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Black List Number One Scripts


It’s a good career move to have your script rank number one on the annual Black List, voted on by development executives (as opposed to the commercial Black List website where you pay for a review).


It will get good press and get your script read—two very useful things.


But what will it really do for you, long-term?


I was curious what the track record is of the number-one script actually being produced, and the number-one writer establishing a successful career.


So I went back through 19 years of the Black List, from 2005 to 2023.


Of the 19 number-one scripts, the project was produced five times, all from the early years: 2005, 2007–08, 2011–12.


It was not produced from years 2006, 2009–10 and 2013–present (14 total). Of course, the jury is still out on the recent years’ scripts…but most of them seem unlikely to go forward.


It goes to show the difficulty of getting any movie produced—although some number-ones were obviously “stunt scripts” with problems of life rights, music rights or other practical filming issues to make them unlikely as actual productions.


Reviewing the two decades of the Black List offered an interesting overview of how what started as a good idea with noble intentions—compile a list of the industry’s best unproduced scripts—has been gamed by reps into something quite different.


Far from the year’s most-liked unproduced scripts, it now features almost nothing from established writers, but rather is kind of a “pitch list of baby writers” who managers and agents seek to monetize for writing assignments.


I mean, no kidding, right?


PART I


The original Black List scripts are a world apart from today’s list.


There are many familiar names of high-end writers and movies that were about to be made and become quite popular (like Juno and The Social Network).


It really seems to be a genuine list of great scripts that executives enjoyed reading.


2005


Things We Lost in the Fire by Allan Loeb (CAA).


25 votes. Next highest, Juno by Diablo Cody, had 24. (The early Black List was literally just a list, and did not include loglines.)


Things We Lost in the Fire became a 2007 film starring Halle Berry. Writer has a significant career (Collateral Beauty, The Space Between Us).


2006


The Brigands of Rattleborge by Craig Zahler (UTA).


30 votes. Next highest, State of Play by Matt Carnahan, had 23.


Script was not produced, but writer has a significant career (Bone Tomahawk, Dragged Across Concrete).


2007


Recount by Danny Strong (CAA/Gotham Group).


“A behind-the-scenes view of the 2000 presidential election and the scandal that ensued in the weeks following.”


44 votes. Next highest, Farragut North by Beau Willimon, had 43.


Script was produced by HBO Films (it’s very good) and writer has major career.


2008


The Beaver by Kyle Killen (WMA/Anonymous Content).


“A depressed man finds hope in a beaver puppet that he wears on his hand.”


67 votes. Next highest, The Oranges by Jay Reiss and Ian Helfer, had 61.


Script was produced as a rather infamously wackadoodle 2011 film directed by Jodie Foster and starring Mel Gibson. Writer has a major career, albeit more in television than film, and is the showrunner of Halo.


2009


The Muppet Man by Christopher Weekes (WME/Circle of Confusion).


“The life story and tragic early death of Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets.”


47 votes. Next highest, The Social Network by Aaron Sorkin, had 42. What happened to that Sorkin guy?


Unlike most biopics on recent lists, this was not a “stunt script,” but set to be produced by the Jim Henson company (it is still unmade) about their founder. Writer has credits but not as recent or extensive as previous #1 writers.


2010


College Republicans by Wes Jones (CAA/Circle of Confusion).


“Based on true events. Aspiring politician Karl Rove runs a dirty campaign for national College Republicans Chairman under the guidance of Lee Atwater, his campaign manager.”


49 votes. Next highest, Jackie by Noah Oppenheim (a very good 2016 movie starring Natalie Portman), had 47.


Film was never produced but still listed in IMDBpro (as of July 2021) to be directed by James Schamus, with Asa Butterfield and Logan Lerman. Writer has some credits, but nothing in the 2020s.


2011


The Imitation Game by Graham Moore (CAA/Safran).


“The story of British WWII cryptographer Alan Turing, who cracked the German Enigma code and later poisoned himself after being criminally prosecuted for being a homosexual.”


133 votes. Next highest, When the Street Lights Go On by Chris Hutton and Eddie O’Keefe, had 84.


Film was a major worldwide, Oscar-winning hit starring Benedict Cumberbatch—easily the biggest film ever made from a number-one script. Check out how many votes it got!


Writer won an Oscar for the script (mazel tov), and subsequently wrote and directed The Outfit (2022), starring Mark Rylance.


2012


Draft Day by Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman (Gersh/CAA agents, Kaplan/Perrone management).


“One the day of the NFL Draft, Bills General Manager Sonny Weaver has the opportunity to save football in Buffalo when he trades for the number one pick. He must quickly decide what he’s willing to sacrifice in pursuit of perfection as the lines between his personal and professional life become blurred.”


65 votes. Next highest, A Country of Strangers by Sean Armstrong, had 43.


Film was produced in 2014 with Ivan Reitman directing Kevin Costner. The writers have a bunch of other credits.


2013


Section 6 by Aaron Berg (Verve/Caliber Media).


“An exploration of the formation of Great Britain’s secret intelligence agency, Military Intelligence, Section 6, known more commonly as MI6.”


44 votes. Next highest, Frisco by Simon Stephenson, had 39.


Unproduced. Writer has one produced credit in IMDB, a 2017 short film, and several unproduced credits (suggesting a decent career getting writing assignments).


2014


Catherine the Great by Kristina Lauren Anderson (Verve/Schiff Co.)


