10 Classic Screenplays: Eddie’s Take

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List compiled by Eddie on 18/07/2014

The Screenplay – the beginning of the movie and the making of a movie, for without a top quality script no matter who acts it or who directs the material the movie is doomed before it even begins shooting.

Over the period of film history there have been many stand out screenplays and there are writers out there who are chased due to their ability to craft dialogue suited to the silver screen (Aaron Sorkin as an example). What makes a good screenplay is subjective but overall you are looking for believability within the characters, honest dialogue that feels real and relatable and often a wording of the inner feelings one feels expressed through the medium of an actor/actress.

Picking a list of 10 screenplays I feel are exemplary examples of the power of screenwriting obviously leaves out countless other films that would be deserving of a place on this list but without doubt these below choices are highly inspiring pieces of work and helped create films that are all classics of their own respective genres and movie lore as a whole.

Happy reading and happy watching!

To read Jordan’s list click here.

Full Metal10. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Screenwriters: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr and Gustav Hasford

“The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle. It is your killer instinct which must be harnessed if you expect to survive in combat. Your rifle is only a tool. It is a hard heart that kills. If your killer instincts are not clean and strong you will hesitate at the moment of truth.”

A stunning examination of what it’s like to become a marine, to become a killer without a second though Full Metal Jacket’s screenplay is filled to the brim with quotable and often highly offensive diatribes by R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sargent Hartman but it’s also a brutally honest and startling insight into the life of those soldiers in Vietnam.

9. Friday Night Lights (2004)

Screenwriters: David Aaron Cohen and Peter Berg

“You just-you ain’t gettin’ it. You don’t understand. This is the only thing you’re ever gonna have. Forever, it carries you forever. It’s an ugly fact of life. Donnie, hell. It’s the only fact of life. You got one year, one stinkin’ year to make yourself some memories, son. That’s all. It’s gone after that. And I’ll be damned if you’re not gonna miss it.”

A sports movie that is also so much more, Friday Night Lights cast a light over what it’s like to grow up in a small town and have the weight of the people upon your young shoulders. Billy Bob Thornton gets many of the films best lines as coach Gary Gaines but the story is filled with memorable dialogue and characters and is so close to perfect in its setting that it at times feels like a documentary.

8. Se7en (1995)

Screenwriter: Andrew Kevin Walker

“I didn’t say I was different or better. I’m not. Hell, I sympathize; I sympathize completely. Apathy is the solution. I mean, it’s easier to lose yourself in drugs than it is to cope with life. It’s easier to steal what you want than it is to earn it. It’s easier to beat a child than it is to raise it. Hell, love costs: it takes effort and work.”

Andrew Kevin Walker’s bleak and effective screenplay has an abundance of classic dialogue all played out to perfection by its cast. It’s a joy to watch a screenplay evolve in the way in which Se7en’s does, as our characters slowly change with the events happening around them and the eventual unveiling of John Doe only leads to the some of the film’s most harshly honest takes on human nature we have heard on screen.

7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Screenwriters: Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman

“My pop was real big. He did like he pleased. That’s why everybody worked on him. The last time I seen my father, he was blind and diseased from drinking. And every time he put the bottle to his mouth, he didn’t suck out of it, it sucked out of him until he shrunk so wrinkled and yellow even the dogs didn’t know him.”

A screenplay that draws the audience into its story from the first frame through to the last, the writing work on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is of the highest order. The screenplay flights between funny, sad, scary and touching and remains to this day one of the most beloved stories to grace the silver screen.

6. Jaws (1975)

Screenwriters: Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb

“Y’all know me. Know how I earn a livin’. I’ll catch this bird for you, but it ain’t gonna be easy. Bad fish. Not like going down the pond chasin’ bluegills and tommycods. This shark, swallow you whole. Little shakin’, little tenderizin’, an’ down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that’ll bring back your tourists, put all your businesses on a payin’ basis. But it’s not gonna be pleasant.”

You wouldn’t think a story about a killer shark and a small town community is exactly were good screenplays are made from but Jaws proved otherwise. Endlessly quotable and played to perfection by its on form cast Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb’s screenplay set the tone for blockbusters to come and remains a finely written piece to this day.

Magnolia

5. Magnolia (1999)

Screenwriter: Paul Thomas Anderson

“A lot of people think this is just a job that you go to. Take a lunch hour… job’s over. Something like that. But it’s a 24-hour deal. No two ways about it. And what most people don’t see… is just how hard it is to do the right thing. People think if I make a judgment call… that’s a judgment on them, but that is not what I do. And that’s not what should be done. I have to take everything… and play it as it lays.”

