The Usual Suspects script won the Oscar for best writing and launched the careers of both Christopher McQuarrie and Bryan Singer. The movie is currently listed at #32 on the IMDB top 100. While the ending will go down in history as one of the great twist endings, the entire script is exceptional. From the characterizations to the flashback structure, and that “tough-as-nails” dialogue that never gets old. We’ll break it down including story beats, dialogue, and that insane ending.
The Usual Suspects Script
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WHO WROTE THE Usual Suspects SCRIPT?
Written by Christopher McQuarrie
Christopher McQuarrie skipped college and spent the first five years out of school traveling and working at a detective agency.
He later wrote the script for Valkyrie which sparked a close working relationship with Tom Cruise, which led to McQuarrie re-writing The Edge of Tomorrow as well as directing Jack Reacher and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.
The Ususal Suspects PLOT
Story in the The Usual Suspects script
The Usual Suspects script comes in right around 118 pages, which is pretty standard for many crime scripts. The screenplay also follows basic story structure pretty well, especially with the big moments.
Script Structure of The Usual Suspects
1. EXPOSITION (BEGINNING)
The Usual Suspects script begins with a bloodbath on the deck of a ship. Dean Keaton tries to blow up the ship, but Keyser Soze stops Keaton, and shoots him dead.
2. INCIDITING INCIDENT
After the lineup, the suspects meet each other while all are gathered in a cell. McManus offers a job to the group.
3. CLIMAX OF ACT ONE
Verbal is politically connected and has immunity. Kujan negotiates to talk with Verbal before he posts bail. The FBI learn that Keyser Soze is somehow involved.
4. OBSTACLES (RISING ACTION)
The suspects rob a corrupt group of cops smuggling jewels. They call the press, and 50 cops are charged with crimes. Meanwhile, Briggs has an interpreter and sketch artist work with the Hungarian smuggler to sketch Keyser Soze.
5. MIDPOINT (BIG TWIST)
The suspects rob a Texan jeweler in a parking garage, but the whole thing goes south. McManus kills two men, and Verbal kills the jeweler. Kobayashi meets with the suspects, and forces them to do a job for Keyser Soze.
6. DISASTER & CRISIS
Fenster tries to run, but the suspects find his body. The suspects kill Redfoot and go to kill Kobayashi, but stop when they realize he is doing business with Finneran.
7. CLIMAX OF ACT TWO
Keaton forces Verbal to hide and stay back. He wants him to protect Finneran from Keyser Soze. The suspects begin the assault on the boat.
8. CLIMAX OF ACT THREE
The informant is killed by Keyser Soze. Then McManus approaches Keaton with a pipe in his neck. Kujan believes he has figured out that Keaton is Keyser Soze. We learn Edie Finneran has been killed as well.
We learn at the very end that Verbal was Keyser Soze the entire time, and that the story he told was one big ruse.
The Usual Suspects Script Takeaway #1
The Usual Suspects quotes
The Usual Suspects is a great script that has created some of the best movie quotes. Some of these are basic quotes that only make sense in the context of the story, but others are more ubiquitous.
The best quotes from The Usual Suspects came from Verbal:
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”
The reason this is such a great quote is because it is both relevant to the story at hand, but also has a larger truth behind it. The first step to combating evil is shining a light on it, both figuratively and literally.
The Usual Suspects Script Takeaway #2
The Usual Suspects lineup scene
The most famous scene from The Usual Suspects is the lineup scene, and the filmmakers must have agreed that this was an effective scene since they used it as the movie poster image.
For all of those who lived through the video store years, there are a few movie posters that are etched into our memories. The Usual Suspects, The Silence of the Lambs, Pulp Fiction — these movie posters that truly made you want to pull the case from the shelf and shell out your $3.00.
The lineup scene is great because there you’re meeting the characters all at once. There are big plot developments, humor, and a group of rag-tag loveables who seem to treat the jail almost as their clubhouse.
The Usual Suspects Script Takeaway #3
Why The Usual Suspects script worksAfter reading the script for The Usual Suspects, the best part is how Verbal is constantly seen as a weakling, the dunce, the loser.
There are moments where we might suspect Verbal, but everything in the script tells us that this guy is a coward. Deep down we can tell he is scared of Kujan, scared to let Keaton down, and scared of Keyser Soze.
If you have a big twist in your own scripts, you don’t have to give it away until the very last moment, and you will always benefit from creating a tone for your character that is distracts us from the truth.
Read and Download More Scripts
The Usual Suspects script won the Oscar for best writing and launched the careers of both Christopher McQuarrie and Bryan Singer. If you want to read more great scripts, we have Pulp Fiction, Goodfellas and The Godfather in our screenplay database. Great screenwriters read lots of scripts. Get started today!