Schindler’s List (1993) Screenplay Analysis

Schindler’s List (1993), written by Steven Zaillian, is arguably the greatest movie in history. It’s certainly up there with The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Shawshank, etc.

The movie, and screenplay to a lesser regard, has already been analyzed ad nauseam. I will keep my analysis short and share a few points that I think have not been represented in the analyses I have found.

I’ve seen the movie many times and the script I read was somewhat different (new scenes, deleted scenes, etc.) than this script, so I imagine it was an earlier version.

Script Formatting Notes

  • Draft Read: Undated
  • Type: Spec
  • Page Count: 156

Overall Thoughts

This wasn’t a spec script and didn’t read like one. Zaillian really wanted to showcase a wide breadth of scenes to draw up maximal emotional impact.

I felt most of the drama and conflict came from action lines: specifically facial expressions and other physical character movements. Conversely, the dialogue was short and focused; there are no Shakespearean monologues here. Of course, there were still some great lines.


If a screenplay should have three clear acts with rising action that peaks in Act 3, Schindler’s List is an exception. More on that in a bit.


The protagonist, Oscar Schindler, is truly the central character to this story. Schindler’s moral change is brought to light in a one-sided conversation he has with his accountant, Stern, on pages 77-79, which is exactly 50% through the story. Perhaps a good screenplay really does have 4 Acts (1, 2a, 2b, 3).

In fact, the antagonist Amon Göth, doesn’t even make an appearance until page 50, 32% through the story.

Dialogue & Pacing

The screenplay covers the six years of WWII. Since the screenplay also has a larger goal of showing the horrors of the Holocaust, there are a lot of side stories and themes that make their way into the script; most of which push Schindler toward the ultimate decision to save the Jews.

Is the script episodic? Yes, but it works. Good scripts can be episodic (see The Great Escape (1963)). In fact, it seems that if strong themes are present, the more episodic a script can be. Is there a clear climax in Act 3? Not as far as I can tell. There are some many intense scenes though, such as when Schindler tempts the guards to shoot the people he has saved.

Emotional Impact

A screenplay doesn’t get more impactful than this.

Points of Interest

  • Pages 77-79 – As noted above.
  • Page 87 – Schindler kisses a Jewish girl.
  • Pages 90-92 – The hose scene. Very strong imagery conveyed.
  • Page 104-105 – The creation of the list.
  • Page 118 – Auschwitz.
  • Page 130 – Schindler takes the moral argument to the extreme, refusing the make capable artillery for the German war effort, even as it costs him his fortune.
  • Pages 147-148 – Schindler feels and displays guilt and regret, even as he has done so much.