Movie scripts are blueprints for producing a movie or feature film.

A movie script:

  • Establishes the world of the story.
  • Creates moments that help the audience empathize with the hero.
  • Sets up obstacles and dilemmas at critical moments.
  • Establishes a core theme through dialogue, conflict, and character arcs

…and that’s just for starters.

In other words, writing a movie script is not as easy as it looks. You have to understand the structure inside and out, and to do that, you have to read a lot of quality scripts that became successful movies.

Which Movie Scripts Should You Read?

You’ll want to focus first and foremost on reading scripts in your chosen genre. In order to sell a script and have a sustainable screenwriting career, you have to establish yourself as an expert in your genre. And the first step to becoming an expert is to know the best scripts in your genre inside and out.

I’ve organized the script library by genre so you can click on the category that interest you most and discuss some of the best scripts in your chosen area of focus.

Why Read Movie Scripts?

There are some excellent books on screenwriting that will be very valuable as you learn how to develop an idea and turn it into a well-formatted screenplay. But it’s when you pick up a script that you begin to understand how the pros unfold a story scene by scene, page by page, line by line.

And if you make a point of reading a lot of scripts in your genre, you also start to recognize the nuances that are specific to that genre. This knowledge is imperative to establishing yourself as an expert.

Types of Scripts

There are two basic types of movie scripts: “selling” scripts and “shooting” scripts.

As you may have guessed, if you are planning to sell your script, your goal is to write a “selling” script.

It is important to know the difference because you may encounter both types of scripts as you study screenplays. You should read whatever you can get your hands on, but you’ll want to follow the formatting standards of the selling scripts.

"Selling" Scripts

Movie scripts of the “selling” variety are designed to:

  • Express the story simply and clearly
  • Be as engaging and readable as possible
  • Interest producers, stars, and directors to attach themselves
  • Interest financiers and executives to invest
  • Sell the screenplay

When you read a “selling” script, you may notice that they do not include scene numbers, camera directions, and other technical details. The job of the “selling” script is to tell the story; not to explain how the story will be shot.

"Shooting" Scripts

Movie scripts of the “shooting” variety are written only once the screenplay has been purchased and are designed to:

  • Precisely indicate exactly where and when everything happens
  • Make it easy for all crew members to understand their assignments
  • Clearly indicate all music, special effects, title cards, VO, and more
  • Serve as a unifying blueprint document so everyone is “on the same page”

Script Reading Strategy

Reading a Script

Often, the reason screenwriters want to read and discuss a particular script is because they are writing something similar.

That is a great and perfectly natural place to start. But don’t stop there.

When you read several scripts, you’re able to see what structures are consistent within your genre and what unique devices certain writers use to engage the audience and set their work apart. You’re able to draw opinions as a reader on what works and what doesn’t, and that helps you avoid mistakes and start strong in your own writing.

So follow that first great instinct and immerse yourself in the script that is close to what you intend to do. Then, once you’ve done that:

  • Read several more scripts in the same genre.
  • When you find a writer you like, immerse yourself in their work.
  • Read scripts that have been nominated for or won awards.
  • Get in the habit of reading at least one script each week.

This sounds like a lot of work, but once you get used to reading screenplay format, you can read a script relatively quickly, and you’ll start to pick up the subtle things that screenwriters do to make their scripts great (and sellable).

How To Analyze A Script

First, anytime you read a script, do your first read with an open mind.

By that I mean, remember the dictum “the script is not the movie.”

Try to experience, appreciate, and enjoy the script for what it is.

You want to be noticing where you’re really engaged in the read and where you feel confused or bored.

Ask yourself:

  • What about the story is engaging/boring me?
  • What is the core story (hero, need, obstacle, theme)?
  • What aspects of this screenplay are similar to something you intend to do (or are doing)?
  • Where is the writing technique particularly good (or not)?

The more time you spend reading scripts and asking and answering these questions, the better you will become as a writer.

Movie Scripts A-Z