we can explore a multitude of styles and approaches. Studying great scripts can strengthen and inform your own writing. We’ll be discussing the 10 best movie scripts to study. Let’s get started.

Movie scripts to read

10. Inglourious Basterds - Quentin Tarantino

How Tarantino Keeps You Hooked  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Any and every Quentin Tarantino script is worth studying, but Inglourious Basterds just might be his masterpiece, as Aldo Raine cheekily suggests in the film’s final line of dialogue. It is certainly one of Tarantino’s best movies.

One key difference between the Inglorious Basterds screenplay and the majority of other screenplays is the length of scenes. Inglorious Basterds has a couple of incredibly long scenes, such as the opening at the farm dissected in the video essay above or the extended tavern scene toward the middle.

It is important to note that Tarantino breaks many of the traditional rules of screenplay conventions and formatting. He can get away with it because, well, he’s Tarantino! But if an unknown writer defied as many script conventions as he does, their work would likely get dinged by any professional readers and/or industry gatekeepers.

Refer to our screenplay formatting guide to make sure you have a solid grasp on all of the proper script conventions and use StudioBinder’s screenwriting software to write your script, it’s free to get started.

Best screenplays to read for aspiring screenwriters

Conclusion

The Inglourious Basterds screenplay was in such high demand that it was even sold in paperback copies in bookstores, a shelf-life rarely afforded to screenplays.

Good screenplays to learn from

9. Lethal Weapon - Shane Black

Shane Black’s cheeky action lines  •  Best scripts to read

Shane Black wrote Lethal Weapon as a spec script and sold it for a big paycheck when he was just fresh out of college, making waves in the unrepresented-writer community. Black was Hollywood’s most in-demand screenwriter for a time, partly because of his tight plots and fun characters but also partly because of his unique writing style.

Black’s scripts stood out in the action lines by including passages like the one featured above: “The kind of house that I’ll buy if this movie is a huge hit” is a wonderfully-creative way to break the 4th wall with the reader. It is the kind of thing that will never wind up on screen and audiences will be completely unaware of. But Black makes the reading experience more fun and engaging by throwing in little inside jokes between him and whatever industry professionals are reading through his script.

Similar to how Tarantino can break conventions because he’s Tarantino. Shane Black can have fun with "unfilmables" because he’s Shane Black. It would not be wise for every screenwriter to load up their action lines with unfilmable jokes for the readers, but if you think you can pull it off as well as Shane Black, then have at it.

Best screenplays for screenwriters to read

Conclusion

Read the full Lethal Weapon script here. It is a highly-enjoyable read, and Black’s in-jokes in the action lines ramp up the enjoyment factor even more.

Best screenplays to learn from

8. Sicario - Taylor Sheridan

The opening of Sicario  •  Movie scripts to read

Reading the Sicario screenplay and watching the Sicario film are vastly different experiences. This is one case where much was changed between Taylor Sheridan writing the film and Denis Villeneuve directing the film.

The specific changes made are worth studying in and of themselves for a glimpse into the process a script goes through when it progresses from a writer to a director.

The opening scene of the screenplay, pictured above, was entirely cut from the final film, as was the rest of the voice-over attributed to the character of Alejandro, which returns at the end of the script as well. In the finished film, Alejandro, played by Benicio Del Toro, is a far quieter and more enigmatic character, and the end-result is all the stronger for it.

Best screenplays for screenwriters to read

Conclusion

Sheridan’s writing is stylish and occasionally overly-descriptive to the point of nearing prose rather than script but always engaging.

Best screenplays to read for aspiring screenwriters

7. The Lobster - Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou

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The Lobster is a great screenplay to read purely because of how strange it is. The Lobster is a great film and has one of the most bizarre premises you will ever encounter. The script offers a great example of how wild originality and genuine weirdness can coalesce in a cohesive and remarkable screenplay.

Best movie scripts to study

Conclusion

Like much of Yorgos Lanthimos’s screenwriting, The Lobster is bizarre in a calculated and refined manner.

Movie scripts to read

6. Chinatown - Robert Towne

Exploring the Greatest Screenplay of All Time  •  Best screenplay to read

Robert Towne’s script for Chinatown is often hailed as the greatest screenplay ever written. Anyone interested in becoming a screenwriter owes it to themself to read and learn from the Chinatown screenplay. It is an immaculate telling of a tight, complex story and we analyze what makes it so great in our movie analysis

Best screenplays for screenwriters to read

Conclusion

There are many lessons to be learned from the pages of Robert Towne’s Chinatown screenplay.

