Every Nora Ephron Screenplay Ranked Worst To Best

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One of the most accomplished and prolific writers of her generation, Nora Ephron was a screenwriter, director, and producer of movies as well as a food writer, essayist, journalist, playwright, and novelist. Thanks to her personal mantra of "everything is copy," Ephron's work was always deeply inspired by her own experiences, lending an emotional truth to everything she wrote, even the silliest of her films. While Ephron is best known for crafting some of the most beloved romantic comedies of all time like "When Harry Met Sally" and "You've Got Mail," her work encompasses much of the human experience and goes beyond strict genre definitions, dipping into psychological thrillers, domestic dramas, action, and fantasy. 

Ephron was also known for her collaborations and partnerships with her sister Delia Ephron, with whom she wrote nearly half of her screenplays, as well as her frequent work with stars Meryl Streep and Meg Ryan. Over her career Ephron earned three Oscar nominations for best screenplay among numerous other accolades, cementing her as one of the best that ever was. Here, we've gathered every Nora Ephron screenplay to dissect from worst to best. 

13. Hanging Up (2000)

Nora Ephron's final film with actor Meg Ryan was one of her most personal and intimate, though sadly not her best. Another collaboration with her sister Delia (based on Delia's novel of the same name), "Hanging Up" explores the fictionalized turmoil of their father Henry Ephron's death. Eve (Ryan) is the middle sister left to deal with her dad's declining health while her older sister, successful writer Georgia (Diane Keaton, who also directed), and younger sister, daytime actress Maddy (Lisa Kudrow), soak up the spotlight. 

Structurally, the script relies heavily on flashbacks to establish the family dynamic, which is more successful at certain points than others, creating a somewhat frenetic story. That said, "Hanging Up" is not without its emotion and charm, particularly in the film's final sequence which feels truest to Ephron's emotional aesthetic. Additionally, tensions between Nora and Delia about how to handle the portrayal of the fictional version of Nora (Georgia's character) led to a lot of tension behind the scenes, likely impacting the final outcome of what could have been a far more profound film. 

12. Cookie (1989)

Nora Ephron's third screenplay reunited her with "Silkwood" co-writer Alice Arlen and is a charming but largely uneven effort while still feeling unique to Ephron's sensibility. The film follows the eponymous Cookie (Emily Lloyd), a rambunctious teenage girl whose father Dominick (Peter Falk) is up for parole after serving time for racketeering. While Cookie doesn't have much of a relationship with her dad, he becomes a domineering presence in her life once he's out of prison, leading her to conspire with the local district attorney to put him back behind bars. Despite beginning out of selfishness, her plan ultimately helps them both live happier lives. 

While the film was a bit of a flop, it's not without its charms, particularly in Ephron's crafting of the title character. "Cookie" feels like a unique film in Ephron's overall canon, but still exemplifies Ephron's ability to depict realistic relationships, both romantic and familial. Additionally, director Susan Seidelman is a strong complement for Ephron and Arlen's script, bringing visual style to the humor and wit on the page.

11. Mixed Nuts (1994)

Following up the runaway success of "Sleepless in Seattle" was bound to be difficult, but "Mixed Nuts" is an unfortunate mess. Nora Ephron's third directorial feature is another co-written with her sister Delia while also reuniting her with comedian Steve Martin. A highly unconventional Christmas comedy (based on the 1982 French film "Le Père Noël est une ordure"), the film revolves around a suicide prevention hotline center run by Philip (a bedraggled Martin), who attempts to hide from his staff that the business is going under while dealing with one crisis after another. 

"Mixed Nuts" is a sprawling ensemble comedy with an incredible cast that mostly struggles due to its wide-ranging storylines and characters, but that's also part of its charms. In one beat Adam Sandler plays the ukulele, and in the next Madeline Kahn delivers a deadpan response to a depraved prank caller on the hotline. In short, while Ephron's humor comes through in heaps, the script lacks much of the deeper emotion, heart, and thematic focus of her most triumphant films. However, "Mixed Nuts" is still worth a watch for those looking for something new and funny to watch over the holidays. 

10. My Blue Heaven (1990)

Nora Ephron's third solo credit is in some ways an evolution of her earlier co-written script, "Cookie." Directed by Herbert Ross, "My Blue Heaven" stars Steve Martin as Vinnie Antonelli, an over-the-top mobster who has been relocated via the witness protection program thanks to straight-laced federal agent Barney Coopersmith (Rick Moranis). As Vinnie begins to put down roots in his new suburban home, he can't resist engaging in a little bit of criminal activity, attracting the attention of local district attorney Hannah Stubbs (Joan Cusack). 