“Sophia Augusta takes control of her life, her marriage, and her kingdom becoming Russia’s most celebrated and beloved monarch: Daffy Duck.” I’m kidding, Catherine the Great.


51 votes. Next highest, Rockingham by Adam Morrison, had 38.


Unproduced. IMDB lists Barbra Streisand attached to direct as of 2017. Writer has a few produced credits and numerous unproduced ones.


PART II


I was wondering when the Black List segued from great scripts that got organically passed around because people liked reading them to wild stunt scripts that were mostly pushed by shrewd reps to launch writers’ careers. Well, meet Bubbles.


2015


Bubbles by Isaac Adamson (CAA/Lee Stobby Management).


“A baby chimp is adopted by the pop star Michael Jackson. Narrating his own story, Bubbles the Chimp details his life within The King of Pop’s inner circle through the scandals that later rocked Jackson’s life and eventually led to Bubbles’ release.”


44 votes. Next highest, Stronger by John Pollono and Scott Silver, had 40.


Of course, this never got made. The writer has no produced credits but several development credits.


2016


Blond Ambition by Elyse Hollander (WME/Bellevue).


“In 1980s New York, Madonna struggles to get her first album released while navigating fame, romance, and a music industry that views women as disposal [sic].”


48 votes. Next highest, Life Itself by Dan Fogelman, had 35.


Script sold to Universal, but Madonna would not grant music rights. The writer has minimal credits, but several development credits.


2017


Ruin by Matthew (aka Kaz) Firpo & Ryan Firpo (UTA, LBI Entertainment).


“A nameless ex-Nazi captain must navigate the ruins of post-WWII Germany to atone for his crimes during the war by hunting down and killing the surviving members of his former SS death squad.”


68 votes. Next highest, Let Her Speak by Mario Correa, had 42.


Script is unproduced but the Firpos have numerous credits, such as Eternals for Marvel.


2018


Frat Boy Genius by Elissa Karasik (UTA/Gotham Group).


“A disgruntled employee of Snapchat tells the rise of her former Stanford classmate, preeminent douchebag and current boss Evan Spiegel.”


36 votes. Next highest, King Richard by Zach Baylin (the Will Smith movie), had 35.


Unproduced. Writer has significant credits mostly in television (Loki, Better Living Through Chemistry).


2019


Move On by Ken Kobayashi (UTA/Gotham Group).


“Teddy thinks he’s the only living person left in a world where humanity is frozen in time…until his ex-girlfriend, Leyna, shows up at his doorstep. Together, they must go on a journey to find the cause behind the freeze and in the process, confront the issues that plagued their relationship before it’s too late.”


29 votes. Next highest, Field of View by Reiss Clauson-Wolf and Julian Silver, had 20.


Unproduced. Writer has minimal credits (lots of short films).


PART III


All right, so we’ve noticed the trend: the number-one script is likely to be a biopic, or a high-concept “stunt script” that gets read because of its outrageousness—and is written well enough to get the most votes—even if it is too bizarre or frivolous to be made.


2020 and 2021 featured back-to-back scripts repped by Bellevue—but in both cases, they no longer represent the writer, who has seemingly left the business.


To be fair, these were the COVID years, when it was hard for anybody to do anything.


2020


Headhunter by Sophie Dawson (WME/Bellevue).


“A high-functioning cannibal selects his victims based on their Instagram popularity, but finds his habits shaken by a man who wants to be eaten.”


29 votes. Next highest, Chang Can Dunk by Jingyi Shao, had 28.


Unproduced, and basically unfilmable. Not only is the subject matter dark and grisly, but the script relies on a gimmick of withholding a key piece of visual information.


2021


Cauliflower by Daniel Jackson (UTA/Bellevue).


“Under the cruel guidance of a mysterious coach, an ambitious high school wrestler struggles to become a state champion while battling a bizarre infection in his ear that both makes him dominant in his sport and threatens his sanity.”


32 votes. Next highest, See How They Run by Lily Hollander, had 30.


The second number-one script in a row which is not only unproduced, but the writer no longer has representation listed at IDMB.


2022


Pure by Catherine Schetina (Housefire Management).


“Obsessed with food purity, Hannah’s trip to her sister’s destination wedding descends into madness when she contracts a mysterious foodborne illness that threatens to destroy her from within.”


25 votes. Next highest, Court 17, had 22.


Unproduced, to date. Writer has credits as an assistant and worked her way into TV staff writing jobs, most recently on The Bear (cool!).


2023


Bad Boy by Travis Braun (UTA/Echo Lake).


“A rescue dog suspects his loving new owner is a serial killer.”


49 votes. Next highest, Stakehorse by Justin Piasecki, had 47.


Writer has numerous P.A. and animation writing credits going back to 2010.


This is a terrific script, but I suspect it will be hard to make because tonally it needs a real dog (not CGI) and would be a real son of a bitch (pardon the expression) to shoot.


###


And there you go: 19 years of the Black List number ones.


To me it feels a lot like NFL drafts: the top picks are not necessarily the ones who go on to the greatest career success.


But it’s still an achievement!

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1件のコメント


caul harry
caul harry
2023年12月29日

Very interesting! Certain this was a lot of work, a great read. Bring on Bubbles!! - we're about there to greenlight this in the current entertainment world, right? Just one step from this and 'Ass' winning Best Picture & Screenplay 😁

いいね!
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