Read and Learn from the 2021 Oscar-Nominated Screenplays

Over a year after last year’s ceremony, the Oscars are back with their annual batch of nominees! It is their most diverse and indie-friendly selection of films ever, and the screenwriting categories are no exception.

Reading screenplays might be the most effective education in writing them. Here are the publically-accesible Original & Adapted Screenplay nominees for you to read and learn from!

Original Screenplay Nominees


Will Berson & Shaka King; Story by Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenny Lucas & Keith Lucas

A dark and brooding historical film that takes notes from gangster cinema and Biblical parables as much as it does from its source history. Berson and King expertly weave in and out of the inner political struggles of the Black Panther Party, the shady dealings of the FBI, and the personal lives of Fred Hampton and his girlfriend Deborah Johnson. 


Lee Isaac Chung

Tender, simple and full of longing, Lee’s approach to the immigrant drama is the kind sorely missing today: one that interrogates the internalized xenophobia within first and second generation immigrants, brought on by the strange land around them and the concept of “the American dream”. This screenplay alternates between moments of both love and strife within a family, as well as both Korean and English.


Emerald Fennell

Possibly the most talked about screenplay of the bunch, Emerald Fennell’s dark comedy is a throwback to the nineties where a masterfully laid-out twist or two were all you needed to enrapture an audience. Make no mistake though; this is a highly modern and topical film that uses those twists to deepen the impact of its commentary.


Darius Marder & Abraham Marder; Story by Derek Cianfrance & Darius Marder

Although a film undoubtedly bolstered by sound design and performance, the screenplay for Sound of Metal is genius in its simplicity. From scene to scene, we are given a direct window to the mind of its protagonist, as well as a handful of long, tearjerking monologues around which the entire film hinges.


Aaron Sorkin

Oscar favorite Aaron Sorkin is in top shape in this courtroom epic, a film that both captures the zeitgeist of 1968 and catapults it into the current moment of American political anxiety. Full of the usual Sorkin dialogue fireworks and set-up-and-punchline construction, this screenplay is a master class in the man’s trademark vernacular.

Adapted Screenplay Nominees


Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman & Lee Kern; Story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer & Nina Pedrad; Based on the 2006 film Borat

A hodgepodge of comedy writing and documentary discovery, Sacha Baron Cohen and his team of writers have achieved the impossible: a sequel to Borat that isn’t a total disaster. It is a film that directly contradicts its predecessor, with a focus on discovering the good in people instead of just exposing their worst tendencies. The result is an oddly touching experience.


Christopher Hampton & Florian Zeller; Based on the play by Florian Zeller

A labyrinthine and experimental approach to the topic of dementia, this stage adaptation is anything but flat. With a sensitive approach to character and a constantly shifting handle on reality, this is an exploration of mental deterioration like no other. Although the film is dominated by an astounding Anthony Hopkins performance, the screenplay is a riveting read in of itself.


Chloé Zhao; Based on the book by Jessica Bruder

Another combination of documentary and original writing, Zhao’s screenplay for Nomadland is an aching and deceptively freewheeling blueprint for one of the best films of the year. It follows one character’s journey through America under economic collapse, and yet is mainly made up of the many different voices she encounters.


Kemp Powers; Based on his play

A riveting film that combines historical drama with real-time conversation and a sense of urgency. Powers has brought his play to life by making the most of his four characters who just happen to all be real-life historical giants. This screenplay is an excellent lesson in making one location and one long conversation enough to sustain a feature film.


Ramin Bahrani; Based on the novel by Arvind Adiga

The dark horse of the nominees, this darkly comic tale of class warfare and deceit calls to mind last year’s Parasite while sustaining its own original insight into the social strata of India. This screenplay jumps around in time and milieu with ease and is an excellent example of building a satisfying arc for a morally dubious protagonist.

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