Best screenwriters of all time

10 Best Screenwriters Of All Time [100 Years of Cinema]

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So, who are the best screenwriters of all time? If you want to be a screenwriter, it makes sense to study the work of the best in show business. Although it is hard to list who is the best in any art, you will find some great screenwriters below.

These are all famous screenwriters who have helped develop and create some of the cinema’s most loved movies. Some screenwriters are known for writing original stories, others for their way with words. Either way, they have all left their mark on cinema. 

Without further ado, here is our list of best screenwriters of all time!

1. Frances Marion

Frances Marion was one of the most influential screenwriters of the 20th century. From 1915 to the 1930s, she wrote over 300 films and helped create Hollywood’s Golden Age. Notably, in the 1920s, Marion worked closely with actor Mary Pickford as her exclusive screenwriter.

Marion spent the majority of her career working for MGM. Whilst there, she helped define the screenwriting format and the role of a Hollywood screenwriter.

  • The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)
  • The Love Light (1921)
  • The Champ (1931)

2. Leigh Brackett

Leigh Brackett was a science fiction writer and screenwriter from the 1940s to the 1980s. Known as the Queen of Space Opera, director Howard Hawks introduced her to screenwriting after reading her novels. Together they worked on the screenplay for The Big Sleep (1946).

Brackett would go on to have a successful career in Hollywood. She described screenwriting as a team effort and often worked with writer’s groups. Interestingly, Brackett’s last screenplay was the first draft of George Lucas’s Star Wars Sequel.

  • The Big Sleep (1946)
  • The Long Goodbye (1973)
  • The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

3. Powell and Pressburger

Powell and Pressburger was a filmmaking team in the 1930s-1970s. Also known as The Archers, they worked on 24 films sharing writer, director, and producer credits. In addition, all of their screenplays were original, making them one of the best screenwriters of all time.   

Powell and Pressburger made some of the highest praised films of the 20th century. During their career, the team won a total of five academy awards. They are also known for playing a big part in defining British 20th-century cinema.

  • The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
  • Black Narcissus (1947)
  • The Red Shoes (1948)

4. Ingmar Burgman

Ingmar Burgman was a highly successful Swedish screenwriter and director. He worked throughout the 1940s-1980s and wrote over 60 films, 170 plays, and 100 books. The BBC at the time called him – the greatest filmmaker who ever lived.

Burgman is known for exploring unique themes in his films and taking risks. As a result, he has inspired some of the greatest film directors in modern filmmaking.

  • The Seventh Seal (1957)
  • Persona (1966)
  • Fanny and Alexander (1982)

5. Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder was one of the best screenwriters of all time, with a career lasting five decades from the 1930s to the 1980s. During this time, Wilder won five Oscars and three for best screenwriter.

What makes Wilder unique is that his scripts have a huge range from comedy to film noir. When asked for this advice for aspiring screenwriters, Wilder famously said to – “grab the audience by the throat and never let them go”.

  • Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  • The Seven Year Itch (1955)
  • Some Like it Hot (1959)

6. Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron is known for her romantic comedy screenplays in the 1980s-1990s. She started her career as a journalist before becoming a screenwriter. As a result, many of Ephron’s films feature her real-life experiences.

Ephron was a master of her genre and would direct many of her later films. What stands out about Ephron is that she had a very distinctive voice. Because of this, the cinema audience would always know when they were watching an Ephron film.

  • When Harry Met Sally (1989)
  • Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
  • You’ve Got Mail (1998)

7. Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino is known as one of the best screenwriters of all time. What makes him original is how he writes film dialogue. As a result, many of his films are entirely quotable, gaining him a cult following. 

Tarantino begins a new project by writing hundreds of pages by hand. Only when he has the characters fleshed out does he focus on the main story. When asked for his advice for aspiring screenwriters, Tarantino said – “don’t write what you think people want to read, find your own voice and write what’s in your heart”.

  • Reservoir Dogs (1992)
  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

8. The Coen Brothers

The Coen Brothers are another widely successful filmmaking team. The brothers have written, directed and produced at least 30 films together from the 1980s to the present day. During that time, the pair won two academy awards for best screenwriter.

The Coen Brothers write screenplays that focus on character development. What makes them stand out is that they are not afraid to work in different genres and take risks.

  • Barton Fink (1991)
  • Fargo (1996)
  • A Serious Man (2009)

9. Charlie Kaufman

Charlie Kaufman is one of the best screenwriters of all time. What makes Kaufman so special is that he works outside of the typical writing structure. Because of this, Kaufman’s writing explores unique themes such as the meaning of life and mental health issues.

Kaufman is also one of the most praised screenwriters in 21st-century cinema. The WGA includes him twice on their list of all-time greatest screenplays.

  • Being John Malkovich (1999)
  • Adaption (2002)
  • Anomalisa (2015)

10. Eric Roth

Eric Roth is one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriters. What makes Roth distinct is that he manages to achieve both box office and critical success.

Roth sees himself as an idealist who takes his time to write the ‘perfect screenplay’. Notably, he does not believe in writer’s block and spends every day working on his craft. As a result, he has a career lasting four decades and continues to write today.

  • Forrest Gump (1994)
  • Munich (2005)
  • Dune (2021)

Best Screenwriters Of All Time – Wrapping Up

To sum up, without a screenwriter, there would be no movies. The screenwriter plays the most important part in developing ideas and creating stories for the screen.

All of the screenwriters above have made a big impact on cinema. They have helped to define script format and genre. In addition, they have taken chances and created their own unique writing style.

So, who have we missed? Let us know in the comment section below.

Amy Clarke
Amy Clarke
Amy is a content writer at the Video Collective. She is a former script supervisor and writes about careers in the film industry. Follow her on Facebook.
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