Best screenplays to learn from

5. No Country for Old Men - Joel & Ethan Coen

Good screenplays to learn from  •  Lessons From the Screenplay

Almost any Coen Brothers’ screenplay is worthy of dissection and analysis with only one or two exceptions. The scripts for some of the Coen Brothers’ best movies like Fargo, Barton Fink, and The Big Lebowski are also highly-recommended reading for anyone looking to start a career as a screenwriter.

The No Country For Old Men screenplay is a particularly interesting one to learn from for a couple of reasons. One is the long stretches of visual storytelling completely free from dialogue, another is the multiple characters and viewpoints the story jumps between, and, perhaps most importantly, the fact that this script is an adaptation.

It is a worthwhile exercise to look at both the Coen Brothers’ script and Cormac McCarthy’s novel that the film was based on and compare and contrast the two. Take note of what the Coen Brothers changed and ask yourself why. Also, observe how they were able to translate unfilmable passages from the novel into a visual language.

Great films scripts

Conclusion

Give the No Country For Old Men script or any other Coen Brothers’ script a read.

Best screenplays to read and learn from

4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Martin McDonagh

The Problem With Anger  •  Movie scripts to read

Martin McDonagh’s Oscar-nominated screenplay for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri offers a masterclass in how to blend comedy and drama. Read through McDonagh’s script and pay particular attention to the way he commands your perception of characters and is able to shift that perception over the course of the reading or viewing experience.

Best movies to learn screenwriting from

Conclusion

The movie is as hilarious as it is emotionally resonant, and it all comes down to the strength of the screenplay.

Good screenplays to learn from

3. Adaptation - Charlie Kaufman

A scene from Adaptation  •  Best screenplays to read

Charlie Kaufman has spent his entire career churning out some of the most original and thought-provoking screenplays in the entire entertainment industry. His scripts often challenge the very nature of cinema and even storytelling as a whole, and Adaptation is no exception.

This brilliant script is post-modern to the extreme. Charlie Kaufman writes himself as the protagonist with a full view into his psyche layered throughout the script, including in the highlighted scene above which even includes meta-mention of his equally unique Being John Malkovich.

Kaufman, a single child, also writes about his brother Donald, a fictitious counterpart to his own non-fiction lead character in a fictional story about writing the adaptation to a non-fiction book that is itself an adaptation of the very same book. It might sound strange and confusing but that’s only because it is (in the best way possible).

Read more for a deeper dive into Kaufman's screenplays.

Best movies to learn screenwriting

Conclusion

Adaptation is deceptively complex, multi-layered, and a truly unique work of cinema.

Movie scripts to read

2. The Social Network - Aaron Sorkin

The opening scene of The Social Network  •  Best screenplays to read

The script for The Social Network won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Aaron Sorkin is best known for his theatrical, lyrical dialogue that flows off the tongue with biting wit and rapid-fire cadence. He is truly one of the best dialogue writers in the business, but let’s not discount his actions lines or mechanics either. In the excerpt above, observe how cleanly and succinctly he introduces two lead characters.

With just a couple of lines each, the reader now has a crystal-clear idea as to who each of these characters is. We understand their personalities, their mannerisms, and even their mindsets amidst the current conversation in progress. Opening a film with a “stark and simple” dialogue scene is a risk, but with dialogue as good as Sorkin’s, it works.

Great films scripts

Conclusion

Check out the rest of The Social Network’s script. It’s a long one, but Sorkin’s dialogue-heavy style leads to an inflated page-count in general as dialogue takes up more page space than action lines.

Best screenplays to read

1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - William Goldman

The iconic ending of Butch and Sundance

The screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is another gem of a script that is often hailed as one of if not the best screenplay ever written, which is an opinion shared by our previous entry on the list, Aaron Sorkin, who recommends this script and William Goldman’s book Adventures in the Screen Trade as essential reading for anyone with ambitions of becoming a professional screenwriter.

The above excerpt is from the shooting script of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, meaning there is more detail than would be found in a script before entering production. The scene numbers and “CUT TO”s that you see above are not needed when writing a spec script.

The screenplay for this film would be considered extremely long at 186 pages in total, but William Goldman keeps the story moving at a good pace and keeps it gripping for the entire duration.

Screenplays to read

Conclusion

William Goldman’s script for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is an all-time classic. 

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Read More Great Screenplays

Take some time to read through some or all of the scripts included above. A great deal can be learned by reading the masters. Studying great scripts leads to improvement. If you find yourself seeking even more great screenplays to read, you find plenty more PDF downloads in our full script-library.

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