The 50 best screenplays of the 21st century, according to the WGA

Photo: The Dark Knight.. Image Courtesy Warner Bros. / DC Universe
Photo: The Dark Knight.. Image Courtesy Warner Bros. / DC Universe /
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Whether it’s sowing suspense, eliciting laughter, or causing you to contemplate life’s big questions, a great screenplay is often the key to a great movie. Over the last two decades, film buffs have been blessed with more than a few unforgettable ones.

As Deadline reports, members of the Writers Guild of America—both West and East—recently voted for their favorite scripts from the 21st century so far and compiled the top 101 entries into one mammoth list.

The blue ribbon went to Jordan Peele for his twisty allegorical horror movie Get Out (2017). Peele also earned the 2018 Best Original Screenplay Oscar for his work, making him the first Black screenwriter ever to win the award.

Rounding out the top three were Charlie Kaufman for 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Aaron Sorkin for 2010’s The Social Network—just edging out 2019’s Parasite, written by Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won, which made all sorts of Oscar history in 2020.

A cursory glance at the top 50 reveals many of Hollywood’s most famous auteur, including Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen brothers, Sofia Coppola, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Greta Gerwig, David Lynch, etc.

Christopher Nolan’s penchant for creating especially confusing movies didn’t hold him back from praise at all; three of his screenplays made the top 50, including 2000’s Memento (based on his brother Jonathan Nolan’s short story), 2008’s The Dark Knight (co-written with Jonathan), and 2010’s Inception (which, each month, prompts an average of 80,090 people to ask the internet to explain the movie to them).

The list also reveals that Pixar isn’t just an industry leader in animation—it produces first-rate screenplays, too. An impressive five Pixar flicks made the top 50: The Incredibles (2004), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009), Toy Story 3 (2010), and Inside Out (2015).

A couple notable Saturday Night Live alums also got their due. Kristen Wiig’s Bridesmaids (2010), co-written with Annie Mumolo, took the 12th spot; and Tina Fey’s 2004 teen classic Mean Girls came in 34th place.

The best movie screenplays

See the top 50 below, and check out the WGA’s full list of 101 screenplays here.

  • Get Out (2017) // Jordan Peele
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) // Charlie Kaufman
  • The Social Network (2010) // Aaron Sorkin
  • Parasite (2019) // Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won
  • No Country for Old Men (2007) // Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
  • Moonlight (2016) // Barry Jenkins
  • There Will Be Blood (2007) // Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Inglourious Basterds (2009) // Quentin Tarantino
  • Almost Famous (2000) // Cameron Crowe
  • Memento (2000) // Christopher Nolan
  • Adaptation (2002) // Charlie Kaufman, Donald Kaufman
  • Bridesmaids (2011) // Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig
  • Brokeback Mountain (2005) // Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana
  • The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) // Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
  • Sideways (2004) // Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
  • Lady Bird (2017) // Greta Gerwig
  • Her (2013) // Spike Jonze
  • Children of Men (2006) // Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
  • Lost in Translation (2003) // Sofia Coppola
  • Michael Clayton (2007) // Tony Gilroy
  • Little Miss Sunshine (2006) // Michael Arndt
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) // Quentin Tarantino
  • Promising Young Woman (2019) // Emerald Fennell
  • Juno (2007) // Diablo Cody
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) // Wes Anderson
  • The Dark Knight (2008) // Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
  • Arrival (2016) // Eric Heisserer
  • Jojo Rabbit (2019) // Taika Waititi
  • Inside Out (2015) // Meg LeFauve
  • The Departed (2006) // William Monahan
  • Spotlight (2015) // Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy
  • Whiplash (2014) // Damien Chazelle
  • Up (2009) // Bob Peterson, Pete Docter
  • Mean Girls (2004) // Tina Fey
  • WALL-E (2008) // Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon
  • Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) // Guillermo del Toro
  • Inception (2010) // Christopher Nolan
  • Slumdog Millionaire (2008) // Simon Beaufoy
  • Before Sunset (2004) // Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
  • In Bruges (2008) // Martin McDonagh
  • Mulholland Dr. (2001) // David Lynch
  • A Serious Man (2009) // Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
  • Amélie (2001) // Guillaume Laurant, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
  • Toy Story 3 (2010) // Michael Arndt
  • The Favourite (2018) // Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
  • Zodiac (2007) // James Vanderbilt
  • Gladiator (2000) // David Franzoni, John Logan, William Nicholson
  • The Incredibles (2004) // Brad Bird
  • Knives Out (2019) // Rian Johnson
  • Ex Machina (2015) // Alex Garland

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This story originally appeared on Mental Floss and is written by Ellen Gutoskey.