There was a time when writers were terrified of being put on the black list. You can check out the excellent Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston, for more on how the anti-communist witch hunt from the House Un-American Activities Committee threatened to tear 1940s Hollywood apart. But now The Black List is a very different beast and has screenwriters dreaming of making it onto the hottest list in their industry.
Now in its eleventh year, The Black List has grown from a simple email survey to the world’s foremost database and rating tool of screenplays that have not yet been put into feature film production, helping countless writers get their scripts into the right hands. But where did the list come from?
Back in 2005 a 30-something Franklin Leonard was working at Leo DiCaprio’s production company, Appian Way, tasked with reading the myriad of submitted scripts and passing the best up the management line. This was a tedious, laborious and thankless task and in a 2013 interview Leonard explained how his desire to be more productive set him on the path towards Hollywood’s most powerful tool for writers looking for their big break…
“The vast majority of things that I was reading were not good enough to pass along to my bosses,” he remembers. “That meant that either I was very bad at my job, which was to find good material, or that the job was just reading bad material and passing on it, which was not interesting to me from the personal perspective.”
To cut the wheat from the chaff, he asked around 75 of his peers in the film industry development world to list their favourite scripts that had been submitted that year and were not yet attached to a studio. Logging the scripts and tallying their ‘votes’ gave him a list that would help focus his reading and avoid much of the dross that wasted his precious time.
Pleased with the response, Leonard made his survey an annual event, publishing the list as a simple PDF. But it wasn’t until 2007 and the success of Juno, a Black List film that had score extremely well and went on to win a number of awards, that people started to take the list seriously…
“Then it became, ‘Oh, this document is a real indicator of a script that, if you make it, you’ll go on to be successful.’ And the numbers have really gone on and borne that out.”
Since that first list (which can be viewed here) the committee has grown and there are now regularly around 300 respondents from a pool of over 600. To date over two hundred Black List screenplays have been made as feature films, grossing over $25BN worldwide and receiving 241 Academy Awards nominations.
Forty-one Oscars have been collected including Best Picture gongs for Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech and Argo. More relevant however is that they have also taken an incredible ten of the last fourteen screenwriting Oscars (including this year’s winner Spotlight). A complete list of the 1,037 films that have appeared in the Black List is here.
Of course the list itself is simply the collected view of movie insiders. The success of film adaptations of the scripts is down to the quality of the writing and production rather than their appearance on a league table. But the doors that have been opened for aspiring and long-suffering screenwriters should not be underestimated, nor should the prestige of being on the list. Unfortunately us mere mortals can’t access the scripts (you need to be an industry member in a relevant role), but the list summaries are a great way to get a feel for the kind of talent that is out there and the potential movies and genres that may soon be popular in our cinemas.
The 2015 Black List is reproduced below, along with the number of votes received. Since the list’s publication the most popular script, Bubbles, has been picked up and will be made into a stop-motion animation by the production company behind Charlie Kaufman’s recent oscar-nominated Anomalisa.
by Isaac Adamson
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.
by John Pollono, Scott Silver
The true story of Jeff Bauman, who after losing his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, was an integral part of helping police to locate the suspects.
37 THE LIBERTINE
by Ben Kopit
After the Head of the French National Assembly is placed under house arrest for accusations of sexual assault, he must live in a guarded apartment with his estranged wife until the case comes to a close.
by Jeffrey Gelber, Ryan Belenzon
Roger “The Rocket” Clemens, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, has 4672 strikeouts, 354 wins and a record 7 Cy Young awards. This is the story of why he is not in the Hall of Fame.
by John J. Griffin
On the moon, five teens take an unauthorized and adventure-filled road trip, just before one of them is to be sent away on a seventy-five year journey to another planet, leaving behind his best friends.
31 MISS SLOANE
by Jonathan “Jonny” Perera
A powerful lobbyist sacrifices her career on Capitol Hill so she can push through an amendment enforcing stricter federal laws regulating guns.
