The 100 Best Screenwriters Ever According to 40 of the Best Screenwriters Today

Do The Right Thing
Who are the best screenwriters of all time?

Before a retrospective of his work at Lincoln Center a couple years ago, Judd Apatow told the audience "When I write, I feel like I am facing a mirror and it’s telling me of my unworthiness." Well, apparently many of his colleagues find him quite worthy, as he is one of the only screenwriters to appear both on the latest list of The 100 Best Screenwriters of All Time and on the list of writers who were invited to create the list. 

We love listicles as much as the rest of the internet does, and so we were excited to see Vulture's publication of this one, compiled not by critics, but by 40 of the top screenwriters working today. The "choosers" have written some of our favorite recent projects, among them Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani of The Big Sick, and Jordan Peele of Get Out. The list of voters also includes esteemed industry vets like Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Affliction) and Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Munich). 

Now, on to their choices. The list is ranked, so it matters that Billy Wilder is number one. Of the Sunset Boulevard  scribe, film critic David Edelstein says, "Wilder’s mix of poetry and pulp, elegance and vulgarity, moral judgment with a deep understanding of the attraction of sleaze, makes him an apt standard-bearer for the art of crafting great popular entertainment."

The rest of the choices range from the creators of universally beloved (Melissa Mathison, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) to universally admired (Francis Ford Coppola,The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) to universally provocative (Lars von Trier, Dancer in the DarkMelancholia) scripts. Interesting to note that a large percentage of those chosen are writer-directors.

Overall, we think it's a very strong assembly. Granted, it perhaps should have been called "The 100 Best Writers of English Screenplays" for its very heavy Western lean. Though the rankings are diverse in terms of style, tone, and genre, Vulture acknowledges the list's general lack of cultural diversity by stating that "acknowledging today’s urgent need for more inclusive storytelling doesn’t negate the contributions of these 100 pioneers." That being said, here are the top ten, and they are tops indeed.

1. Billy Wilder

Notable Scripts: Double Indemnity (1944), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960)

2. Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

Notable Scripts: Fargo (1996)  - Academy AwardThe Big Lebowski (1998), No Country for Old Men (2007)  - Academy AwardTrue Grit (2010)

3. Robert Towne

Notable Scripts: Chinatown (1974) - Academy Award, Shampoo (1975), Days of Thunder (1990), Mission: Impossible(1996)

4. Quentin Tarantino

Notable Scripts: Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994) - Academy Award, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003), Inglourious Basterds (2009)

5. Francis Ford Coppola

Notable Scripts: Patton (1970), The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979) - Academy Award

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'The Princess Bride', screenplay by William Goldman

6. William Goldman

Notable Scripts: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) - Academy Award, All the President’s Men (1976)  - Academy AwardThe Princess Bride (1987), Misery (1990)​

7. Charlie Kaufman

Notable Scripts: Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) -Academy Award, Anomalisa (2015)​

8. Woody Allen

Notable Scripts: Annie Hall (1977) - Academy Award, Manhattan (1979), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), Midnight in Paris(2011)​ - Academy Award

9.  Nora Ephron

Notable Scripts: Silkwood (1983), When Harry Met Sally… (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), You’ve Got Mail (1998)​

10. Ernest Lehman

Notable Scripts: Sweet Smell of Success (1957), North by Northwest (1959), West Side Story (1961), The Sound of Music (1965)​

The best part of a list created by writers is that their reasoning is particularly well articulated. See all 100 choices, and their excellent descriptions, here.

Who do you think was scandalously left off the list? Or would you reorder it? Let us know in the comments.     

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Your Comment


No one conspicuously absent. I'm just happy that Lawrence Kasdan is on the list. Never felt he got the love he deserved.

October 3, 2017 at 4:15PM


A great script is almost the success of the movie.
Thanks for this post.

October 4, 2017 at 12:17AM, Edited October 4, 12:17AM

Sameir Ali
Director of Photography

Spike Lee anyone ??? or even Eric Roth.

October 4, 2017 at 1:30AM, Edited October 4, 1:33AM

Writer - Director

Yes! Spike Lee is #15 on the list (Hence our featured image on the post from 'Do The Right Thing'). And Eric Roth is both on the list at #29 and among those writers who nominated the list. The full 100 are here:

October 4, 2017 at 9:36AM

Liz Nord
Documentary Filmmaker/Multi-platform Producer

Hi guys at NFS! Would it be possible that your articles are not so much "American-oriented"? Film is a worldwide art and industry, so are your readers and in the last months some critical minds are getting the impression that films have been and are only made in an Anglophone world (with the exception of Kurosawa) if we just look at what you publish.
How about re-posting less articles from the American press and finding some quality content abroad? Or creating your own? Good content takes a lit bit of extra time than just sharing links to what others wrote.
This used to be my favorite film related website, but since over one year or so, the quality and creativity of the editors' post is going downwards.

October 4, 2017 at 11:39AM

Jupiter de la Bâtardise

Hey Jupiter, Thanks for your feedback. In the past year, we've actually increased our coverage of international films and grown our original reporting (not re-posts) over 30%, but we are always looking to do better. If you have any great resources for quality filmmaking content abroad, please let us know!

October 4, 2017 at 3:25PM

Liz Nord
Documentary Filmmaker/Multi-platform Producer

No mention of Chris Nolan.

October 10, 2017 at 3:44PM

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November 16, 2017 at 10:46PM