Five Greatest Screenwriters of the 20th Century

Many regard the 20th century as the Golden Age of movies, with beautiful actors filling the big screen with images of action, suspense, love and horror. Behind the silver screen that century, however, was an army of screenwriters creating the words and emotions that made the movie scripts so memorable.

While all movies require a writer, even silent films, the screenwriter really came of age after the advent of “talkies” in the 1930s. The earliest screenwriters included Nathanael West, William Faulkner, Robert Sherwood, Aldous Huxley and Dorothy Parker. Today’s script writers draw a great deal of inspiration from the greatest screenwriters of the 20th century.

William Goldman

William Goldman won Academy Awards for two of his screenplays, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All the President’s Men.” He enjoyed a lucrative writing career spanning four decades. Mystery Writers of America has awarded Goldman two Edgar Awards for Best Motion Picture Screenplay: for “Harper” in 1967 then for “Magic” in 1979, according to Goodreads. His other works include “Marathon Man” (1976), “A Bridge Too Far” (1977), “The Princess Bride” (1987), “Misery” (1990), and “Maverick” (1994).

Many saw Goldman as more of a novelist and memoirist than a screenwriter and perhaps rightfully so. Several of his most famous scripts were adaptations of his own novels, including “Marathon Man” and “Princess Bride.” Goldman researched material for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” for eight years before deciding he did not want to write a cowboy novel, according to IMDb.

Paul Schrader

Paul Schrader writes screenplays where the star is on a self-destructive path, usually moving from angry to narcissistic to bursting with rage. The protagonist usually goes through tremendous trauma and sacrifice then discovers some element of redemption.

Schrader wrote “Taxi Driver” (1976), “American Gigolo” (1980) and penned the screenplays for “Raging Bull” (1980) and “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988). He worked with Martin Scorsese on “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” considered by many to be among the best films ever created.

Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick wrote some of the most gripping screenplays to hit the silver screen, including “Full Metal Jacket” (1987), “The Shining” (1980), “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “A Clockwork Orange” (1971) and “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999). Kubrick won several awards for his work as a screenwriter and director, including numerous Academy Award nominations and wins, although he never won an Oscar for his screenplays.

Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder dominated Hollywood’s Golden Age with a career that spanned from the late 1930s to the early 1960s. His screenplays range from dark melodramas like “Double Indemnity” (1944) and “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) to lighthearted comedies, such as “The Seven Year Itch” (1955) and “Some Like it Hot” (1959).

Billy Wilder’s career faded in the 1960s and 1970s as American tastes in film moved away from his dark brand of cynicism towards the peace and love movement.

Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron created strong female characters to lead her screenplays, a decided departure from many of the scripts of her time. She co-wrote “Silkwood,” a 1983 film about a metallurgy worker purposely contaminated at a plutonium processing plant and possibly murdered to prevent her from exposing worker health violations. Ephron is perhaps best known for her “Rom-Coms,” or romantic comedies, such as “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993), and “You’ve Got Mail” (1998).

During the 20th century, Nora Ephron and other female screenwriters often struggled for opportunities to work and recognition for their efforts in the highly competitive and often male-dominated role of scriptwriters. With any luck, female screenwriters of the 21 st century, including Tina Fey, Leslie Dixon, and Lena Dunham will fare better.


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