101 Greatest Screenplays


The Writers Guild of America recently announced the 101 Greatest Screenplays. I am a huge fan of film. Many of my personal favorites are included on the list. Shakespeare In Love came in #28. Some Like it Hot at #9. Writer/Director Billy Wilder (all bow to Mr. Wilder) made the list several times. Woo-hoo! I was thrilled to see that Memento made the list. Came in at 100, but, hey, it's on the list. I remember being riveted in my seat, thinking how did the writer conceive this way of telling the story and how in the world did he figure out how to do it? Brilliant.

That's what I like about this list. It celebrates writers. Screenwriters. I'm beginning to think that writing a compelling screenplay is harder than writing a compelling novel. I say that because I'm blown away by more books than films. Although to be fair, maybe the piece was stronger before the director, and whoever else got their hands on it. At any rate I've noted WGA's top 25 below. Be sure to hop over to WGA and check out the entire list. It's pretty fascinating. I've seen at least 85% of the 101. Of the top 25, I have seen all but three. Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Blockbuster here I come.

How about you? How many of the Top 25 have you missed out on? Looking for something to do this weekend? How about a classic movie marathon? I'll bring the popcorn!

1
CASABLANCA
Screenplay by Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch
2
THE GODFATHER
Screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola
3
CHINATOWN
Written by Robert Towne
4
CITIZEN KANE
Written by Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles
5
ALL ABOUT EVE
Screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
6
ANNIE HALL
Written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman
7
SUNSET BLVD.
Written by Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman Jr.
8
NETWORK
Written by Paddy Chayefsky
9
SOME LIKE IT HOT
Screenplay by Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond
10
THE GODFATHER II
Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo
11
BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID
Written by William Goldman
12
DR. STRANGELOVE
Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Peter George and Terry Southern
13
THE GRADUATE
Screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. Based on the novel by Charles Webb
14
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
Screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson.
15
THE APARTMENT
Written by Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond
16
PULP FICTION
Written by Quentin Tarantino. Stories by Quentin Tarantino & Roger Avary
17
TOOTSIE
Screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal.
18
ON THE WATERFRONT
Screen Story and Screenplay by Budd Schulberg.
19
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
Screenplay by Horton Foote.
20
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
Screenplay by Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett & Frank Capra.
21
NORTH BY NORTHWEST
Written by Ernest Lehman
22
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
Screenplay by Frank Darabont.
23
GONE WITH THE WIND
Screenplay by Sidney Howard.
24
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman.
25
THE WIZARD OF OZ
Screenplay by Noel Langley and Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf.

Comments

Caro said…
It's a great list -- but I wouldn't expect otherwise from the WGA. I have to take a closer look, but I think I've seen at half, probably more. (Yes, I'm a classic movie buff.)

In Hollywood, writers so often seem to be the overlooked link in the chain, yet, as Ernest Lehman said when he accepted his lifetime achievement award from AMPAS, "In the beginning was the word." Last round of contracts, one of the WGA's small victories was that the writer of the screenplay would now have to receive an invitation to the film's premiere -- apparently it had not been uncommon for the writer to be omitted.

And we complain that romance writers get no respect..
Beth Ciotta said…
"In the beginning there was word."

That's great a quote, Caro. I confess I am not very familiar with the inner workings of a screenwriter's world. (Although I'm learning a lot from Ken Levine's, Philip Morton's, and Jennifer Elbaum's blogs) I know that screenwriter's (film and TV)don't receive the same recognition as actors and directors, but not to be invited to the film's premiere?! How does something like that happen? Now that's a sin.
Jennifer Elbaum said…
What I found most interesting about the list was the number of adaptations that made the list (as opposed to material written originally for the screen). If it says "screenplay by" you know it's an adaptation.
Makes me want to go out an adapt something....
Beth Ciotta said…
Jenn noted how to tell if the screenplay was adapted or original. If you go to the actual list at WGA, they list the authors of the novels or short stories that were adapted. I give adaptations great credit as the screenwriter has to 'adapt' the original writer's story to film without losing the intended impact. This may mean squeezing a four-hundred page novel into a 90-minute movie. How many script pages would that be, Jenn?
Beth Ciotta said…
As an added note, I didn't really pay attention to 'ranking' as, really, how can you rank so much great work. Like anything, it's subjective--subject to an individual's taste. I was more interested in what made the overall list.
Tori Lennox said…
CHINATOWN

I've seen this one. I found oddly compelling but confusing.

SOME LIKE IT HOT

I've seen bits & pieces of this, but not the whole thing all the way through. I always seem to miss it.

TOOTSIE

Oh, hey! One I've seen! And enjoyed. :)

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

I've seen this several times, but I've never really enjoyed it. Though I'm not sure why.

GONE WITH THE WIND

Seen this once. It didn't really float my boat. Sacrilege, I know. *g*

THE WIZARD OF OZ

Ah, another I've enjoyed a lot through the years! Even though it's only remotely like the book. :)
Beth Ciotta said…
Tori, you HAVE to watch Some Like it Hot--beginning to end. Listen to the dialogue with a keen ear. Very clever. Monroe is charming. Curtis and Lemmon are amazing. Jack Lemmon is one of my all-time favorites alongside Cary Grant. Comedy or drama, they do it all amazingly well.

You didn't like 'It's a Wonderful Life?! I'll refrain from gasping.

