10 Best And 10 Worst Black List Movies

The Lists Gabe Toro 4/18/2014 at 7:14AM
Inglourious Basterds

The Hollywood Black List has given us recent classics like In Bruges, but also flicks like Draft Day. Here's the best & worse.

The Black List is a Hollywood institution, an annual ranking of the industry's best un-produced scripts. Sometimes the screenplays are good. Sometimes they're just cinematic, based on a great hook and little else. And sometimes the scripts are the results of cronyism, people doing other people favors, people boosting their own clients. In fact, rarely do the scripts on the Black List become produced films: many simply allow the writers to move on to bigger, more familiar jobs with adaptations and franchise pictures.

But sometimes the scripts get made. That too is a shark tank of arbitrary events and accidents: many times the scripts are re-written, mangled and barely recognized upon their arrival to the screen. Usually, they don't even boast the same title. Ultimately, it doesn't mean much: last Friday's Draft Day was the leader of the Black List years ago, but the finished product feels soft, compromised, disposable. But looking back on the various finalists reveals some of the last decade's best films, and some of their worst. Here are the 10 best and 10 worst finished films that once occupied the Black List.

black list

10. In Bruges, Martin McDonough

Playwright Martin McDonaugh's gleefully profane directorial debut finds two assassins stuck in an unwelcoming historical city as they await orders from their homicidal boss. Colin Farrell restarted his career with a well-deserved Golden Globe for his lead role, but Brendan Gleeson brings a peculiar tenderness to his supporting role, and Ralph Fiennes is a hoot as the homicidal, foul-mouthed villain.

black list movies

9. Source Code, Ben Ripley

Ripley's script, a hypnotic yarn about a soldier stuck in a temporal loop, was a peculiar, thinky thriller on the page. It was director Duncan Jones that turned the material into an unlikely blockbuster, a smart action picture deeply haunted by its own theological implications.

Inglourious Basterds

8. Django Unchained/Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino

Both of Tarantino's award-nominated masterpieces were widely circulated within the industry, scripts that promised Tarantino's typically refracted storytelling and sizable juicy lead roles. The end result were two films that established the filmmaker as not only one of the world's most bankable directors, but also one of the most subversive and dexterous. Most argue the Black List is for writers who are not yet established (The Hit List is the best option for that) but it's hard to deny how, through Tarantino's broken diction and terrible spelling, the action and comedy still shine through.

never let me go

7. Never Let Me Go, Alex Garland

Adapting the ghostly best-selling novel, Garland (28 Days Later) teamed with director Mark Romanek to downplay the concept's science fiction elements and run with the deep tragedy of the lost boys and girls played by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and a charmingly young Andrew Garfield. To say too much would be revealing the nature of this story: to read it on the page must be a gut punch.

margin call

6. Margin Call, JC Chandor

Nominated for an Oscar, Chandor's first time out is one of the Black List's fairy tale stories. As writer and director, Chandor crafts a nightmare story about the compromises and sickness of Wall Street sharks on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis. With minimal fuss, Chandor takes a complex story and turns it into instantly-relatable Greek tragedy.

The Social Network

5. The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin

Winner of the Academy Award, Sorkin's pitch-black story of the beginning of Facebook started out as merely a chance to exploit the social network's brand. Instead, the result was a Faustian tale of the nastiness and backstabbing between Mark Zuckerberg and his collaborators as he shaped the modern world for the very worst. Through the eyes of David Fincher, it went from a historical chronicle of a jerk into a horror story about the dissolving social niceties of our time.

the prestige

4. The Prestige, Jonathan Nolan

Coming off Batman Begins, the Nolans were only beginning to expand their onscreen empire with this magician thriller. The acclaimed script was a page-turner about two men bound by blood to destroy each other one trick at a time. It was brother Christopher who found a stupendous cast that included Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as bloodthirsty rivals locked within the typically-vast Nolan puzzle box.


3. Zodiac, James Vanderbilt

David Fincher gets all the best scripts, doesn't he? This elliptical tale of the flawed hunt for the Zodiac killer layers several stories on top of each other in telling the tale not of a killer, but of an incomplete truth, which a group of independent people with confirmation bias tried to pursue by surrendering their souls.


2. Margaret, Kenneth Lonergan

It's a surprise to see this script on the very first Black List considering what an unwieldy mess many considered it to be. Playwright Lonergan ended up directing a massive adaptation of his work, one that he ultimately refused to trim, even after editing room visits from the likes of Martin Scorsese. This multi-layered story of a young girl struggling to process a great tragedy sat on the shelf for so long that two of its high profile producers – Sidney Pollack and Anthony Minghella – passed away. While Fox Searchlight eventually attempted to distance themselves from the movie, critics didn't miss the film's quiet release, finding a film of unsettling beauty, complex emotion and disquieting tragedy.

