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The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Updated November 15, 2020 2.6k votes 145 voters 2.5k views108 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.

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  • 1
    Stanley Kubrick

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

  • 2
    Quentin Tarantino

    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).

     

  • 3
    Ethan Coen
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    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).

  • 4
    Francis Ford Coppola

    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
    Billy Wilder

    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)

  • 6
    Christopher Nolan

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

  • 7
    John Hughes

    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)

  • 8
    Paul Schrader

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

  • 9
    Aaron Sorkin

    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)

  • 10
    Woody Allen

    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).

  • 11
    Ernest Lehman

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

  • 12
    Ingmar Bergman

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

  • 13
    Paul Thomas Anderson

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

  • 14
    Nora Ephron

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

  • 15
    Orson Welles

    Won 1 screenwriting Oscar for Citizen Kane (1942).

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

  • 16
    Charlie Kaufman

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

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

  • 17
    Spike Lee

    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).

  • 18
    William Goldman

    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)

  • 19
    Alfonso Cuarón

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

  • 20
    Robert Towne

    Won 1 screenwriting Oscar for Chinatown (1974).

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

  • 21
    Lawrence Kasdan

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

  • 22
    Wes Anderson

    Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

  • 23
    Paddy Chayefsky

    Won 3 screenwriting Oscars for Marty (1955), The Hospital (1971), and Network (1974).

    Other titles: The Americanization of Emily (1964), Paint Your Wagon (1969).

  • 24
    Robert Benton

    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).

  • 25
    Waldo Salt

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

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