There are many things we can learn by watching and re-watching a great film. Seeing the story unfold visually, watching great actors interpret characters’ behavior and dialogue is what makes film such an intense collaborative medium.
But if you take the time to read the screenplays of your favorite feature films, you’ll discover a direct line into the mind of the screenwriter – before anyone else is involved. And if you're an aspiring screenwriter, what better way to start honing your craft than to study the work of the best writers out there?
Luckily, The Script Lab's online screenplay library has hundreds of screenplays you can access and download for free, so here are 50 screenplays to get you started!
Let’s start with the big guns. No matter what genre you write in, we all dream of commercial success. So, let’s take a look at the scripts that got things right and brought in millions worldwide.
Written by Sam Mendez and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, this film blew audiences away with its frenetic pacing and action that takes place in real-time. This is a must-read for any screenwriter writing a battle scene or war movie.Download the script!
Todd Phillips and Scott Silver took the classic comic book villain and gave him an unforgettable origin story. It’s exciting to see exactly what was on the page before actor Joaquin Phoenix gave his Oscar-winning performance.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Watching this nostalgic blend of the old and new Star Wars franchise felt like attending a family reunion – in space. Writers J. J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt really know how to create a fantasy world that is both novel and familiar.Download the script!
American Beauty (1999)
This was the breakout movie that took TV writer Alan Ball from the small screen to the big one. The film is a scathing portrait of the “perfect” suburban family where nothing is as pretty as it might seem from the outside.Download the script!
This fresh take on a classic fairytale had us all singing, “Let it go” – for better or worse! Screenwriter Jennifer Lee took Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen and filled it with strong female characters to make it exciting and inspiring to a modern audience.Download the script!
Based on a comic book, this superhero origin story has a dark, twisted sense of humor that appealed heavily to adults. Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick create a dynamic, troubled, and hilarious Wade Wilson (aka Deadpool) on the page. Insert Ryan Reynolds and you have an instant blockbuster.Download the script!
A Star is Born (2018)
This tragic, musical love story keeps getting remade for each new generation. Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters made sure to update the characters so they would feel fresh and appeal to today’s pop-centric audience. See what’s on the page without the distraction of the amazing talent of Lady Gaga.Download the script!
The Hangover (2009)
Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, this film will go down as one of the funniest films of all time. Take a look at the screenplay to read the hilarious dialogue.Download the script!
Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
Disney does it again! Screenwriters David Magee, Rob Marshall, and John DeLuca knew they had to handle this sequel with kid gloves considering we all grew up watching the original film. Read this screenplay to see how the writers both reconstructed and resurrected everyone’s favorite nanny.Download the script!
Christopher Nolan is known for his highly cerebral films that attract huge audiences. This time-bending story is amazing to see on paper most notably because it’s a whopping 147 pages! He’s a master of creating deep, layered stories that deal with big themes – in this case, trying to prevent World War III.Download the script!
The horror genre is often the place first-time writers get their big break, mostly because a good horror movie can be made without a star for a small budget. There are many subgenres within horror, so let’s look at some of the best screenplays the genre has to offer.
A Quiet Place (2018)
Brian Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski create a terrifying world where the mere act of speaking or making any sounds threaten to expose a family to alien monsters. Barely 81 pages, this screenplay is a delight to read considering there is almost no dialogue.Download the script!
Get Out (2017)
This highly disturbing psychological horror film explores the terror of social inequalities taken to the extreme. Writer Jordan Peele creates a world of dread that only goes from bad to worse while commenting on society.Download the script!
The Conjuring (2013)
Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes started this franchise by exploring the stories of real-life ghost-hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren. Their subtle use of universal human fears driven to the extreme by supernatural occurrences is masterful.Download the script!
Shape of Water (2017)
This is one of those horror movies that combines a few genres – it’s a creature film but also a dark fairytale. Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor explore “otherness” when a damaged, mute woman falls in love with an amphibian man. This screenplay makes a fascinating read considering the protagonist doesn’t have any dialogue. The screenplay was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and won Best Picture.Download the script!
The Lighthouse (2019)
This hypnotic, mysterious horror movie doesn’t have any big monsters per se but uses the dark side of nature to wreak havoc in the mundane world of two men forced to spend months isolated from the rest of the world in a lighthouse. Written by brothers Max and Robert Eggers, the screenplay shows two ordinary characters who descend into a world of psychosis that even Edgar Allen Poe would be proud of.Download the script!