There Will Be Blood

1. There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson

It almost seems like a joke that Anderson's epic oilman story, loosely adapted from the works of Upton Sinclair, was ever involved with something as modest as a list of unproduced scripts. The script was an Anderson one through and through, but by casting the titanic Daniel Day-Lewis, he turned a compelling drama into a mammoth achievement, a film with camera movements of sinister clarity, music of unhinged mischief and a lead performance for the ages.

And the worst...

Seven Pounds

10. Seven Pounds, Grant Nieporte

Again, the Black List scripts often get mangled on their way to the screen. Most of this comes from the stars they attract, who either hire their own A-List scribe or have a secret team of writers shaping the material to their liking. It's what happened with the Black List finalist “Witchita”, which someone mutated into the forgettable Tom Cruise vehicle Knight And Day. And it happens with Will Smith projects too: it's unclear how Seven Pounds mutated onto the screen as a dry, dour, dimwitted tale of a tragic martyr, but you can bet Nieporte wasn't the last name to tackle the material.

Bad Words

9. Bad Words, Andrew Dodge

Jason Bateman recently directed himself in this joyless trudge through dirty-talking redemption. Also starring as the manchild who travels the country participating in childrens' spelling bees and winning out of a technicality. Bateman has no one he can bounce against, leading to his endless sarcastic poker face as kids spell dirty words around him, usually after hearing a racial epithet from Bateman's mouth. Never funny.


8. Tonight, He Comes [Hancock], Zach Gilligan

Remember what we said about Smith? This R-rated superhero comedy was dark as hell when it made it across the industry. Muscle was exercised as a number of writers came aboard the project to ensure it would be a much safer family product. The incoherent, nonsensical Hancock was the end result.

The Bucket List

7. The Bucket List, Justin Zackham

Likely landed on the Black List because not only does it feature a collection of old man clichés, but it also has “list” in the title.

The Oranges

6. The Oranges, Jay Reiss, Ian Helfer

Yet another dull, wanna-be middlebrow comedy about how suburbia is rotten to the core. Every year the Black List is filled with something like ten of these, stories where someone commits a faux pas and immediately becomes a local pariah. And usually they have a cutesy title like this.

My Boy

5. I Hate You Dad [That’s My Boy], David Caspe

The title was later softened to That's My Boy, but once Adam Sandler got his hands on this odious story of a boozy father hitting up his not-very-young son for cash, you knew it was going to be full of dick jokes, homophobia, and incessant product placement. You probably couldn't have predicted the jokes about statutory rape and incest, though.


4. Wolverine, David Benioff

The rumor was that Benioff (Game of Thrones) walked into Fox offices and came away a million dollars richer for his pitch. The other rumor is that absolutely none of Benioff's R-rated concept made it into X-Men Origins: Wolverine, maybe the most incompetent blockbuster of its era. Strange that this script landed on the first-ever Black List, considering that the finished film doesn't even feel like it's been written, just improvised on the spot and later CGI'ed to Hell.

Cop Out

3. A Couple Of Dicks [Cop Out], Mark Cullen And Rob Cullen

Hard to believe that at one point this comedy, featuring a mismatched pair of cops searching for a rare baseball card, ended up being the industry's hottest script. A couple of revisions later, the script landed in the lap of Kevin Smith, who would go on to alert people to the fact that he was not an action director repeatedly during the film's runtime. Considering his checkered career, this tired slog might be the single worst film of Bruce Willis' career.

People Like Us

2. Welcome To People [People Like Us], Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert

Considering the nature of their other blockbuster-heavy work, which includes the Transformers series, the title to this popular script seemed apt: have these guys ever met a real person? By the time the finished product hit screens, under the clunky title People Like Us, the evidence screamed “no.” A deeply insincere drama about a man putting off the nature of his inheritance for highly unlikely reasons, the picture resonates only with people who have so much money that they haven't had a real human experience in years.

The Number 23

1. The Number 23, Fernley Phillips

Maybe the most hilarious “hot” script in Hollywood history, this dopey howler about the murderous nature of numerology effectively put the brakes on Jim Carrey's career as a leading man. Carrey stars as a mild-mannered dogcatcher who discovers a book about the number 23 that eerily mirrors certain aspects of his own life. But when he investigates further, he finds himself struggling with his own identity. And by “investigates further,” I mean that he finally says the name of the book's author out loud: Topsy Kretts. It just gets more ridiculous from there.

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