He is considered to be among the most brilliant contemporary screenwriters, and among his accolades, he has won an Academy Award, three BAFTA Awards, two Independent Spirit Awards, and a Writers Guild of America Award.
* = writing
** = writing + directing
- Being John Malkovich*: The feature debut of director Spike Jonze.
- Human Nature*: The feature debut of director Michel Gondry.
- Adaptation.*: A meta-adaptation of Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief, framed as the story of Kaufman's struggle to script an unfilmable novel adaptation and deal with his evil-hack-writer-twin. Became the first film in history to receive an Oscar nomination for a fictional character (said evil-hack-writer-twin), as the character was credited as a co-writer of the film's screenplay (which got a nod for Best Adapted).
- Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind*: The directorial debut of George Clooney, although Clooney deviated considerably from the script without Kaufman's permission.
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind*: A science fiction film about a couple who undergo a procedure to erase each other from their memories after they break up. Kaufman won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for this film.
- Synecdoche, New York**: Kaufman's directorial debut, centered around a stage director who creates a life-sized model of New York City in his pursuit of verisimilitude on the stage. Considered by Roger Ebert to be the best movie of the 2000s.
- How & Why**: An unsuccessful TV pilot Kaufman pitched to FX about a host of a cancelled children's science show (played by Michael Cera) who tries to start over with a new show in a little TV market — also a portal to the supernatural world.
- Anomalisa**: Kaufman's first animated feature, about a lonely man struggling to connect with the first truly unique woman he's ever met. Co-directed by Kaufman and Duke Johnson.
- Antkind*: Kaufman's 2020 debut novel, about a film critic named B. Rosenberger Rosenberg trying to remember a 3-month-long film, which leads him on a surreal journey throughout his brain, other's brains, and beyond.
- I'm Thinking of Ending Things**: Kaufman wrote and directed this adaptation of the Iain Reid novel of the same name. It was released on Netflix.
- Chaos Walking (2021)*: Adaptation of The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Kaufman was brought on to write the first draft in 2012 and left shortly after; the draft eventually passed through six other people and was revised so much that he was uncredited on the final product.
- Orion and the Dark*: Kaufman’s second animation feature, this time produced through DreamWorks Animation, telling the story of a boy afraid of everything, who is approached by the Anthropomorphic Personification of darkness itself to learn courage. Adapted from a book by Emma Yarlett.
Tropes in Charlie Kaufman's works include:
- Author Appeal:
- Romances where a melancholy man will fall for an extraordinary woman, but things aren’t what they initially seem.
- Mentally broken, awkward men who can't get on with the rest of the world. A retreat into the mind is typically the only way they can deal with their situations.
- Copious amounts of surrealism and headache-inducing moments.
- Fictionalized facts and playing with the rules of reality.
- Meaningful names, usually referencing mental illnesses and diseases.
- Black Comedy: When his comedy isn’t weird as hell, it’s probably going to be this.
- Central Theme: Mortality, death, what it means to be human, and the meaning of life as well as how people use fantasy and escapism to cope with traumatic experiences or negative emotions.
- Grey-and-Gray Morality: No one is ever all good or all bad in his work.
- Humans Are Flawed: Kaufman says he does like people in real life, but his characters are usually emotionally damaged, self-loathing, and insecure.
- Loser Protagonist: Very few Kaufman protagonists aren’t. Hell, he even made himself one!
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Being John Malkovich and especially Sunshine deconstruct this to the extreme. They go over what happens when the novelty of such a person wears off.
- Meaningful Name: Particularly in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Synecdoche, New York and Anomolisa.
- Meta Fiction: Adaptation most bluntly, but also seen in Synecdoche, New York.
- Mind Screw: Almost goes without saying.
- Postmodernism: Metafictional elements? Check. Deconstruction? Of course! Weirdness up the wazoo? You bet!
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: His romantic leads are this, males almost always being being blue and women usually being red.
- Rewatch Bonus: His films have a lot of elements that take on new meaning on a second or third watch.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: His movies are usually cynical in tone, but have a shine of optimism at its core.
- Surreal Humor: His trademark style of humor.
- Surreal Horror: Used every so often.