Bird Box (2018)
This film was all the rage when it hit Netflix – over 45 million people watched and couldn’t stop talking about it. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer takes the trope of a mother trying to protect her kids from an unseen terror and turns it on its head. Read the script to see how he manages to create the hidden horror on the page.Download the script!
Crimson Peak (2015)
Another one from Guillermo del Toro, with the help of Matthew Robbins, is a gothic, haunted house film of epic proportions. The house itself is the antagonist as it comes alive with ill intentions, playing on its inhabitants’ fears and regrets.Download the script!
It Follows (2014)
Written by David Robert Mitchell, this is one of the freshest horror films of the last decade. It plays on the classic trope of sex and shame. The story follows a young woman who catches a demon from a sexual encounter.Download the script!
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Talk about chills, this movie defined an era of dark, demonic psychological horror. Screenwriter Roman Polanski is at his finest with this nuanced tale of paranoia and the unholy.Download the script!
Black Swan (2010)
Who knew the seemingly beautiful world of ballet could be so horrific? Screenwriters Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John J. McLaughlin decided to explore the dark side of identity and the sacrifices a dancer makes for her art. Read this script to track the protagonist’s descent into full madness.Download the script!
Promising Young Woman (2020)
This screenplay by Emerald Fennell is like a force of nature – both awe-inspiring and destructive. Read this screenplay to see how the devastating climax of the film is succinctly written on the page.Download the script!
This screenplay is equal parts witty, funny, and emotional as it tells the story of two teen girls who decide to catch up on all the partying they missed in high school before they leave for college. Writer Katie Silberman took the helm of the screenplay after writers Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins first wrote a draft of the screenplay in 2009.Download the script!
Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Taika Watiti won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for this unusual little film about a German boy during World War II who tries to make sense of his activities in the Hitler Youth as his mother hides a Jewish woman in their home.Download the script!
Call Me by Your Name (2017)
James Ivory won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for this tale about young love that blossoms in 1980s Italy. It’s a beautiful film with a masterfully written screenplay.Download the script!
Ex Machina (2014)
Writer Alex Garland was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for his script about a computer programmer who designs a highly advanced humanoid robot. This screenplay is a modern-day Frankenstein story and is a good read to see how he sets the stage for his protagonist’s scientific experiment.Download the script!
Damien Chazelle’s screenplay was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. It tells the story of a young drummer who challenges his music teacher at a cut-throat music conservatory. Take a look at the screenplay for a lesson in pacing.Download the script!
Hell or Highwater (2016)
Actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. This modern-day Western is a great example of how to update the worn Western genre.Download the script!
Pulp Fiction (1994)
This film made Quentin Tarantino a household name. It has everything a movie should have – shoot ‘em ups, dancing, a robbery, and some hilarious kink. It also boasts some of the best dialogue of all time.Download the script!
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Another great screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, winning him the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (with story help from Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth). Read this screenplay to track the fateful romantic relationship between Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Joel (Jim Carrey) as they fall into a vicious cycle of falling in love, getting their minds erased, and falling in love again.Download the script!
The Wrestler (2008)
Robert Siegel wrote this heartbreaking screenplay about a faded professional wrestler who struggles to sort out his personal life. Read this screenplay to see how to write nuanced characters with great subtext.Download the script!
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Michael Arndt won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for this quirky, ensemble comedy. Read this script to see how the hilarious scenes, like Olive’s (Abigail Breslin) infamous dance sequence, lives on the page.Download the script!
Eleanor Catton adapted Jane Austen’s beloved book – but this isn’t your grandmother’s version of Emma. This telling of Emma Woodhouse’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) romantic journey is highly stylized – from the gowns to the dialogue to that crazy, musical picture frame. Read this screenplay to see how much of the style was written into the script.Download the script!
Typically, most movies about writers are terribly boring – but not so when writer Charlie Kaufman is in charge! This screenplay keeps you guessing every step of the way. Even more mysterious, the screenplay is credited as written by both Charlie and his fictitious brother Donald.Download the script!
The script by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. If you read the screenplay, you’ll find several scenes that were shot, but not included in the final cut of the film.Download the script!