28 TRUE FAN
by John Whittington
After interfering with a foul ball during a Chicago Cubs playoff game, Steve Bartman was tortured and stalked by die hard Cub fans for potentially costing them their first National League pennant since 1945. Years later, in a new town with a new identity—but depressed, overweight and working a dead end job—Steve meets a woman who gives him a new lease on life and reason to live.
26 PALE BLUE DOT
by Brian C Brown, Elliot DiGuisseppi
Twelve months after returning from a space mission, decorated astronaut Laura Pepper is arrested for the attempted murder of a fellow astronaut.
by Mike Rosolio
When Ronald Reagan falls into dementia at the start of his second term, an ambitious intern is tasked with convincing the commander in chief he is playing the president in a movie.
by Ori Guendelman, Rob McClelland
After an accidental hit and run, a lawyer’s entire life unravels over the span of one night as he attempts to dispose of a corpse that turns out to be much more than an innocent victim.
by David Chirchirillo
Having moved into a “clean house” to treat his auto-immune disorder, eleven year old Eli begins to believe that the house is haunted. Unable to leave, he soon realizes that the house, and the doctor who runs it, are more sinister than they appear.
20 SEPTILLION TO ONE
by Adam Perlman, Graham Sack
While a former FBI agent is working in the fraud unit of the Texas State Lottery investigating a woman who has mysteriously hit the lottery jackpot three times, he falls in love.
20 WHITE BOY RICK
by Logan Miller, Noah Miller
True story of Richard Wershe Jr., the only successful white boy gangster/drug kingpin in an African American dominated 1980s Detroit ghetto.
by Matt King
A slick corporate investigator with a closely guarded secret discovers a sinister criminal conspiracy in North Dakota oil boom country.
by Nicolaas Zwart
With his family’s farm on the precipice of foreclosure, fifteen year old Eugene Evans is determined to capture a fugitive bank robber and collect the bounty on her head. Against all odds, he beats out the FBI and the local police to capture her, only to discover that all may not be what it seems.
18 THE FISHERMAN
by Will Dunn
A fisherman sails out of Martha’s Vineyard in search of a shark that killed his fellow sailors while they were stranded after their ship was attacked by a Japanese submarine.
18 THE WATER MAN
by Emma Needell
A young boy tries to save his mother from terminal cancer by seeking out the town’s bogeyman, The Water Man, who is fabled to have conquered death.
17 ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD
by David Scarpa
The story of Getty kidnapping crisis encompassing the Red Brigades, the Italian tabloids and the Vatican.
by Mattson Tomlin
A teenage boy is born with special abilities and spends his childhood switching names and cities so as to keep his identity hidden. When he loses control and accidentally kills his father, he and his mother have to go on the run.
17 THE SHAVE
by Thomas White, Miles Hubley
A dirty cop, exonerated in the murder of a high school honor student, visits the boy’s father at his barbershop, and while receiving a straight razor shave, listens to him recount the story of his son’s life.
16 DO NO HARM
by Julia Cox
An ambitious surgeon’s life takes a dangerous turn when she indulges in an affair with a doctor whose god complex challenges her own.
by Mike Van Waes
A terminally ill teenager looking for answers about his missing father finds a key to an alternate animated dimension and a new friend who helps him repair his broken family.
16 THE WRETCHED EMILY DERRINGER
by Chris Thomas Devlin
Gleefully terrifying her small town as a serial killer known as “The Misfit Butcher,” 13-year-old Emily Derringer becomes annoyed when a new killer comes to town and residents begin attributing his sloppy murders to the Misfit Butcher. In a macabre coming of age story, Emily must deal with her competition while also taking on the other trials and tribulations of junior high school life.
15 PANDEMONIUM, SPLENDIDLY MANAGED
by Brett Conrad
A local Phoenix newscaster at the pinnacle of local celebrity slowly descends into the depths of madness as he sees his world around him start to crumble piece by piece all while trying to become a game show host in Los Angeles.
15 THE VIRGINIAN
by Michael Russell Gunn
Based on Owen Wister’s novel, a young, down-and-out George Washington, desperate to join the British Army accepts a mission to conquer a French fort and save the colonies.
