Although an engrossing story, well-developed characters and intelligent dialogue are the foundation of a classic film, those responsible for the creation of such memorable entertainment – the screenwriters – are often eclipsed by actors and directors. Screenwriters are appointed with the monumental task of crafting the story and creating satisfying characters with memorable dialogue. Yet, until now, no list acknowledging the greatest achievements in screenwriting existed.
On April 7, the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA), the nation’s most prominent organization of film and television writers, announced its list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, providing the film world with a definitive compilation of the most highly respected and commendable scripts ever to grace the big screen.
Although the American Film Institute (AFI) has released a slew of such lists in the past few years, the WGA list is the first to specifically recognize the quality of a film’s screenplay.
At No. 10, The Godfather Part Two (screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo), which continues the saga of the Corleone crime family, is the only sequel to make the list. Some Like It Hot (screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond) is No. 9 on the list, after being named the best comedy of all time by the AFI in 2000. Sidney Lumet’s brilliant Network (written by Paddy Chayefsky), which explores the world of television, made it to No. 8 while Sunset Blvd. (written by Charles Brackett, Wilder and D.M. Marshman Jr.) sits at the No. 7 spot. At No. 6, Annie Hall (written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman), Allen’s crowning achievement, is the highest-rated comedy on the list.
1950’s All About Eve (screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz) hit No. 5 on the list, and Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane (written by Herman Mankiewicz and Welles), which AFI listed as the best film of all time, lies at No. 4. Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (written by Robert Towne), which perfectly captures the film noir spirit of its predecessors, made it to No. 3, followed by 1972’s The Godfather (screenplay by Coppola and Puzo) at No. 2. Finally, surprising no one, 1942’s classic love story, Casablanca (screenplay by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch), was named the best-written film of all time.
These 10 films, as well as the other 91 that made the list, represent major achievements in cinematic history and remain relevant because of the riveting tales and mesmerizing characters they portray. Representing all genres and all eras of cinema, the WGA has created a list that effectively summarizes the industry’s most lauded additions.
As has become customary with such accolades, the list heavily preferred serious fare over comedies and is comprised of 56 adaptations to 45 original screenplays. Coppola, Allen and Wilder each held four spots on the list, tying for most multiple inclusions. Also, a higher-than-expected number of films included in the list were released in the last 15 years. Of the 20 that made the cut, Quentin Tarantino’s massively popular Pulp Fiction reigns supreme, landing at No. 16. In addition, more of my personal favorites made it to the list, such as The Silence of the Lambs (No. 61), Jerry Maguire (No. 66), Forrest Gump (No. 89) and Memento (No. 100).
Members of both the east and west branches of the WGA were asked to nominate films for consideration, and more than 1,400 screenplays were initially considered for inclusion in this prestigious collection.
The complete list of WGA’s 101 Greatest Screenplays is now available online at WGAeast.org/greatest_screenplays.
This list serves as a guide for film fanatics and aspiring filmmakers alike and provides a source of inspiration and encouraging appreciation for some of the seminal works in the history of cinema.