The World’s Highest Paid Screenwriters

The World’s Highest Paid Screenwriters

As the title says, this article will explore the world’s highest paid Screenwriters working in the Film and Television industries.  

Screenwriting can mean seriously big money for those at the top.

After all, screenplays usually account for around 1-3% of a film’s budget, and when a budget soars (as Hollywood tentpoles and Netflix originals often do)…well…get your calculator out.

Some screenwriters can start breaking ground on those holiday homes when the cheques clear.

Here are just some of the world’s highest paid screenwriters (in no particular order).

 

Highest Paid Screenwriters, Number One: David Koepp…

David Koepp is undoubtedly one of the planet’s screenwriting kings.

Highest paid screenwriters: David Koepp

David has had countless Hollywood success, which has left him ranking as one of the most successful and highest paid screenwriters in the industry. He has made quite a name for himself as both a screenwriter and director, since he first started out in the industry in 1988.

He impressively ranks as the ninth most successful screenwriter of all time (US BOX OFFICE). 

His PANIC ROOM earned him a cool $3m, whilst THE SUPERCONDUCTING SUPERCOLLIDER OF SPARKLE CREEK, WISCONSIN remains one very expensive unproduced spec, selling for $2.25m.

David is also a pricey hired-hand on box office behemoths.

Some of David’s most well-known and successful film credits include:

  • JURASSIC PARK
  • SPIDER MAN
  • DEATH BECOMES HER
  • WAR OF THE WORLDS
  • MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE
  • PANIC ROOM
  • ANGELS AND DEMONS
  • INFERNO
  • and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL 

Not to mention the JACK RYAN reboot and Johnny Depp flop MORTDECAI.

Of course, this is only a handful of his credits.

David is highly versatile. His work spans across genres, varying from:

  • Thriller
  • Sci-Fi
  • Comedy
  • Action
  • Drama
  • Crime
  • Superhero
  • Horror
  • Adventure
  • And Fantasy

Unlike some screenwriters, David has avoided being pigeonholed his entire career. This shows the marks of a great screenwriter

 

Number Two: Seth Macfarlane…

Seth Macfarlane is one of the most recognisable figures in the US Film and Television industry.

Seth is a writer, show-runner, voice artist, singer, Actor, Oscar host and warbler of big band showtunes. 

Highest paid screenwriters: Seth Macfarlane

Seth works primarily in the Comedy genre, but he has done work across the board. And in 2008, he was handed a $100m, 5-year deal by Fox for his hugely successful trio of comedy shows:

  • FAMILY GUY,
  • AMERICAN DAD
  • and THE CLEVELAND SHOW 

Not all of that’s for the writing, but Seth still stands as one very highly paid TV writer ever.

DADS and BORDER TOWN have only added to the coffers.

TED received a $500m take on a $50m budget, whilst TED 2 also went on to gain great financial success.

Other notable credits of his include:

  • THE ORVILLE 
  • SING
  • A MILLION WAYS TO DIE 
  • WILL AND GRACE
  • THE LOUDEST VOICE
  • SING 2 (IN PRODUCTION)
  • ANND LOGAN LUCKY

Seth continues to be one of the most successful and recognisable face (and voices) in the US Film and TV industry, as well as being a prominent figure worldwide.

 

Number Three: Terry Rossio…

Terry Rossio is one of the industry’s most recognisable, successful and longest-working American screenwriters, producers and storyboard artists.

Rossio spent twenty years as one of Hollywood’s go-to-guys.

His work is known and has been successful worldwide, and he is the figure behind numerous box office smash-hits.

highest paid screenwriters: Terry Rossio

Terry is the screenwriter behind box office successful such as:

  • ALADDIN
  • THE MASK OF ZORRO
  • MEN IN BLACK
  • GODZILLA
  • SHREK
  • PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (the franchise) 
  • NATIONAL TREASURE
  • GODZILLA VS KONG
  • THE PUPPET MASTERS
  • LITTLE MONSTERS
  • and THE LONE RANGER.

With hits such as the ones listed above, it is no wonder why Terry is one of the highest paid screenwriters. 

His career culminated in the biggest spec-sale ever at the time, for Denzel Washington’s, DÉJÀ VU.

The single script earned him a cool $5m.

Terry continues to work in the industry and has certainly made a significant and lasting name and reputation for himself worldwide. 

 

Number Four: Shane Black…

Shane Black is one of America’s most successful screenwriters. He also has numerous credits as a directors, producer and actor.  

Black has a reputation for big spec sales.

highest paid screenwriters: Shane Black

His introduction to Hollywood at 26 years old with the LETHAL WEAPON screenplay came with a $250k price tag.

Black also scored $1.75m for THE LAST BOY SCOUT, and broke records at the time with the $4m sale of THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT.

Shane was also behind the gargantuan haul for IRON MAN 3, co-written with British screenwriter Drew Pearce. This film ranks 20th as the highest grossing film worldwide. 