When Barney is forced to intervene on Vinnie's behalf, he and Vinnie slowly become friends while Barney also finds that he and Hannah may share more than the law as a common interest. "My Blue Heaven" is another genre departure for Ephron but lacks some of the depth of her better films. However, the script still contains much of her warm sensibility and wit with plenty of laughs thanks to Martin and Moranis. In an interesting twist, this movie and Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" (written by Ephron's husband Nicholas Pileggi) were released the same year and are both based on the life of gangster Henry Hill.

9. Michael (1996)

While all of her films are imbued with a sense of whimsy and magic, "Michael" is outwardly fantastical. The film follows two tabloid reporters, Frank (William Hurt) and Huey (Robert Pastorelli) who work for a magazine similar to the National Enquirer and are set to find their next break after hearing rumors of an angel sighting. Along for the ride is self-proclaimed angel expert Dorothy (Andie MacDowell), who secretly dreams of being a singer and songwriter. When they find the angel in question, they're shocked to discover Michael (Jonathan Travolta) is a fallen angel who loves to smoke and fight, and they accompany him through his remaining days on Earth. 

While the film received mixed reviews, it was a commercial success that proved Nora Ephron's departures could be successful. At the time of its release, Ephron was fully established in her career as a writer and director, more able to take big swings and risks. This proved to be a mixed bag for "Michael" but would allow Ephron to continue to takebig swings going forward.

8. Bewitched (2005)

Nora Ephron's penultimate feature, once-again co-written with her sister Delia, arrived at the beginning of the reboot era, but it may still be one of the most clever of the genre. Nicole Kidman stars as Isabel, a real witch who is attempting to give up magic in exchange for a normal, mortal life when she meets Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell), a narcissistic movie star who is starring in an upcoming reboot of the classic series "Bewitched." After seeing Isabel do Samantha's classic nose wiggle, Jack invites her to audition, beginning a whirlwind romance between the two as Isabel has to discover how to find her own identity alongside a selfish star like Jack. 

"Bewitched" also saw Ephron in the director's chair once again, lending the film more of the whimsy and magic that feels present across her work but in a constrained context of the film's story and genre. While the film also received mixed reviews, it was still a commercial success and feels all the more remarkable and under-appreciated for its structure, style, and smarts, elements few and far between in modern romantic comedies.

7. Heartburn (1986)

Based on her novel of the same name, Nora Ephron's second screenplay and first solo credit is a fictionalized account of her tumultuous marriage and resulting divorce from journalist Carl Bernstein. "Heartburn" depicts Ephron and Bernstein's love story and the resulting fallout after his affairs during her pregnancies with their two children. While the true story is heartbreaking and brutal, Ephron's trademark wit allowed her to reframe her personal tragedy into a comedy, turning her (and countless women like her) from a victim to a hero. 

The film reunited Ephron with Meryl Streep in the lead role as food writer Rachel Samstat who falls head over heels with political columnist Mark Forman (Jack Nicholson). With director Mike Nichols behind the camera again, the film is a meditative depiction of the rise and fall of a marriage, thematically interwoven with Rachel's cooking and care for others through the food she makes. While "everything is copy," "Heartburn" is arguably Ephron's most autobiographical work, with the production becoming entangled with her own divorce from Bernstein. In a true twist of life imitating art, the film eventually ended up being included in the divorce decree with Nichols as a signatory.

6. This Is My Life (1992)

Nora Ephron's directorial debut marks the first of many screenplays co-written with her sister Delia Ephron, based on the novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer. "This Is My Life" follows Dottie Ingels (Julie Kavner), a single mother of two daughters who decides to pursue her dream of standup comedy. When she makes it big and leaves New York to tour in Los Angeles, the girls are left behind with a rotating band of babysitters, only seeing their mother on late-night television and talking to her occasionally on the phone. Everything comes to a head when Dottie comes home and faces the truth about her daughter's feelings and the truth of their lives.

"This Is My Life" explores the cost of female artistic ambition, a story rarely told, especially in the early '90s. While it was a flop, the film feels like an early hallmark for the Nora Ephron brand, exploring many personal themes like "everything is copy," the familial relationship to Hollywood, and the relationship between sisters, daughters, and mothers. An achingly funny and heartfelt film, "This Is My Life" is a remarkable debut and easily one of Ephron's most underrated films. 

