What does a screenplay look like? Screenwriting and traditional prose writing share many characteristics and commonalities, but it is best to think of them as entirely different disciplines of storytelling. We will examine what the average screenplay looks like, how different genres prioritize different elements, and we’ll take a look at specific screenplay examples worth reading and studying.
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What does a basic screenplay look like?
With very few exceptions, all screenplays follow the same standard formatting rules. Proper script formatting is extremely important when writing a screenplay for a number of reasons, one of the most important being the timing of the final film. One page of a properly formatting screenplay is equivalent to approximately one minute of screentime. Knowing roughly how long a film will be before it is shot is incredibly important.
All screenplays are built out of the same core formatting elements. For a deeper dive into these specific elements and to see how each of them are used, be sure to read our guide to screenplay formatting. If you are at all interested in giving screenwriting a shot yourself, StudioBinder’s screenwriting software can get you started for free.
Script Writing Examples
Why different genres may look different
If all screenplays are built out of the same elements, how can some scripts look so drastically different from others? The genre of a film can have an influence on what the screenplay looks like. The two main pieces of a script that fill up pages are action lines and dialogue. Some genres, like comedies, tend to place a greater emphasis on dialogue while other genres, like action, often focus more on action lines.
Dialogue takes up more space on the page than action lines do, meaning a script that is heavy on dialogue may have a slightly inflated page count, while a script that is heavy on action and light on dialogue may wind up turning to a film that is slightly longer than the one-page-per-minute rule dictates.
Our guide to screenplay lengths can clear up any other questions you may have about timing a script based on page counts.
Different films make use of all kinds of different story structures, but the core look and functionality of screenplay formatting remains the same across all story structures and genres. Next, we’ll dig into a few genre examples to illustrate the different stylistic approaches a film may take.
Sample Script Format
Comedy script examples
Let’s look at three different types of comedy scripts to compare and contrast the similarities and differences between them. Some comedy scripts prioritize dialogue over action but not all.
Below you can read and download the screenplay for The 40-Year-Old Virgin, an example of a dialogue-heavy screenplay. You will find entire pages consisting of nothing but dialogue in this screenplay which is something you are far less likely to find in other genres.
Click the script below to read and download the entire script.
If you want to write a script in the vein of The 40 Year Old Virgin, you should take a look at our tips for writing better dialogue first.
Up next is the stellar and hilarious screenplay by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg for Shaun of the Dead. In this case, the comedy comes from a rather sophisticated blend between the dialogue and visual comedy.
Edgar Wright’s best movies are great examples of well-balanced comedy screenplays. The mix of dialogue and action is as close to perfect as you can get in a screenplay.
On the other end of the comedic spectrum from the talky script of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, we have pure visual comedy, such as the sublime slapstick work of French auteur Jacques Tati. Here's a look at the visual comedy of Jacques Tati, courtesy of the Royal Ocean Film Society.
The films of Jacques Tati feature very little dialogue and rely on clever visual gags to wring laughs from the audience rather than the dialogue-dependent gags of other comedies.
Movie Script Example
Action script examples
Just as there is a spectrum of comedy scripts, there is also a great deal of variance in the stylings of action movie scripts as well. Action screenplays tend to rely more heavily on action lines than dialogue but this is not always the case. John Wick is one film that places a heavy emphasis on action, and, as you might guess, the screenplay reflects this fact.
There is a mixture of dialogue and action in the pages of this screenplay with a heavy slant toward action in the ratio. Entire pages of the script go by without a single line of dialogue at times.
Every great Quentin Tarantino movie script displays his absolute mastery of the screenplay format. You can download and read the Django Unchained screenplay to see exactly how he structures and formats his blend of intense action with his trademark dialogue.
On the dialogue-heavy end of the action film spectrum, we have screenplays like the one for Collateral. The dialogue-heavy cab scenes are juxtaposed wonderfully against the sharp bursts of action that occur outside the cab.
Collateral has more dialogue and less action than the average action-thriller but is a grade-A action film regardless, showing that the action-to-dialogue ratio can be skewed to great effect in the hands of experts.
If you are a fan of Collateral, be sure to check out our review and retrospective on the film.
Read the Best Movie Scripts Online
Screenplays all follow the same formatting guidelines, but each writer leaves their own fingerprints behind on the pages. The author’s voice changes the reading experience of each screenplay through stylistic choices and personal preferences. You can read some of the best movie scripts ever written online to see just how different screenplays can be.