It's hard to find a director who can handle more genres, tones, and themes than Billy Wilder. The bombastic and incredibly genius director was the man responsible for such hits as Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, and today's topic...The Apartment.  

The landmark 1960 movie is one of the best films ever made, with a screenplay that ranks among the best ever written as well.  It's an incredible mix of comedy, drama, and a good, old-fashioned melodrama.

To say this movie had it all is an understatement. That's why I think it's so important to study this film and really peel back the layers of what makes it so good, from the story's structure, to the direction, to the dialogue.

Let's dive in with this handy video essay from Script Sleuth

Breaking Down the Storytelling in Billy Wilder's The Apartment

How incredibly amazing is the movie The Apartment? It's hard to believe that movie came out in 1960 because I find the tonethemes, and dialogue all to have resonance today.

There are also many things this movie does well, so I tried to break them down into headings so we can talk about them one by one. There are some brilliant lessons you can learn from how Wilder handles each element. The video above dissects a little more, so make sure you watch it! 


This might seem cliche, but I can't help but wonder at how much this movie delivers on the locations. Sure, an apartment is in the title, but the story makes this place special. It's somewhere top brass can cheat on their wives. The perfect location for a guy trying to move up in the world. The actual apartment feels like a character in the movie, evolving with the relationships that take part inside its walls. This is worldbuilding at its finest. 

It's not just the apartment, but also the office that has a distinct personality as well. It's full of other people doing similar jobs, to showcase that our protagonist is a cog in the machine.

These are also excellent versions of showing, not telling us the issues. Seeing someone not standing out, seeing someone kicked out of their apartment, seeing the comings and going of people all tell us so much about the world, characters, and problems. 


There's a good case for this movie having the greatest dialogue ever written. It's not just poppy, but also playfully tells its characters' problems without ever stating them out loud. There are also wild tonal shifts from jokes to suicide, and the dialogue artfully navigates these shifts.

There's also a lot we can learn about a character through the way they speak. Our executives have more aristocratic diction, while the people who work in the elevator and the office are more laid back.  

The Midpoint

One of the best tips I give beginning writers is that they need to make their midpoints count. A midpoint should shift the perspective of the movie and give your characters a new way of looking at their situation. We should also see stakes get higher and the bad guys get a little stronger.

In The Apartment, we find out Fran was the gal who has been seeing Sheldrake. Fran attempts to take her own life, and now Bud has to deal directly with Sheldrake, who is his rival and nemesis. 

The attempted suicide broadens the heart of the story as well. This is a comedy, but we see how the antics of some of these characters emotionally affect the situation. There are real ramifications to love and heartbreak and betrayal. There's life and death here.

This changes the second part of where this movie is going. Now it's about Bud becoming someone else and taking care of someone. It's about the location of the apartment becoming a home. 


It's funny to think that a romantic comedy would have themes of alienation, loneliness, corrupt capitalism, and sexuality, but The Apartment never shies away from controversy. It tackles these things head-on.

I think it proves that you don't have to stick to the genre norms or cliches, you can make a funny movie that's about something deeper and more important.

What are the deeper things you can add to your screenplay? What are the "real" things you can talk about that will help attract an audience? Be brave and really force your characters to go to places you think the audience has never seen. 

Summing Up Storytelling Lessons from The Apartment 

Wilder's The Apartment is one of the funniest, powerful, and most ingenious movies ever made. There are so many lessons encapsulated in its two hours that it would be impossible to talk about all of them here. Still, I think we really looked at some of the core components you want in your screenplays. 

What are your favorite lessons from the movie? What are some of the main takeaways you have had watching it? 

Let us know in the comments. 

Source: Script Sleuth