I've been meaning to write this post for a while, since one of the most often asked questions I get is "What script can I read that will help me improve as a writer?"
My answer? There is NO one script that will help you improve as a writer, for no script is perfect. Also, our ability to obtain scripts - whether it's a transcript, the "right" draft (ie. the one that made it to the screen), etc - is limited largely to the internet. Then there's your personal preferences, from genre right through to whether you like/dislike certain elements like the camera being referenced, etc etc. Also, how it is on the page often differs wildly from how it actually ends up on screen. As I always say: it's a minefield.
However I do think there are scripts out there, readily available, that we can learn from if we're willing to accept that they're not a "fix all ailments" cure to writing problems we're having. I've gone for some obvious screenplays here, but by all means add your thoughts on others you think offer up some useful tips in the comment section.
1. For a good example of character being set up as the same time as plot, read Sideways By Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. Of the many scripts I read, often character is set up ahead of plot, when it's often more desirable to have them go hand in hand. Sideways doesn't start with a bone-shaking hook, just a sad, hungover man who has to move his car for a neighbour, but it illustrates how put-upon he is and how he lies to himself: he didn't get ratted last night, he was wine tasting. Yeah. Whatever.
2. For a good example of dialogue that presents characters' differing world views, read Tremors by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock. Val and Earl might be brothers, but their dialogue illustrates their differences not only in age but personality too without ever overstating the case I think.
3. For an example of a great adaptation, read American Psycho by Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner. Regular Readers of the blog will remember this conversation thread that we've already debated regarding this movie, but whatever you think of it, I think it's a shining example of book to film with regard to appreciating they are NOT the same, whilst still retaining that original seed of the story.
4. For a good example of "hitting the ground running" and presenting a protagonist's problem from the outset, read The Bourne Identity by Tony Gilroy. Another adaptation and quite different to the book if I recall correctly, but still a great start with an interesting hook.
5. For a good example of structure and how the subplot can feed into the main plot, read Pitch Black by Ken and Jim Wheat. What I like about Pitch Black is its main problem - the fact that all of them could be eaten by aliens - is not their only problem: Johns and Riddicks' struggle for supremacy over each other and thus the group is an admirable subplot (if a little reminsicent of Burke's treachery in ALIENS!). But subplots can't last forever and when it ends and Riddick wins over Johns with the fight in front of the sled, the Resolution kicks off. Nice work. This script's not quite the same as the DVD, but it's very close.
Got any others? Let us know - and if you have any links, then all the better...