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The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

Updated February 11, 2021 2.9k votes 172 voters 2.9k views140 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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  • Francis Ford Coppola1

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

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

  • Quentin Tarantino2

    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).

     

  • Stanley Kubrick3

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

  • Ethan Coen4
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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).

  • John Hughes5

    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)

  • Billy Wilder6

    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)

  • Christopher Nolan7

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

  • Paul Schrader8

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

  • Aaron Sorkin9

    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)

  • Ernest Lehman10

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

  • Ingmar Bergman11

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

  • Orson Welles12

    Won 1 screenwriting Oscar for Citizen Kane (1942).

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

  • Nora Ephron13

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

  • Woody Allen14

    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).

  • Paul Thomas Anderson15

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

  • Charlie Kaufman16

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

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

  • Spike Lee17

    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).

  • Alfonso Cuarón18

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

  • William Goldman19

    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)

  • Lawrence Kasdan20

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

  • James L. Brooks21
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    James L. Brooks

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

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

  • Robert Towne22

    Won 1 screenwriting Oscar for Chinatown (1974).

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

  • Paddy Chayefsky23

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

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

  • David Lynch24

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

  • Wes Anderson25

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