Additional notable works of his include:

  • KISS KISS BANG BANG (his directorial debut) 
  • THE NICE GUYS
  • AND THE PREDATOR

 

Highest Paid Screenwriters, Number Five: Ron Bass…

Ron Bass is an American screenwriter and producer.

It’s no surprise that Ron is adept at negotiating a big payday, given his background as an entertainment lawyer…

highest paid screenwriters: Ron Bass

After penning the legendary RAIN MAN, Bass parlayed similar material into a bumper $2.75m payday for MOZART AND THE WHALE.

Ron has been a prolific writer, often working with his in-demand assistants, dubbed the ‘Ronettes’, to write high volumes of material for studios.

When computer billionaire, Ted Waitt decided to splash his cash on a passion project about Amelia Earhart, Ron was the go-to-guy to script AMELIA.

You know you’ve hit pay-dirt when you’re the man billionaires call to write their specs.

(Click here to read about Bass’ relentless work ethic in our article “10 Great Tales of Screenwriting Determination”).

Additional credits of his include…

  • MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING
  • RAIN MAN
  • ENTRAPMENT
  • DANGEROUS MINDS
  • THE JOY LUCK CLUB
  • BEFORE WE GO
  • AMELIA
  • PASSION OF MIND
  • STEPMOM
  • GARDENS OF STONE
  • SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY
  • BLACK WIDOW
  • INVISIBLE CHILD
  • AND, REUNION

The credits go on but the above are some key successes and box office hits of his career thus far…

 

Number Six: David E Kelley…

David is an extremely well-known and recognisable face in the television industry. He is a television writer and producer. 

Prolific is an understatement of David’s TV creations over the years, especially considering his penchant for writing entire seasons almost single-handedly.

highest paid screenwriters: David E Kelley

Kelley was the person behind numerous huge successes such as:

  • ALLY MCBEAL,
  • BOSTON LEGAL,
  • PICKET FENCES,
  • CHICAGO HOPE,
  • THE PRACTICE,
  • and DOOGIE HOWSER MD.

He is famous for meeting with writing teams just for story ideas, then jotting out entire solo episodes on his famed yellow legal notepad.

The ‘credit’ is everything for screenwriter’s pay.  David has racked up hundreds of TV episodes over the years, a rare feat in a writer’s room driven industry.

His 2013 creation, THE CRAZY ONES, managed to lure Robin Williams back to a small screen series for the first time since MORK AND MINDY.

Additional credits of his include…

  • The hit television series, BIG LITTLE LIES
  • And the soon to be premiering, THE UNDOING

In both of the above credits, David worked with Oscar winner Nicole Kidman. 

Oh, and he’s married to Michelle Pfeiffer.

This is a man who looks forward to his high school reunions.

 

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Number Seven: Aaron Sorkin…

Aaron is an American screenwriter, producer, director and playwright. 

Aaron Sorkin has dipped his pen in every stream available – big screen, small screen, and top secret script doctor for hire.

highest paid screenwriters: Aaron Sorkin

As with David E Kelley, Aaron was responsible for writing many episodes of

  • THE WEST WING,
  • SPORTS NIGHT,
  • STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP
  • and THE NEWSROOM.

Each episode had a lucrative payday which would secure the average Joe financially for years.

As if that wasn’t enough, THE SOCIAL NETWORK and MONEYBALL saw big payday returns on the silver screen.

Additional credits of his include:

  • MOLLY’S GAME
  • STEVE JOBS
  • A FEW GOOD MEN
  • AND, MALICE

 

Number Eight: Joss Whedon

Joss is one of the most recognisable faces and names in Hollywood. This is primarily by fans of DC and Marvel films.

Renowned in Hollywood as script doctor of many a 90’s blockbuster –WATERWORLD, TWISTER, SPEED

highest paid screenwriters: Joss Whedon

Joss made his name in TV fantasy circles with BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, FIREFLY and DOLLHOUSE.

Whedon also landed the directing gig that brought together Marvel’s various AVENGERS.

That world-beater, in combination with AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D, lead to an alleged $100m five year deal with Disney – including AVENGERS 2 and several TV series.

Additional credits of his include:

  • JUSTICE LEAGUE
  • THE AVENGERS
  • THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
  • SERENITY
  • DOLLHOUSE
  • THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
  • AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D
  • SPEED
  • IN YOUR EYES
  • TITAN A.E.

Joss’ credits go on…

 

Number NineChuck Lorre…

Chuck is one of the most recognisable faces and names in the US Television industry.

Examples of his work includes:

  • TWO AND A HALF MEN
  • MIKE AND MOLLY
  • THE BIG BANG THEORY
  • AND, MOM

In the unforgiving world of US sitcoms, the fact that Chuck had four active shows was a TV miracle.

highest paid screenwriters: Chuck Lorre

However, it still remains to be known if the paychecks were enough for having to deal with Charlie Sheen on a daily basis.