14 CASTLE DRIVE
by Matthew Scott Weiner
Based on real events, the story of the writing of Fatal Vision, the 1983 bestselling true crime classic that chronicles the summer journalist Joe McGinness spent with “Green Beret Killer” Jeffrey McDonald while he was on trial for the brutal murder of his wife and children.
14 CUT AND RUN
by Zoe McCarthy
A female urologist and a retired hooker form an unlikely friendship when they team up to take down a notorious sex trafficker in Miami.
13 THE BURNING WOMAN
A reckless, fun-loving young woman confronts the dark side of life after losing her daughter.
13 MAYDAY 109
by Samuel V. Franco, Evan Kilgore
Based on actual events, a young John F. Kennedy struggles to save the crew of his PT Boat after it is sunk by a Japanese warship during World War II.
by David Birke
The war is over. A bitter and uneasy truce has been reached with an invading alien race, and a new cold war has begun. Fueled by suspicions of an alien spy in their ranks, the United Nations Intelligence Division entrusts their top agent, Martin Webber, with finding the mole.
13 MOVE THAT BODY
by Lucia Aniello, Paul W Downs
Five friends rent a beach house in Miami for a bachelorette weekend and accidentally kill a male stripper.
by Robert Specland
Based on the true story of marathon swimmer Diana Nyad, who in 2013, at the age of 64, became the first person ever to open-swim from Cuba to Florida (55 hours non-stop) overcoming impossible odds, personal tragedy, and 103 miles of open ocean.
13 QUEEN OF THE AIR
by Cat Vasko
Based on the book “Queen of the Air” written by Dean N. Jensen. The story of famed trapeze artist Lillian Leitzel and her relationship with fellow trapeze artist Alfredo Codona, who were two of the most famous entertainers of the world during their time.
13 SPRING OFFENSIVE
by Matthew McInerney-Lacombe
Dr. Liz Scott, a British epidemiologist with the World Health Organization, fights to contain an outbreak of Ebola in Afghanistan’s war torn Helmand province as the Taliban’s assault on allied forces threatens to turn the localized outbreak into a global catastrophe.
by Chris Bremner
Set around the Blackfriars massacre of 1978, the true story of a Boston police officer and a con man-turned-witness, who become unlikely friends hiding out in Bermuda, ultimately perpetrating a con on the Boston DA they’re tasked to serve.
12 CIRCLE OF TREASON
by Anna Waterhouse, Joe Shrapnel
Based on the book “Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and The Men He Betrayed” written by Sandra Grimes & Jeanne Vertefeuille. When two women in the CIA suspect there is a mole working there, they have to overcome the institution’s hierarchy and chauvinism to bring down the traitor.
12 STAR ONE
by David Coggeshall
Two CIA agents must overcome their opposing worldviews to evade the Soviet and Chinese armies during a dangerous mission to Tibet in 1950. The true story of the first CIA agent ever to die in the line of duty; the “first star’ on the CIA Memorial Wall.
12 THE SET UP
by Kari Granlund
Two co-dependent female best friends’s friendship is put through the wringer after a blind date gone awry sends them on a dangerous, all-in-one-night adventure with a drug dealer.
11 BARE KNUCKLE
by Dave Matillo
New York City 1862: The bare knuckle boxing champion, Bad Jack, develops a crush on a common French girl and uses his political influence to send her Irish lumberman husband off to the Civil War so he can take her for his own. Unfortunately for Bad Jack, the Irishman doesn’t die in the war and t comes back a killer looking to exact revenge on the pugilist and his entire corrupt entourage.
by Taylor Allen, Andrew Logan
A historically factual look at what really happened when Ted Kennedy drove off the road into a Martha’s Vineyard bay with Mary Jo Kopechne in the car.
11 GREAT FALLS
by Andy Friedhof
After negligently killing a hunter with their patrol car, an alcoholic Sheriff’s Deputy and her superior officer must decide what to do with the only witness to their crime – a death row inmate only days from execution.
11 HUNTING EICHMANN
by Matthew Orton
The thrilling capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann by a secret Mossad team in South America.
