What famous screenwriters did uncredited rewrites on some of Hollywood’s biggest movies?
The term script doctor is often utilized by the media when referring to an uncredited screenwriter hired by a studio to rewrite certain aspects of any given screenplay. The term won’t be found on any studio contracts because it’s not an official Hollywood term. A screenwriter is a screenwriter, credited or not.
To get an onscreen credit for a film, a screenwriter’s work on the screenplay has to equate to at least 33% of the final product. Since studio movies often employ multiple screenwriters throughout a single film’s many stages of development, many screenwriters see their work go uncredited — even some of the most famous names in the screenwriting trade.
Read ScreenCraft’s Debunking the Myth of the Script Doctor!
Here we feature fifteen of the most famous screenwriters that did uncredited work on some of Hollywood’s highest-profile movies.
1. Carrie Fisher
Known mostly for her iconic role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars Saga films, the late Carrie Fisher also had a long career as a screenwriter — most of which was uncredited work. She had a knack for dialogue, especially for the female voice, and did uncredited work on such films as Sister Act, The Wedding Singer, Lethal Weapon 3, and Hook — and many others.
2. Judd Apatow
Apatow is one of comedy’s greatest names, having written, directed, and produced some of Hollywood’s best comedies — The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, Knocked Up, This Is 40, Funny People, etc.
Before those films, Apatow actually did some uncredited work on Bruce Almighty. You may remember that Steve Carell co-starred in that Jim Carrey comedy just a year before taking the lead role in Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old-Virgin.
3. Shane Black
Shane Black, one of the early hot screenwriters in the screenwriting boom of the late 1980s to mid-1990s, was famous for big action spec sales, including Lethal Weapon, The Last Boyscout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight.
But he also did some uncredited work on what would lead to one of the biggest franchises in cinema — The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black did uncredited rewrites on the original Iron Man movie. The film’s star, Robert Downey Jr., had starred in Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang a couple of years prior.
4. Charlie Kaufman
Known for his unique screenplays like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kaufman was hired to work on the Dreamworks Animation sequel Kung Fu Panda 2. He worked two weeks on the script.
5. Adam McKay
A good friend of comedy star Will Ferrell, McKay has co-written the screenplays for many of the actor’s best — Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and The Other Guys. Ferrell and McKay also founded the comedy website Funny or Die. So it’s no surprise that McKay did uncredited work on Ferrell’s Elf while the screenwriter was also directing the star’s Anchorman.
6. Patton Oswalt
Known more for his stand-up comedy, Oswalt has dabbled in screenwriting as well. He’s worked on TV shows, including MadTV, and has expressed interest in writing features. He did mention in a Comedy Bang Bang podcast episode that he did uncredited work for the Looney Tunes: Back in Action screenplays as well.
7. M. Night Shyamalan
Famous for his auteur work in The Sixth Sense, Signs, Split, and Glass, Shymalan actually did uncredited work on the 90s-staple teen comedy She’s All That. He had a hand in punching up the dialogue and the story.
An interesting trivia tidbit. Shyamalan apparently once said in an interview that he was the ghostwriter behind the film. The film’s actual credited screenwriter thought otherwise in a since-deleted tweet, saying, “Only in his mind.”
Movie producer and NYU adjunct professor Jack Lechner, who was Miramax’s head of development in the late ’90s, said, “R. Lee Fleming wrote the script we bought. M. Night Shyamalan did an uncredited rewrite on the script, and a very good one that got the movie green-lit.”
8. Aaron Sorkin
Sorkin, known for his dialogue in West Wing, Newsroom, The Social Network, and A Few Good Men, to name a few, was brought on as a special consultant for Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Steve Zaillian was the credited writer for the script, but Sorkin did a lot of uncredited work on the dialogue.
9. Joel and Ethan Coen
The Coen Brothers are known for amazing films like Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men.
But they’ve also done some uncredited work as well — namely for the box office bomb comedy Fun With Dick and Jane.
10. Donald Glover
Glover is known most for his multiple roles (including writing) on Atlanta, as well as his role as a younger Lando in Solo: A Star Wars Story. But he managed to do a little uncredited work on a little film called Black Panther with his brother Stephen. While uncredited, they were given a thank you in the film’s end credits.
11. Jason Reitman
The director of Juno and writer/director of Up in the Air tried to perform some magic on the Steve Carell and Jim Carrey magician comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. He reportedly worked several weeks on the film’s script.
12. Kevin Smith
The auteur is known for his indie comedies Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy, but he’s also dabbled in uncredited rewrites, most notably for Coyote Ugly. Apparently, his work was a little too raunchy and lacked in an emotional connection to the relationship within the film.
“(It was) terrific (but) pretty raunchy, (and) missing an emotional element to the relationship thing,” said the film’s director David McNally regarding Smith’s unused draft.
13. Joss Whedon
He’s the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Avengers, but before all of that, he was brought in to work on the dialogue for the Keanu Reeves hit action flick Speed. Graham Yost was the credited writer but later admitted that almost all of the dialogue was Whedon’s. “Joss Whedon wrote 98.9 percent of the dialogue,” he once confessed. “We were very much in sync, it’s just that I didn’t write the dialogue as well as he did. That was a hard part of the whole ‘Speed’ thing. It’s my name up there, but I didn’t write the whole thing. But I fought hard to get that credit, so I’ll live with it.”
14. Kenneth Lonergan
Originally a playwright, Lonergan managed to win a Best Screenplay Oscar for his work on Manchester by the Sea. Before that, he worked on the Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson flick Fool’s Gold. While he was announced in trades as an attached writer at one time, he would go on to be creditless.
15. Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino, the auteur behind Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, has done a couple of reported uncredited rewrites in his early days.
He touched up the script for It’s Pat: The Movie.
And he also did uncredited dialogue work for the submarine thriller Crimson Tide. Most notably what is now known as the Silver Surfer scene.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures. Make sure to read his growing archive of posts at ScreenCraft for more inspiration.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies