10 Essential Screenplays Every Aspiring Screenwriter Must Read

1. Chinatown (1974) - Robert Towne

url-7 If you asked 10 strangers working in the movie business what they believed to be the greatest screenplay ever written, chances are that most of them would say Chinatown. Why? Because, from a speculative point of view, it's about as good as they come - a perfect template for "great writing" that isn't boring or dull, is dense with rich characters, and is is wrapped up in a brilliantly sad and complex story that never feels overwrought or tired. The structure itself is to be admired greatly, but the best thing about Chinatown is in the way Towne crafts his characters - all of them are shrouded in mystery from the script's first page to its very last. There's also the way in which Towne handles so many plot threads all at once - there are so many things going on in Chinatown, but to study this screenplay is to learn just how little dialogue and exposition you really need to get an idea across. J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholas in the movie) barely ever talks about Chinatown, save for one brief line, and yet Towne manages to infuse such potent meaning into the idea of what Chinatown is and what it means for the story. Better yet, Towne infuses a sense of great originality into the script from the get go - the masterful way in which he set-up a "cliché" narrative situation and turn it on its head in the first 20 pages is a stroke of genius. If anything, Chinatown teaches you not to settle for telling your story in the ways you've seen it before, but to be bold. You can read Robert Towne's screenplay for Chinatownhere. Like this article? Which screenplays would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.
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All-round pop culture obsessive.