10 A SPECK IN THE SEA
by Jeff Pope
Based on the article “A Speck in the Sea” by Paul Tough. The true story of the rescue of lobster fisherman John Aldridge who fell into the ocean in the middle of the night on July 24th, forty miles off Montauk with no life vest and no way to signal where he was.
10 BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS
by Dan Kunka
In one of the greatest untold stories in American history, General and future President Andrew Jackson reluctantly partners with world-renowned pirate Jean Lafitte to lead a rag-tag team of soldiers against the indomitable British Army in the climactic battle of the War of 1812.
10 CRIMSON TRAIL
by Jeremy Shipp
Devastated by the cold-blooded murder of his family, a devout frontier preacher risks his soul to lead a posse in pursuit of the Harpe Brothers—America’s first serial killers. Based on a true story.
by Christian Contreras
Based on the book LAbyrinth by Randall Sullivan. The story of the investigation into the murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG.
10 OUR WEEK WITH WALLER
by Evan Mirzai, Shea Mirzai
After getting laid off, two Americans cash in their vacation pay and head to Spain where their paths collide with one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists.
10 SET IT UP
by Katie Silberman
Two young assistants realize they can get more free time if they occupy their bosses’ time by setting them up on a date.
10 UNTITLED SOCIOPATH PROJECT
by Topher Rhys-Lawrence
A successful New Yorker’s seemingly perfect life starts unraveling once he’s suspected for the murder of his co-worker, and his only alibi is the doppelganger that’s begun stalking him.
by Geneva Robertson-Dworet
The survival story of an astronaut whose space capsule crash lands in the African desert and whose mission to space was part of a larger conspiracy.
9 FINAL JOURNEY
by Michael Lee Barlin
A mistreated elderly Inuit woman is forced out of her village to survive alone on the savage arctic tundra.
by Henry Dunham
After a shooting on a police funeral by a suspected militia member, a recluse ex-cop and fellow militia man must interrogate the suspected gunmen in his own militia before copycat attacks start a nationwide war between cops and militias.
by Mark Bianculli, Jeff Richard
Fifteen years after the witch trials, the scars of Salem are reopened when young women begin showing up dead. Desperate for answers, the town elders turn to a man of science to uncover the truth behind its terrifying events plaguing their community.
9 TOMORROW ON THE RUNWAY
by Frederick Seton
Kermit St. Lucy has a ridiculous name and is ridiculously ill-equipped to deal with adult responsibilities. After a tragedy shakes him to his core, Kermit takes it upon himself to look after and raise two young children.
9 TREASURE ISLAND
by James Coyne
Based on the RL Stevenson classic, young Jim Hawkins finds a map to a buried fortune; to claim it means a perilous voyage and the wicked mentorship of Long John Silver.
9 UNTITLED LARRY HILLBLOM PROJECT
by Matt Portenoy
The strange-yet-true story of the battle over the estate of Larry Lee Hillblom, billionaire founder of DHL.
8 A LIFE FANTASTIC
by Natalie Antoci
A single mother with a terminal diagnosis embarks on a road trip with her eccentric 9 year old son and nanny to find a loving and progressive family that will accept him for whoever he may grow up to be.
8 AN AFRICAN WESTERN
by Chloe Castellon, Ridgeway Wilson
When a young African woman’s village is destroyed by a “Christian” paramilitary unit and her sister is kidnapped, she goes on an odyssey to save her last living relative.
8 ATLANTIC WALL
by Zach Dean
A lone American paratrooper, stranded behind enemy lines hours before D-Day, is tasked with delivering intelligence critical to the outcome of the war and compelled to fulfill a promise to protect the young son of a murdered ally.
8 BED REST
by Lori Evans Taylor
An expectant mother who is confined to bed rest starts to experience paranormal events.
8 I BELIEVE IN AMERICA
by Terry Clyne
A behind-the-scenes look at the making of THE GODFATHER, revealing that the creative forces behind one of the finest American films ever made were all as cunning and ruthless as the mobsters portrayed in Mario Puzo’s bestseller.
