Hollywood is famous for letting great screenplays languish in what is known as “development hell.” And while plenty of poor screenplays get turned into movies, lots of great screenplays go unproduced—denying audiences the opportunity to see truly great films. Each December, The Black List is published by Franklin Leonard, a development executive who used to work at Universal Pictures and Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment. The Black List surveys studio and production company executives about the unproduced screenplays they like most and think should be made into movies. A few movies that have appeared on the list in recent years include Argo, American Sniper and The King’s Speech. Yet many other great screenplays still need to get greenlit and turned into movies. Here then is a list of 10 unproduced screenplays we think would make interesting movies.
10. The Muppet Man
The Muppets have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. First, Jason Segel revived the film franchise with the 2011 movie entitled The Muppets, which was a successful reboot. And now, an updated Muppets television series is airing on ABC. So it would seem topical and timely to make the movie The Muppet Man, which is a biopic about Muppets creator Jim Henson. The script has been written by Christopher Weekes, who also wrote and directed the 2008 independent movie Bitter & Twisted, and there have been rumors that funnyman Will Ferrell is interested in playing Jim Henson in the film. Yet to date, this screenplay has not moved beyond the development phase.
Fernley Phillips, who wrote the Jim Carrey horror movie The Number 23, has apparently written a great screenplay called Samurai that is set during the 150 year war in Japan and chronicles the attempts of a Ronin (a masterless Samurai) to enact vengeance on an evil Lord. The Ronin is helped along the way by a ninja and an English boy who is living in Japan. An epic action film, this movie has been labeled too expensive to make. But we think this is a shame, as we would love to see a grandiose Samurai movie brought to the big screen. Especially since recent attempts to revive Samurai cinema such as 47 Ronin have underwhelmed audiences and critics alike. This could be the picture that turns things around.
8. A Fistful of Quarters
Another biopic, this one about Atari video games founder Nolan Bushnell. The screenplay by writers Brian Hecker and Craig Sherman chronicles the rise of arcades and video game consoles in the 1970s leading us to where we are today in the gaming world. Heavyweight actor Leonardo DiCaprio has been linked to the main role of Nolan Bushnell, and the screenplay is said to focus on the 1970s heyday of Atari. With biopics and period pieces continuing to be popular in Hollywood, and several Steve Jobs biopics in the can, why not a movie about a lesser known figure in the home computing revolution whose company is remembered fondly by nostalgic gamers. Incidentally, in addition to Atari, Nolan Bushnell also founded Chuck E. Cheese’s, proving that lightening really can strike twice for some people.
7. $40,000 Man
This screenplay is a comedy and spoof on the 1970s television show The Six Million Dollar Man. The script, which has been making the rounds at studios for several years, is about an average man who is injured and put back together with experimental bionic parts on the cheap. Written by John Francis Daley, who is an actor on the television show Bones, and Jonathan M. Goldstein, who previously wrote Horrible Bosses, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and this year’s Vacation reboot, $40,000 Man has attracted a lot of attention recently, and although no actors have been attached to the movie, Internet campaigns have called for everyone from Simon Pegg and Steve Carell to Robert Downey Jr. playing against his Iron Man role as the lead actor in this movie. Handled correctly, this is one movie that could be great.
Pure Oscar bait, this screenplay is about three young ambitious writers in New York’s literary scene who are willing to do anything to get their book manuscripts published. Written by Paul Grellong, who most recently worked as a writer and producer on the television shows Revolution and Scorpion, this screenplay is said to be attracting a lot of interest from directors who view it as smart and intriguing. And with the right people behind the scenes and in front of the camera, there’s no reason why this movie couldn’t catch fire with audiences, critics and Academy Awards voters. Fingers crossed.
5. Winter’s Discontent
Another potential award winner, Winter’s Discontent by screenwriter Paul Fruchbom, who previously worked as an editor on the movie Tropic Thunder, is about an elderly widower who moves into a retirement home after his wife of 50 years dies and begins romancing the senior women he meets in the home. Faithful but sexually frustrated during his long marriage, the elderly man at the center of the movie enjoys sewing his oats in the retirement home but, along the way, comes to a new appreciation of women. Director Alexander Payne’s name has been attached to this movie, as has his About Schmidt star Jack Nicholson. But so far, this project has yet to get off the ground.
4. The Gunslinger
Penned by John Hlavin, who previously worked as a writer on the television show The Shield, and who wrote the screenplay for 2012’s Underworld: Awakening, The Gunslinger is a dark and extremely violent western about a former Texas Ranger who seeks vengeance on a band of Mexican outlaws who tortured and killed his brother. Wrestling with his own demons along the way, The Gunslinger sets out to mercilessly hunt down and kill the Mexican gang. Although considered well written, studios to date have been reluctant to take this screenplay on due to its graphic violence and portrayal or Mexican banditos. Too bad, because violent, dark and brutal westerns are often the best. Remember The Wild Bunch?
3. The Trade
A morality tale involving America’s favorite pastime, The Trade is based on a true story about two pitchers for the New York Yankees—Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich—who, during the 1970s, caused a national scandal when it was learned that they had swapped wives, as well as their children and pets. A period piece that involves plenty of baseball and behind the scenes drama, The Trade was scripted by David Mandel, a former writer on TV’s Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Although the subject matter is a bit sensitive, it could make for an interesting drama if handled correctly. Director Jason Reitman of Juno and Up in the Air fame has been linked to this movie, and actors Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have discussed reuniting to star in this film, although to date it has not moved into the production stage.
2. Renko Vega
Considered one of the better sci-fi scripts bumping around Tinsel Town, Renko Vega is an original script about a rogue thief and his relationship with his super intelligent spaceship named Jennifer 9. Once a hero, Renko Vega is called back into action when the President’s daughter is kidnapped and held for ransom. Full of action and special effects, this movie has potential to be a great original summer blockbuster. But apparently studio chiefs are concerned about the relationship between the film’s hero and the spaceship, which is only heard through a voice. Still, with the right actors, this concept could work—and work well. Here’s hoping this movie gets made. The screenplay was written by John Raffo who previously wrote the excellent biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.
A sci-fi comedy written by Ben Wexler who previously wrote for Arrested Development and Community, Bobism is about a shy college student who learns that his blog will be the basis for a Utopian society in 1,000 years. He also finds out that aliens from the future time travel back to the present day to kill him and prevent that utopia from happening. It’s kind of like The Terminator meets The Social Network—but a lot funnier. And while this movie is not currently in development, the screenplay has gotten plenty of attention on the Internet. Of all the movies on this list, Bobism is one that could be closest to getting made in the not too distant future. And with the right actors and special effects, it could be downright awesome.