10 Must-See Movies for Screenwriters

Round out your education by viewing these movies about writers and/or the movie industry.  Here are ten must-see movies worth seeing.  They are not listed in any particular order.

The Player.  Director Robert Altman likes to make movies that recreate a place or time.  MASH, Nashville, and Gosford Park are a few.  Although much of what happens in The Player is exaggerated, it provides a sense of Hollywood and how it operates.  The pitching sessions in particular are a ton of fun.

Sunset Boulevard.  This is the Billy Wilder classic about a hack screenwriter who finds work writing for a has-been silent film star. Watch this one for the wonderful writing.

Bowfinger.  Most screenwriters come in contact with an independent producer at one time or another.  This movie is the story of one such indie producer.  Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy provide hilarious performances.  My question is: did the screenwriter actually get paid?

Bullets Over Broadway and The Purple Rose of Cairo—a Woody Allen double feature!  “Cairo” deals with the effect of movies on our lives.  We escape to the fantasy of movies, but must return to reality after the movie ends.  “Bullets” asks this question (among others): how do you tread the line between art and commerce?  If you can only pick one of these two movies to view, my choice would be Bullets over Broadway

Barton Fink.  This is the ultimate flick about the hell of writer’s block brought to you by the Coen Brothers.  During the days of the studio system, Hollywood brought in novelists (such as William Faulkner) and playwrights to write screenplays.  Barton Fink is one of them.  The story itself is…well…incomprehensible. Or is it?  You decide.

Adaptation.  This is another film about writer’s block, but with a twist.  The writer is trying to adapt a book with no dramatic premise or plot.  The movie purposely breaks some of Hollywood’s screenwriting “rules” as presented by guru Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox).

WARNING: Do not watch Barton Fink and Adaptation in the same sitting unless all guns, sharp objects, and alcohol are first removed from the premises.

Finding Forester.  At last, a plot I can follow.  Sean Connery plays a famous novelist turned recluse who mentors a young man and helps him find his writing passion.  “You’re the man now, dog.”

Shakespeare in Love.  I wanted to find a film devoted to Shakespeare, and this literate Academy Award winner is my pick mainly because of its presentation of the creative process and how it affects everything.

The Big Picture.  Don’t let this 1989 Kevin Bacon feature discourage you as you observe a director  just out of film school journey through the process of “making it” in Hollywood.

Stranger Than Fiction.  An IRS auditor is “haunted” by a narrator.

The Singing Detective (Honorable Mention). I refer to the British TV series, not the movie.  The TV series scripts are adept at layering reality, fiction, and imagination in this story about a detective story writer with a debilitating disease.

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Okay, what did I miss?  What movie about a writer or movie-making would you recommend for fellow screenwriters to view?  Please share your recommendations or make comments on my picks.

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17 thoughts on “10 Must-See Movies for Screenwriters

  1. Pingback: movies: Make Millions Writing Movies » Top Movie Club

  2. Brooke Monfort

    “Living in Oblivion” is one I recommend. Murphy’s Law rules the set; a director’s horror story. 😉 Also, “Swimming with Sharks” is enough to make a screenwriter look for another career. One Hollywood friend said he loved that movie because Kevin Spacey reminded him of his boss – who he hated. Lots of fun.

  3. Heidi Haaland

    Oh! And “Postcards From the Edge” and “Sweet Liberty.” BTW, Annette: More than half of the screenplays for the films on Dave’s original list were award-winners and well worth studying for any of the elements you note.

  4. Annette Chandler

    Why not include/suggest screenplays for new screenwriters that are exceptionally well written – so they may study structure, character arc, dialogue in the screenplay? More interesting and fun than reading about screenwriters, maybe?

  5. Heidi Haaland

    Great list – lovelovelove “Bowfinger”! Also “State and Main” (just too funny); “Tristram Shandy” (no prior acquaintance with the novel required); and “Living in Oblivion” (beloved by those toiling in indie-obscurity).

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