Paul Thomas Anderson’s incredible opus of the lives of a select few Los Angeles citizens is an incredibly deep and layered screenplay filled with raw and purely human emotion. Cutting deep with many topics the screenplay deals with Anderson is totally in control of his words here and created a cinema classic for the ages.

4. 12 Angry Men (1957)

Screenwriter: Reginald Rose

“It’s always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don’t really know what the truth is. I don’t suppose anybody will ever really know. Nine of us now seem to feel that the defendant is innocent, but we’re just gambling on probabilities – we may be wrong. We may be trying to let a guilty man go free, I don’t know. Nobody really can. But we have a reasonable doubt, and that’s something that’s very valuable in our system. No jury can declare a man guilty unless it’s sure.”

A room full of 12 men, a feature length run time and one incredibly tense and perfect screenplay make 12 Angry Men the classic it is today. A brave and honest look into a terse situation, over 50 years on and the writing still bites. Nothing like it has been done since or heights reached in the years after its release.

3. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Screenwriters: Quentin Tarrantino and Rogery Avery

“If my answers frighten you then you should cease asking scary questions.”

Snappy, sharp and totally politically incorrect Pulp Fiction is without question a major accomplishment in film writing that changed the game for everyone else in its stead. Multilayered and overflowing with endlessly memorable and cool comments this is a script everyone can find something in and Tarrentino at his absolute peak.

2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Screenwriter: Frank Darabont

“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”

Adapting the Stephen King short story into the most beloved movie of all time is a feat Frank Darabont will forever be known for. Hitting human nature on its head and writing a friendship for the ages, Darabont created an arguably perfect screenplay that made a film become more than a movie.

1. The Godfather (1972)

Screenwriters: Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola

“I don’t like violence, Tom. I’m a businessman; blood is a big expense.”

An insight into mob culture like no one had ever seen or heard before, The Godfather’s screenplay consistently dazzles with pitch perfect wording’s and razor sharp dialogue exchanges. Delivered by a dream cast and played perfectly by director Francis Ford Coppola there is no questioning the influence The Godfather’s screenplay had on all that arrived in its wake.

The Godfather

Do these movies represent what you feel are fine examples of the screenplay or are there a few too many classic omissions? Let us know in the comments below!

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31 responses to “10 Classic Screenplays: Eddie’s Take

    • Spot on mate, I was blown away by that film. Holding your attention in one room with just tense and perfectly written dialogue. A great example of the screenplay.
      Eddie

  1. Pingback: 10 Classic Screenplays: Jordan’s Take | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

  2. I hated Full Metal Jacket. Still haven’t seen all of Se7en but what I’ve seen has been great. Pulp Fiction’s great and who hasn’t seen The Shawshank Redemption. Haven’t seen The Godfather yet and I’m a little hesitant to because I’ve hated every gangster movie I’ve seen with the exception of Gangster Squad. Great post.

    • Sad to hear about Full Metal mate but it’s definitely not for everyone. You’ll have to watch the Godfather it is a fantastic example of movie making and the gangster genre.
      Eddie

  3. I’d put Taxi Driver and Chinatown in a list of the best screenplays. Pulp Fiction is a great choice and I’d also say Twelve Monkeys and Alien deserve credit.

  4. Thanks for the reply, Eddie. Yes, I do think The Homesman (2014) should be interesting….I know that it already got some buzz in Europe/at Cannes in May and so the (North) American reaction when released here in November should be something to follow. The cast, wow….Tommy Lee Jones, Hillary Swank, Meryl Streep (who brings an automatic audience with her) as well as Hailee Steinfeld (from True Grit)….that should be a strong ensemble.
    Cheers!
    Chad
    http://westernsreboot.com/

  5. Terrific list, Ed. Although I’m gonna put Pulp Fiction on #1 spot. But then your #1 is damn too impressive! I wonder why the second part didn’t make it to the top 10! It was equally great in my opinion.

      • It’s impossible to not be impressed by every single dialogue in Pulp Fiction. Just too good.

        And it’s hard to do a top 10 list like this considering so many other classics didn’t make it… say Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, Linklater’s Before Trilogy etc.

  6. Pingback: July Fluff n’ Stuff | silence cunning exile ... maple syrup·

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