Additional credits of his include:

  • DISJOINTED
  • YOUNG SHELDON
  • GRACE UNDER FIRE
  • FRANNIE’S TURN
  • B-POSITIVE
  • AND, CYBILL

The list of his credits continues… 

 

Highest Paid Screenwriters Number Ten: Adam McKay…

McKay, is an American film and television screenwriter, producer and director.

Originally best known as Will Ferrell’s co-writer on noughties US comedy classics, ANCHORMAN and TALLADEGA NIGHTS, McKay has since branched out.

highest paid screenwriters: Adam McKay

After the success of Anchorman, Talladega Nights earned McKay a writers fee of $4m shared between himself and Ferrell.

McKay would go on to pen the screenplays of several more huge hits. This includes: STEP BROTHERS, ANT-MAN and the BIG SHORT.

As of 2018, McKay’s recorded net worth had reached $40m.

Additional credits of his include:

  • VICE
  • THE OTHER GUYS
  • THE LANDLORD
  • THE CAMPGAIN
  • BOOKSMART
  • WATSON AND HOLMES
  • BEWITCHED
  • A DEADLY ADOPTION
  • TAMMY 
  • IBIZA
  • AND, THE BOSS

And the list of his credits continues… 

 

Number Eleven: David Dobkin…

David is an American, screenwriter, producer and director.

Whilst he may have been more prolific as both Director and Producer, Dobkin has achieved great financial success with the pen.

highest paid screenwriters: David Dobkin

Dobkin’s ARTHUR & LANCELOT script was initially picked up by Warner Bros. for a reported $2m in 2012.

This would eventually become 2017’s KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD, directed by Guy Ritchie.

Since making his unspectacular screenwriting debut in 1995 with ICE CREAM MAN, Dobkin has since churned out some much higher earners, including:

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, R.I.P.D and THE JUDGE all within a two year window.

Additional credits of his include:

  • WEDDING NIGHTS
  • FRED CLAUS
  • CLAY PIGEONS
  • THE CHANGE-UP
  • MR. WOODCOCK
  • LAST CALL
  • VACTATION
  • THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E
  • AND, EUROVISION SONG CONTEST : THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA 

 

Highest Paid Screenwriters, Number Twelve: Simon Kinberg…

Action film writer, Simon Kinberg was reported by the The Hollywood Reporter to have made $8m for each of his X-men scripts: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST and APOCALYPSE.

highest paid screenwriters: Simon Kinberg

Unsurprising then that he was commissioned to pen the following X-Men film, DARK PHOENIX.

Not all of Kinberg’s writing credits have proved popular with the critics. Such as, XXX: STATE OF THE UNION, starring Ice Cube, and 2015’s abysmal FANTASTIC FOUR reboot.

One thing is for sure though, Kinberg definitely knows how to turn a dollar!

A few more of his credits include:

  • LOGAN
  • DEADPOOL
  • SHERLOCK HOLMES
  • THE MARTIAN
  • CINDERELLA
  • NO GOOD DEAD
  • THIS MEANS WAR
  • ONCE UPON A DEADPOOL
  • AND, THE MESSENGERS

And the list goes on…

 

And Finally, Highest Paid Screenwriters Number Thirteen: Brian Helgeland…

Brian is an American screenwriter, producer and director.

Academy award winner Brian Helgeland knows a thing or two about scriptwriting, and how to turn a profit.

Highest paid screenwriters: Brian Helgeland

Helgeland received a fee of $2.5m for A KNIGHT’S TALE in 2001. This would be followed by MYSTIC RIVER and MAN ON FIRE.

Post 2010, Helgeland would also receive impressive payouts for his writing credits on ROBIN HOOD, 42 and LEGEND.

Additional credits of his include:

  • L.A CONFIDENTIAL
  • PAYBACK
  • THE ORDER
  • MAN OF FIRE
  • THE GREEN ZONE
  • CONSPIRACY THEORY
  • ASSASSINS
  • HIGHWAY TO HELL
  • AND, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

Shrouded in Secrecy…

Details of screenwriting pay are extremely sketchy in the public domain.

This is typical of the esoteric Hollywood accounting which tries to convince the world that blockbusters like HARRY POTTER or THE LORD OF THE RINGS didn’t turn a profit.

Beyond the few highly publicized spec script sales, most screenwriting deals are kept confidential. This is particularly so back-end bonuses or TV package deals for writer-producer-actors are not broken down into component parts.

This list is not presented as a ranking, and is by no means definitive.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the Top 13 Highest Paid Screenwriters. 

Are there any highly paid screenwriters or top scribes we’ve missed out? Let us know in the comments box, below…

  • What did you think of this article? Give it a rating and let us know your thoughts in the comments box further down…
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6 thoughts on “The World’s Highest Paid Screenwriters”

    • Thats what I thought, too! My first thought after reading this was, “Wow, screenwriting is one of the few areas of film that actually has a decent amount of women, and apparantly they’re STILL underpaid and underappreciated.”

      Reply
  1. Hello! I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Austin Tx! Just wanted to tell you keep up the excellent job!

    Reply

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