Entertainment

The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked 

Ranker Film
Updated January 22, 2020 1.7k votes 105 voters 1.8k views 101 items

Who are the best screenwriters of all time? That's a question you get to answer. Without great screenwriters, there wouldn't be great movies. They're the ones who not only write the dialogue but also devise the story and structure the plot so that it has maximum impact for the audience. It has often been said that writers get the least amount of glory when a film becomes a hit, even the most famous screenwriters. That may or may not be true. What's certain is that the best screenwriters become recognizable "names" to the public. Diablo Cody, Charlie Kaufman, and William Goldman are just three examples of writers who are widely known for their work.

The following list contains screenwriters from every era. Writers from the earliest days of cinema share space with writers who are in the prime of their careers today. We've also included writers from every genre. Horror and sci fi screenwriters are right next to those who write comedy and drama. Many of the individuals here are writers only. Others -- like Quentin Tarantino, Judd Apatow, Nora Ephron and Orson Welles -- also directed some or all of the films they wrote. 

Vote up your top choices for the best screenwriters in Hollywood, regardless of when they worked or what genre they are most noted for.

Looking to catch your big break, check out this list of the top screenwriting competitions.

list ordered by
1
Quentin Tarantino is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Won 2 screenwriting Oscars for Pulp Fiction (1994) and Django Unchained (2012).

Other titles: Jackie Brown (1997), Inglourious Basterds (2009), Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood (2019).

 

2
Billy Wilder is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Won 3 screenwriting Oscars for The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Blvd. (1950), and The Apartment (1960).

Other titles: Double Indemnity (1944), A Foreign Affair (1948), Ace in the Hole (1951), Sabrina (1954), Some Like It Hot (1959)

3
Christopher Nolan is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Memento (2000), Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010), Interstellar (2014), Dunkirk (2017)

4
Francis Ford Coppola is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Won 3 screenwriting Oscars for Patton (1970), The Godfather (1972), and The Godfather: Part II (1974).

Other titles: The Conversation (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979). 

5
Paul Schrader is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), First Reformed (2017)

6
Stanley Kubrick is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987)

7
Ethan Coen is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked
Ethan Coen

Won 2 screenwriting Oscars for Fargo (1996) and No Country for Old Men (2007).

Other titles: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), True Grit (2010), Bridge of Spies (2015).

8
Ingmar Bergman is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957), Persona (1966), Cries & Whispers (1972), Scenes from a Marriage (1974)

9
Ernest Lehman is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Sabrina (1954), North by Northwest (1959), West Side Story (1961), The Sound of Music (1965), Who's Afraid of Virginal Wolff? (1966)

10
Paul Thomas Anderson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), There Will Be Blood (2007), The Master (2012), Phantom Thread (2017)

11
Woody Allen is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Won 3 screenwriting Oscars for Annie Hall (1977), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and Midnight in Paris (2011). 

Other titles: Manhattan (1979), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Radio Days (1987).

12
Orson Welles is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Won 1 screenwriting Oscar for Citizen Kane (1942).

Other titles: The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Touch of Evil (1958).

13
Nora Ephron is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Silkwood (1983), When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

14
John Hughes is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986), Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1987), Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), Home Alone (1990)

15
Spike Lee is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Won 1 screenwriting Oscar for BlacKkKlansman (2018).

Other titles: She's Gotta Have It (1986), Do the Right Thing (1989), Jungle Fever (1991), Clockers (1995), He Got Game (1998).

16
Aaron Sorkin is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Won 1 screenwriting Oscar for The Social Network (2010).

Other titles: A Few Good Men (1991), The American President (1995), Moneyball (2011), Steve Jobs (2015), Molly's Game (2017)

17
Charlie Kaufman is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Won 1 screenwriting Oscar for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

Other titles: Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002). 

18
Robert Towne is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Won 1 screenwriting Oscar for Chinatown (1974).

Other titles: The Last Detail (1973), Shampoo (1975), Days of Thunder (1990), Mission: Impossible (1996)

19
Alfonso Cuarón is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), Children of Men (2006), Gravity (2013)

20
William Goldman is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Won 2 screenwriting Oscars for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and All the President's Men (1976).

Other titles: The Princess Bride (1987), Misery (1990), The Stepford Wives (1975), Marathon Man (1976)

21
Lawrence Kasdan is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Body Heat (1981), The Big Chill (1983), The Bodyguard (1992)

22
David Lynch is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Eraserhead (1977), The Elephant Man (1980), Blue Velvet (1986), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), Mulholland Drive (2001)

23
Robert Benton is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Won 2 screenwriting Oscars for Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Places in the Heart (1984).

Other titles: Bonnie and Clyde (1967), What's Up, Doc? (1972), Superman (1978), Nobody's Fool (1994).

24
James L. Brooks is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked
James L. Brooks

Won 1 screenwriting Oscar for Terms of Endearment (1984).

Other titles: Broadcast News (1987), As Good As It Gets (1997).

25
Waldo Salt is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Won 2 screenwriting Oscars for Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Coming Home (1978).

Other titles: The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (1971), Serpico (1973).