I'm trying to think (from what I've learned of your tastes via your blog) what movie in the top 25 would 'float your boat'. I'm thinking Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I think it will do it for you. And if it doesn't, at least you get to ogle a young Redford and Newman. :)
Taylor said…
Out of the Top 25 I haven't seen Numbers: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24 (which it's laying next to me as we speak, I borrowed it from a friend). Looks like I have a long weekend to get to Beth! Haha!
Beth Ciotta said…
Taylor, seeing that you are only seventeen-years-young, you have plenty of time to catch up! Knowing your taste (kinda/sorta), out of the top 25 I'd suggest to you: Dr. Strangelove (directed by Stanley Kubrick) and North by Northwest (directed by Alfred Hitchcock). Let me know what you think of Eternal Sunshine. Have a great weekend!
jamie ford said…
The one that jumped out at me was #27--Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day?

I liked it, but #27?
Beth Ciotta said…
I hear you, Jamie. I liked Groundhog Day too. I thought it was clever and sweet. Very well written. But if you're ranking, it does seem odd that it would come in higher than say, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (#45) or The African Queen (#70) or any of the Charlie Kaufman films. That's why I said I didn't give the rankings much thought, just focused on the overall list.
Roni said…
i LOVE
It's A Wonderful Life"...and I'm Jewish! Was "Star Wars" on the list? How about "Psycho"? I always liked "Some Like it Hot" too. And how about "Raiders of the lOst Ark"?
Beth Ciotta said…
Roni, all of the movies you mentioned hit the list. Raiders of the Lost Arc is a personal fave. Jeez. Now I'm in the mood to watch that and African Queen. Tonight, however, we're watching The Chronicles of Narnia. (Not on the list) And yes, I have popcorn. Just need to decide whether to go for the buttered or kettle korn (sweet). Both are low-fat so I figure I can indulge. :0)
Cyn said…
I love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind! The more I've seen it, the more I love it.
Beth Ciotta said…
I have no doubt I'd love Etenal Sunshine, C. I saw the other two Charlie Kaufman film son the list--Adaptation and Being John Malkovich--and thought they were amazing. Did you see either of those. This puts me in mind of another quirky film that did not make the list O' Brother, Where Art Thou? by the Coen Brothers. I ADORED that screenplay! Hilarious. and the soundtrack was equally awesome. Anyone else enjoy the Coen Brothers quirky humor or is it just me?
Beth Ciotta said…
Sorry for the typos above. I'm rushing off to watch Narnia. :)
Cyn said…
Raising Arizona. Brilliant. Original. Vision. Of course, Holly Hunter and Nick Cage rule in that movie. As Holly Hunter does in O'Brother when she's giving George Clooney what-for. I loved the scene with the sirens too. Let not John Goodman be underrated.

Yeah, the soundtrack kicks butt.

I did see Adaptation, which I loved. Only saw part of Being John, but not on purpose. Anything John Malkovich rules my world. May be corny, but he won me in Dangerous Liaisons. Another one of my fave movies.
Cyn said…
I meant corny that I'm corny. DL is how I best remember him. Cannot say if there is a crowning role he has done that everyone talks about that I'm unaware of. I tend to miss everything. But DL was it for ME!
Cyn said…
Sorry I keep posting, B, but keep having thoughts. Didn't they also do Fargo? Loved that one too. That's some major talent they've got.
Beth Ciotta said…
Good morning, C. Yes, the Coens did Fargo. That one made the list! :) I agree about Raising Arizona. Quirky wonderful.

What's everyone 'watching' this weekend?
Jennifer Elbaum said…
Beth,

You asked how many screenplay pages a 90 minute movie would be: basically the rule of thumb (what does that mean "rule of thumb"?) is that 1 minute of film + 1 page.

(and they're very "white" (lots of empty space) pages too!)
Caro said…
Beth, the writer's always been one of the least respected aspects of the film process. During the glory years of the studio system, moguls like Louis B. Mayer would hire writers such as Aldous Huxley and Dorothy Parker -- and then tie their hands by dictating what they were supposed to write. (Aldous Huxley, btw, was reponsible for the Laurence Olivier/Greer Garson version of Pride and Prejudice.)

At the same time, there were people who appreciated the writer's craft -- Lehman spoke highly of Alfred Hitchock, who understood that while a film was absolutely his vision, it was very important that he had a talented writer to shape the words his actors would use.

What am I watching this weekend? Bad Biblical epics all the way, baby, in honor of Easter. David and Bathsheba is playing on Fox Movie Channel right now, followed by The Robe. I've got the 50th anniversary edition of The Ten Commandments (I always cheer for Ramses), TCM is playing King of Kings and Ben Hur tomorrow night, and I couldn't resist the copy of Demetrius and the Gladiators I found in the bargain bin the other day.
Beth Ciotta said…
Jen, thanks for the 'formula'. Oh, and I I looooove white space.

Caro, we just got a new biography in the library on Louis B. Mayer and I was thinking seriously about checking it out. You just swayed me to do so. Enjoy your biblical movie weekend. You have quite the line up. I've watched The Ten Commandments every Easter season since I was a wee kid. Some people think it's cheesy. I don't know if it's because it's nostalgic for me, but I always enjoy it. Have a good one!
Gabriele C. said…
I've missed out most of them. I've seen none of those in the theatre, and three or four on TV. I remember Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Some Like it Hot and I think I've seen Citizen Kane.

I'm so not a movie girl. ;)
Beth Ciotta said…
Gabriele, I suspect that in Germany these American movies perhaps aren't so easy to come by? Of the four you mentioned, you've seen some whoppers. :) Have a great weekend!

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