8 IDA TARBELL
by Mark McDevitt
Ida Tarbell’s magazine series “The History of the Standard Oil Company,” not only changed the history of journalism but also the fate of Rockefeller’s empire, which was shaken by the powerful pen of its most implacable observer.
by Maggie McGowan Cohn
An elderly woman who hacks out a rough existence on a remote island is forced to help her dimwitted neighbor rescue her daughter whose ex has kidnapped her and escaped into the woods.
by Jake Morse, Scott Wolman
A couple on the verge of parenthood embarks on a pre-baby bucket list.
8 SENIOR YEAR
by Andrew Knauer, Arthur Pielli
A cheerleader wakes up after a twenty year coma and returns to sit at the cool table and try to become prom queen, as a thirty seven year-old woman.
by Neil Widener, Gavin James
A re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
7 105 AND RISING
by Andrew Cypiot
Amid the chaos of a failing nation on April 29, 1975, the objective was clear: safely evacuate all remaining Americans from Saigon. But to Major Jim Kean and Ambassador Graham Martin, the moment represented something else: the final opportunity to uphold promises and obligations to the people of South Vietnam.
7 FREE AGENT
by Sam Regnier
A female NBA executive for the Golden State Warriors pursues the biggest free agent of her career while managing a messy divorce and a complicated relationship with a younger colleague and his teenage sister.
by Jacques Edeline
A teenage boy, raised in total seclusion and indoctrinated by his enigmatic father, is sent to live with a foster family and enrolled in a public high school when his father is incarcerated, threatening their relationship and causing the boy to question everything he’s learned.
7 THE BOY
by Owen Egerton
Sixteen years after stabbing a classmate to appease a legendary phantom known as the Boy, a repentant woman returns to her hometown to live with her sister and nephew, but as the Boy continues to haunt her she must face her deepest terror and discover the truth about the Boy before he claims her nephew.
by Matias Caruso
A deadly carnival knife-thrower hunts down the members of a powerful crime syndicate who murdered his sister.
6 CROOK COUNTY
by Gita Pullapilly, Aron Gaudet
A whistleblower’s harrowing journey into an undercover FBI operation in 1980’s Cook County, Illinois, sending him toe-to-toe with corrupt judges, hustling defense attorneys, and Chicago mobsters; and ultimately resulting in the largest number of convictions of government officials in the history of the United States.
by Bryan McMullin
After first being locked in a tower and then hidden deep in the forest to prevent a prince from rescuing her, long-haired Rapunzel vows to get revenge.
6 FRANCIS AND THE GODFATHER
by Andrew Farotte
Facing financial ruin, auteur filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola is forced to direct the adaptation of Mario Puzo’s pulp novel The Godfather, pitting him against legendary mega-producer Robert Evans.
6 GREEN RIVER KILLER
by Michael Sheen
Based on the Eisner Award winning graphic novel of the same name. Detectives in the Green River Killer case attempt to unravel both the facts behind the gruesome murders that plagued the Pacific North West for over a decade and the psychosis of the killer they find themselves face to face with.
by Will Staples, Tony Camerino
Based on the book How to Break a Terrorist by Tony Camerino. The story of America’s search for terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and the man who played a key role in tracking him down by using psychological warfare.
by Pete Bridges
An underwater earthquake decimates a research crew working at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, leaving
two survivors with limited resources to ascend 35,000 feet and reach the surface before their life support runs out.
6 SONG OF TREBLINKA
by Viorica Baln
Based on a true story. A renowned Jewish conductor plots a revolt with fellow prisoners as he attracts the respect of his Nazi captors in Germany-occupied Poland’s most notorious death camp.
6 THE CANYON
by Alex Koplow
When parents reunite with their grown children for a road trip to hike the Grand Canyon, the family conflicts on the way prove far more grueling than the twenty mile hike.
6 THREE MONTHS
by Jared Frieder
After being exposed to HIV the weekend of his high school graduation in 2011, a punk gay teenager from Miami attempts to start a new relationship with a someone from his support group as they try to endure the three months it takes to get accurately tested.
6 WISH UPON
by Barbara Marshall
When Claire, a sixteen year old misfit, finds a magic box that promises a chance at the life she has always wanted, she never could have guessed that each wish would demand a deadly payment.