This list is composed by JT Cummins. Every script on the list is available for download at myPDFscripts (links below) including all three Lord of the Rings scripts. There’s one repeat in this list from the previous list — Alien. Guess that means you should definitely read that script:
1. Alien (Walter Hill draft)
Hill’s unique, staccato style burns imagery directly into the reader’s brain. A cold, but scorching fast-paced must read.
For such a legendary taskmaster and technocrat, James Cameron is a romantic at heart, and the plots of every one of his screenplays bear this out by revolving around issues of love and loss. With its surrogate human mother vs. alien mother subplot, Aliens is no exception. Throughout, Cameron’s uses short, novelesque descriptions to enhance his action and blue collar characters and effectively weld them to a plot that escalates with every turn of the page. There’s a reason this script makes many screenwriter’s top-ten lists — it’s damn good. Along with Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza’s Die Hard, Aliens is still one of the great blueprints for the modern action screenplay.
As convoluted and whacky as the premise is, the writers ground its absurdity by thoughtfully spreading the wealth of the story among a host of eccentric characters with issues that matter to each and every one of them – and thus the reader. This isn’t just Michael/Dorothy’s story, but a great ensemble piece. Like Larry Gelbart’s own television version of M*A*S*H, Tootsie is one of the rare comedic screenplays that effectively manages to mix comedy with biting social commentary — and actually work.
In line with its roots, the script is overly descriptive and stagey, but that screwball comedy dialogue? Priceless.
Some movies are just so damn smart they sparkle. Up in the Air is one of them. Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner working from Walter Kirn’s novel create three immensely narcissistic characters and then they do the impossible — they make us care about them. In my opinion, Reitman and Turner deserved the 2009 Academy Award for best screenplay adaption. Personally, I think they were robbed.
Horton Foote captures the grace, humanity, dignity, and yes the ugliness of the characters that reside in Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel. By no means is this a fancy, gin-upped Hollywood version of the book. Instead, Foote has enough sense to get out of the way and keep things simple. By doing so, he not only honors the source material, but allows its naturalistic dialogue to breathe and its compassionate heart to beat, thus imparting as much resonance to what isn’t said, as what is.
By focusing on the humanity, love, and respect that our heroes share for one another, the screenwriters add depth to the epic Tolkien tale and give it to a human scale that readers can relate to and follow. An astounding adaptation of a truly unwieldy work.