Craig Mazin has one of the most interesting careers of any screenwriter working in Hollywood. Born in Brooklyn in the early 1970s, Mazin graduated from Princeton before starting his career as an executive with Disney, eventually moving into screenwriting. His two most recent projects, 2019’s hit limited series Chernobyl and 2023’s The Last Of Us, are some of the best TV series of the last decade, and yet Mazin spent much of his early career in obscurity.
For the first few decades of his career, Mazin served mostly as a hired hand, helping to turn in scripts that would make the most of stories either already in progress or based on existing material.
Since 2011, Mazin and fellow screenwriter John August have released a weekly podcast entitled Scriptnotes, which serves as a kind of masterclass on all things screenwriting and Hollywood, sharing the wealth of knowledge he has acquired during his time in the industry. It’s the kind of project that only someone like Mazin, who has seen all the ups and downs of working in Hollywood, could produce and shows just how much work it takes to make it. In honor of the success of The Last Of Us, we have ranked all of his movie and TV shows, from worst to best.
10. Superhero Movie (2008)
For a long time in Mazin’s career, he carved out a nice niche for himself as a movie spoofer rather than an original storyteller. It may seem silly, and these movies surely are, but we’d imagine that finding a way to make fun of movie cliches is not a bad way to learn to avoid them when it comes time to make your own original script. Superhero Movie actually comes to us a bit early in the superhero movie run that has now all but taken over culture. In 2008, Mazin and company were mostly satirizing stuff like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, though they find plenty of comedy elsewhere as well. You can watch Superhero Movie for free now on YouTube.
9. Scary Movie 4 (2006)
This movie marks Mazin’s second writing credit within the Scary Movie franchise, a series of movies that were wildly popular in the early 2000s and aimed to satirize all forms of horror storytelling. Many actors and actresses filed in and out of the series, but Scary Movie 4 features favorites Anna Farris and Regina Hall, as well as cameo appearances from the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Dr. Phil, and Lil Jon. Though undeniably silly and often absurd, Scary Movie would go on to make over $170 million at the box office, which isn’t too shabby at all. Scary Movie 4 is available to stream on Pluto TV now.
8. The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)
The Huntsman: Winter’s War is the kind of Hollywood project that requires the steady hand of a screenwriter like Mazin, who spent a lot of years doing this kind of work. This film is somehow both a sequel and prequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman and yet does not feature Snow White as played by Kristen Stewart (due mostly to off-screen issues). It is also a story that is based on both the fairy tale Snow White by the Brothers Grimm and The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. Serving all these different masters must have been a difficult task, to say the least, but it does show that Mazin has a knack for adaptation, something he has proven most recently with The Last Of Us. Ultimately The Huntsman: Winter’s War is not a very successful movie, but it does show flashes of things to come for Mazin.
7. The Hangover Part III (2013)
Another example of Mazin standing out in Hollywood’s sequel obsession is his work within The Hangover series, which started with the second film and continued here with the third. By the time we get to The Hangover Part III, you might be asking yourself if this group should perhaps consider getting sober, which would be a valid concern, and yet Mazin continues to get humor from the hapless group of friends that we’ve come to love in the first and second film. Though not as successful as the first two films in the franchise, The Hangover Part III still managed to bring in over $300 million at the box office. Stream The Hangover Part III now on HBO Max.
6. Scary Movie 3 (2003)
Scary Movie 3 is the first movie in the franchise that Mazin worked on and features many of the actors and actresses that appeared throughout the series including Charlie Sheen, Anna Farris, Regina Hall, Simon Rex, and Anthony Anderson. The film heavily satirizes horror movies in general, but specifically focuses on The Ring, Signs, The Matrix Reloaded and 8 Mile, the latter two of which, it should be noted, are not scary movies at all. It is also considered by many to be the most critically successful film in the series.
5. Identity Thief (2013)
We finally arrive at the first original story on our list, 2013’s Identity Thief. Mazin spent many years working as a hired hand, so it must have been a relief to get a chance to finally work on something wholly his own. Identity Thief tells the story of a female con artist, played by the great Melissa McCarthy, who chooses as her target Sandy Patterson, played by Jason Bateman. Directed by the former Bateman collaborator Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses), this movie mostly works as a road trip romp with McCarthy and Bateman obviously holding their own as two of Hollywood’s most reliable comedic talents. You can stream Identity Thief now on Amazon Prime.
4. The Hangover Part II (2011)
The Hangover Part II sees the wolfpack get back together for a night in none other than Bangkok, Thailand. What could go wrong, right? Well if you know anything about the series, you know everything could and will go wrong and, in Mazin’s well-written script, it very much does. In addition to the original cast of characters — Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ed Helms — Paul Giamatti appears as an undercover Interpol agent that gets involved with the gang’s shenanigans. As with the first film, this was an absolute smash hit, making over $580 million.
3. RocketMan (1997)
RocketMan (not to be confused with 2019’s biographical Rocketman) was Mazin’s first work as a screenwriter, writing the story for the film alongside Oren Aviv and Greg Erb. This comic science-fiction movie served mostly as a vehicle for comedy actor Harland Williams, who debuted in Dumb and Dumber and performed as a stand-up comedian for several years. Though many critics panned the film upon its release, legendary film critic Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars and we can see why, as this plays similar to the movies of someone like Jim Carrey, featuring some truly hilarious physical comedy.
2. Chernobyl (2019)
This is where Mazin’s career takes a surprising and welcome turn. Up until this point, Mazin spent much of his career as a writer for hire, someone brought in to help save floundering scripts and get the most out of the movies he was hired to work on. Here, he gets to bring his own vision to life on the small screen, with the limited series Chernobyl. As you can likely glean from the title, this series tells the story of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the subsequent clean up and governmental cover up that ensued, focusing both on the Russian government and those most affected by the tragedy. Starring Jessie Buckley, Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson, Chernobyl is a brilliant and nuanced depiction of what happens when lies continue to multiply to the point that human lives become endangered. The series would go on to win tons of awards, including the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Limited Series and earn Mazin his first Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special. The entire series is streaming now on HBO Max.
1. The Last Of Us (2023)
If Chernobyl was Mazin’s practice run, The Last Of Us is his big shot. Many people watched and loved Chernobyl, but The Last Of Us is likely to be a phenomenon. The series is based, of course, on the 2013 video game of the same name, considered by many to be one of the greatest games of all time. It tells the story of life after a mass fungal infection has wiped out most of the global population and follows an unlikely duo as they travel through the hellscape that is post-apocalyptic America. The series, which stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, is a huge undertaking and one that HBO has certainly bet big on. All this puts a ton of pressure on Mazin to deliver, for fans of the video game and newcomers alike, but if the first couple episodes are any indication, he has managed to do just that.