Girls Trip (2017)
Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver wrote this script about four best friends who reunite in New Orleans. Bold, brash, and raunchy, this script pushes the boundaries of what women in comedy are capable of doing on film.Download the script!
Legally Blonde (2001)
What would the movie universe be without the unflappable Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon)? Thanks to writers Karen McCullah and Kristen Smith, we don’t have to wonder. Read the script that inspired two sequels and a Broadway musical.Download the script!
The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
Writers Steve Carell and Judd Apatow are at their comedic best with this script about a middle-aged man (Carell) who contemplates finally losing his virginity when he meets the right woman (Catherine Keener).Download the script!
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
This film quickly became a cult classic and brought the little-known creature called a liger (tiger bred with a lion) into our vernacular. The script is by husband-and-wife duo, Jared and Jerusha Hess.Download the script!
There’s Something About Mary (1998)
This screenplay, written by Ed Decter, John J. Strauss, Peter Farrelly, and Bobby Farrelly, started Hollywood’s love affair with R-rated comedies and pushed the envelope with what’s possible in a rom-com.Download the script!
The Princess Bride (1987)
The late, great William Goldman brought us this classic movie that continues to live on in our hearts. It has everything – romance, revenge, and riotous laughter. Read this script to learn from one of the greatest screenwriters of all time.Download the script!
Oscar-Winners for Best Picture
Winning the Oscar for Best Picture is the pinnacle of success in Hollywood. Let’s read some scripts that took home the most coveted gold statuette of all time.
With a screenplay by Chloe Zhao, Nomadland won a total of three Oscars, including Best Actress for Frances McDormand and Best Director for Zhao, in addition to Best Picture.Download the script!
Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won shocked all of Hollywood when their Korean-language film won four Oscars including, Best Director for Ho, Best Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film, and, of course, Best Picture.Download the script!
Green Book (2018)
Green Book won a total of three Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, while screenwriters Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, and Peter Farrelly took home the Oscar for Best Screenplay.Download the script!
No one will ever forget the chaos that happened when actress Faye Dunaway was handed the wrong envelope and announced the Best Picture Oscar went to La La Land. Luckily, the situation was quickly sorted out and the little gold man ended up in the correct hands. Moonlight actually took home three Oscars that night, including Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali and Best Screenplay for Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraneyDownload the script!
In addition to winning the Oscar for Best Picture, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy took home the award for Best Original Screenplay. Spotlight is based on the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered a massive child sex scandal kept quiet by the Catholic Church.Download the script!
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
Birdman won a total of four Oscars, including Best Screenplay for Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., and Armando Bo; Best Director for Iñárritu and Best Cinematography on top of Best Picture. This theatrical fantasy is about a washed-up actor (Michael Keaton) who tries to revive his career by writing, directing, and starring in a play.Download the script!
12 Years a Slave (2013)
This shocking true story actually won three Oscars, including Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o, Best Adapted Screenplay for John Ridley, and Best Picture. The screenplay is based on the memoir by Solomon Northup, a free Black man in New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Washington, D.C. in 1841 where he was enslaved for 12 long years.Download the script!
Hollywood loves a good story about itself, especially when it involves the CIA and American hostages. In addition to Best Picture, screenwriter Chris Terrio won Best Adapted Screenplay; the film also won for Best Editing.Download the script!
The King’s Speech (2010)
In a desperate bid to overcome his stutter before addressing the nation in a speech, Britain’s King George VI (Colin Firth) works closely with a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush). The film won a total of four Oscars, including Firth’s win for Best Actor, Tom Hooper for Best Director, David Seidler for Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture.Download the script!
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Slumdog Millionaire took home a total of eight Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay for Simon Beaufoy, and Best Director for Danny Boyle. The movie tells the story of a Mumbai teen (Dev Patel) who is accused of cheating on a game show in India. This screenplay is a stunning example of blending a heartfelt, personal journey with social commentary.
Shanee Edwards is a screenwriter, journalist and author. After receiving her MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA, she was hired to adapt various stories for the screen including Apes or Angels, the true story of naturalist Charles Darwin, and Three Wishes, based on the New York Times best selfing novel by Kristen Ashley. You can listen to her interview Oscar-winning screenwriters on The Script Lab Podcast, or read her book Ada Lovelace: the Countess who Dreamed in Numbers. Follow her on Twitter: @ShaneeEdwards