A teenager befriends a cranky professor who has been hired to help her pass seventh grade, a rookie space trooper has to survive on an alien planet as her power suit begins running out of batteries, a man’s hallucinations are actually visions of a past life, a stripper is somehow the perfect candidate for a supercop project, and Russian operatives hack the United States presidential election; These are some of the highlights from this year’s Black List, the annual collection of Hollywood’s “best”—or at least most liked—unproduced screenplays.
As explained in the introduction to this year’s list, the screenplays are compiled by polling movie executives, each of whom pick their 10 favorite scripts that weren’t filmed in 2017. It’s not necessarily a glimpse into the best movies of tomorrow or even the best movies from an alternate version of this year in which different movies got made, as it’s more like a fun collection of what’s currently hot in the Hollywood screenwriting community.
If this year’s list is anything to go by, then, there are three things that every screenwriter in Hollywood is crazy about: Assassins, biopics, and cancer. There are a ton of screenplays on the Black List, and not all of them are about one (or all) of those three things, but by the time you see the fifth movie about a retired assassin getting back in the game, a famous-ish celebrity with a tragic backstory you’ve never heard about, or someone taking stock of their life because of a cancer diagnosis, the trend starts to become clear.
The most-recommended screenplay is called Ruin, and it concerns a former Nazi hunting down and assassinating the former members of his squad to atone for his Nazi crimes. The screenplay in second is a biopic of Senator Wendy Davis and her 24-hour filibuster called Let Her Speak. Fourth place is a biopic about Anne Frank’s father. Sixth place is a biopic about J.K. Rowling. It just goes on like that for a while, with at least one appearance from an assassin with cancer. There’s even an appearance from Newsflash, the movie that Seth Rogen just signed on to star in about Walter Cronkite delivering the news of John F. Kennedy’s death—meaning it’s a biopic about an assassination.
It’s hard to blame screenwriters for this, since assassin movies are always cool, biopics often win awards, and cancer dramas tug at the old heartstrings, but maybe the fact that these are so common on the Black List is an indicator that movie studios aren’t as interested in making that stuff as people think they are. Perhaps screenwriters should just work on things they know are popular, like Star Wars sequels and Captain America movies. That’ll be all Hollywood makes pretty soon anyway.
You can see the full Black List here.