5. Silkwood (1983)

Co-written with Alice Arlen, "Silkwood" is a psychological thriller that tells the true story of Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep), an employee at a nuclear plant in Oklahoma City who died under mysterious circumstances after she began to raise questions about the treatment of employees at the facility. Streep imbues her with a sense of curiosity, warmth, and orneriness that honors the real woman whose life was lost at the hands of corporate greed. Starring alongside Streep is Cher as her best friend Dolly and Kurt Russell as her boyfriend Drew who all live and work together. All three have an authentic kind of relationship rarely depicted on film that feels true to Nora Ephron's thoughtful crafting of interpersonal dynamics across all of her work. 

As her debut screenplay, "Silkwood" manages to be several films at once: a cynical, wrenching, and raw examination of corporate wrongdoing juxtaposed with the very real human cost. The film also earned five Oscar nominations including a best screenplay nod for Ephron and Arlen and a Golden Globe nomination for best motion picture — drama.

4. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

Initially hired to rewrite David S. Ward and Jeff Arch's script, Nora Ephron earned the director's seat — despite her debut "This Is My Life" flopping — due to her clear vision for the iconic lead characters. "Sleepless in Seattle" is an atypical romantic comedy, exploring the idea of fate and soulmates with the main characters Annie (Meg Ryan) and Sam (Tom Hanks) never meeting until the end of the film. Instead, Sam's son Jonah (Ross Malinger) calls in for a radio show, telling the host his father needs a new wife after his mother has died, which Annie happens to hear. As she becomes engrossed with the idea of Sam, writing him a letter, Jonah in turn decides she's the perfect new mother for their family. 

While the film's idea of love is incredibly magical and idealistic, it also explores more grounded themes of grief and loss that make it feel timeless and lasting. The script earned Ephron her third Oscar nod and second BAFTA nomination for Best Screenplay, as well as her second Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy. "Sleepless in Seattle" was also a huge commercial success, grossing nearly $228 million worldwide, by far the highest earning film of her career to that point, which set her on a path to create more groundbreaking romantic comedies.

3. You've Got Mail (1998)

A modern adaptation of the Ernst Lubitsch film "Shop Around the Corner," (1940) "You've Got Mail" reunited Nora Ephron with stars Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, as well as her sister Delia for their fourth co-written screenplay. Taking place during the very early days of the internet — and very, very early days of online dating — the story follows Kathleen Kelly (Ryan) and Joe Fox (Hanks), two business rivals who are unwittingly anonymous online friends through an AOL chat room. While they fall in love online, they battle for business in real life as Joe (the heir and head of Fox Books, a Barnes & Noble-like corporate bookstore) is dead set on putting Kathleen's family-owned independent children's bookstore out of business. 

While most of Ephron's films take place in New York, "You've Got Mail" also feels like the culmination of her love letter to the city. Like Ephron's other films, this one touches not just on what can bring two people together and keep them apart, but deeper themes like grief and loss. "You've Got Mail" was by far the biggest financial success of Ephron's career, grossing $250 million worldwide, cementing Ephron as a writer-director powerhouse in Hollywood.

2. Julie & Julia (2009)

Produced while she battled leukemia, Nora Ephron's final solo screenplay credit was also her last turn in the director's chair. Based on the books "Julie & Julia" by Julie Powell and "My Life in France" by Julia Child, the film tells the story of renowned chef Child (Meryl Streep) and aspiring food blogger Powell (Amy Adams) in alternating timelines as they discover who they are through cooking, eating, and writing. "Julie & Julia" is not a conventional romantic comedy as both characters are in established, happy marriages, but rather a romance about the women finding love and fulfillment in themselves through cooking and writing. 

Brimming with scenes full of rich food, exploring a fulfilling and supportive marriage, and set against iconic Paris and New York backdrops, the film seems to be a summation of all of Ephron's ideals and themes. A fitting finale to her career, "Julie & Julia" was very well received and commercially successful, earning her a Golden Globe nomination for best motion picture — musical or comedy.

1. When Harry Met Sally... (1989)

Directed by Rob Reiner, and widely considered to be one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time, "When Harry Met Sally..." was only Nora Ephron's fourth screenplay and second solo credit. The film is predicated on a simple joke when the film's title characters, neurotic Harry (Billy Crystal) and optimistic Sally (Meg Ryan), first meet while driving from Chicago to New York to go to college: "Men and women cannot be friends." It's this tension that carries Harry and Sally through several meetings across years of their lives until they finally do become friends after his divorce and her breakup. 

"When Harry Met Sally..." feels like a first of its kind for the genre, one that languishes in its characters and takes time to explore why two people may be completely wrong or right for each other, part of its timeless quality. The script earned Ephron her second Oscar nomination for best screenplay and a BAFTA win in the same category in addition to two Golden Globe nominations for best motion picture — comedy or musical and best screenplay.