The Black List: The Gold Mine Your Favourite Movie Came From

Since 2005, The Black List has been making waves in the film industry as the premier source of Unproduced Screenplays in Hollywood. Chances are, your favourite film was once on that list.

Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List | Photo Credit Joe Pugliese

It’s hard to imagine that some of the greatest moments in cinema and pop culture began as a thought in someone’s head while they were walking their dog or taking a hot shower. That’s the thing about creativity, it’s not a switch you can turn on and off. The most brilliant minds spend the duration of any mundane task dreaming up what could be happening somewhere else in the world right at the moment; or what happened in the past that led humanity to where we are now.

In 2005, former Universal Pictures executive Franklin Leonard found a way to tap into those minds and expose them to the world of the film industry and allow their stories to be told. That was the inception of The Black List, a survey of the most liked unproduced screenplays in Hollywood, answered exclusively by big studio executives. From there, they are read by the biggest of the bad in the business, and some are picked up to be made into the films you go to watch every day.

The first Black List was compiled by Leonard who was working as a development executive for Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, Appian Way Productions, at the time. He emailed about 75 fellow development executives and asked them to name the ten best unproduced screenplays they read that year. To thank them for participating, he compiled the list and sent it to the respondents, and hence the List was born.

In terms of numbers, there have been approximately 1,000 scripts included in The Black List in the 15 years of the survey, one third of which have been produced and released as films. Combined, those films have generated over $25 billion in box office gross, won 48 Oscars off of 241 nominations which include 3 of the last 10 Best Picture winners and 9 of the last 20 Screenplay winners in both categories.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game | Photo Credit StudioCanal

Of the 14 Screenplays to top the list, only 5 have become movies, including Things We Lost In The Fire, Recount, The Beaver, The Imitation Game and Draft Day. Of all films included on the list, The Imitation Game had the most votes ever with a total of 133, and went on to win the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar that year.

It has since launched The GLAAD List, a collaborative list that highlights the best LGBTQ+ inclusive scripts in the world, something The Imitation Game could find itself in just as easily.

Getting into some of the names included on The List of the years, we can start all the way back in 2005 with The Expendables, Blood Diamond, Zodiac, Hancock and The Proposal being notable entries that spawned franchises and careers for many involved. Another thing to note about these lists is that they include Screenplays that weren’t necessarily hosted on the official Black List website. Inclusion on The List doesn’t mean an automatic payday either. Netflix series Altered Carbon was included on the original 2005 list and was only produced in 2018.

Over the years, some films included in many Greatest Of All Time lists have graced the list as nothing more than words on a page, including The Social Network, Juno, Argo, The King’s Speech, Django Unchained (which is this writer’s all time favorite), Whiplash, Arrival, Jojo Rabbit, I, Tonya, and The Wolf Of Wall Street to name a few.

Evan Spiegel, founder of Snapchat and subject of Black List winner Frat Boy Genius | Photo Credit Getty Images for Snap, Inc

2018’s List topper was a screenplay about the creation and creator of Snapchat, Evan Spiegel, titled Frat Boy Genius that drew fair comparisons to The Social Network despite having a vastly different approach and subject matter. Last year’s winner Move On is about a man who believes he is humanity’s last living person until his ex girlfriend appears on his doorstep and they must journey to find the cause of what has frozen humanity in time.

You may be wondering, “Ok, that’s all great, but how do I get the screenplay I wrote in quarantine on that list?”. Don’t worry, your Oscar is still within reach. 

A dedicated website, is available to host your screenplay and to have it critically evaluated by a Hollywood level reader for a small fee. It also allows you to get exposure to various executives scouring the internet for the next big box office smash. 

Ryan Reynolds in Black Listed film Free Guy | Photo Credit 20th Century Fox

They have a metric of filters that make your script easier to identify amongst the crowd, and have a ratings system that, if you score an 8 or higher on, allows your script to be hosted for free, giving higher quality a higher reward. Don’t be disheartened if you get a low score though, the readers are comparing the level of your script to every screenplay ever written, so if you’re scoring high, it means your script is the real deal. Besides, nothing is perfect and art is subjective, you may just need to find the right person for your script.

There you have it, an introduction to The Black List. The place any screenwriter dreams of having their script, but only the best get to reap its rewards. Be on the lookout for some upcoming films that started there, such as Free Guy, Promising Young Woman, King Richard, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent and Infinite, all slated to release in the next 12 months.

Put your art out there, you never know who might find it.

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