The annual Black List ranking the film industry’s most liked unproduced screenplays has named its 2018 class of honorees. Topping this year’s list: “Frat Boy Genius,” about Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel; “King Williams,” about Venus and Serena Williams’ father, Richard Williams; and “Get Home Safe,” in which a young woman evades GamerGate ghouls on Halloween night.
Compiled from the top 10 lists of more than 300 film executives, the Black List is in its 14th year. Since its inception, nearly one-third of Black List honorees have been produced, including “Argo,” “American Hustle,” “The King’s Speech,” “Spotlight,” “The Revenant” and “The Imitation Game.” In 2007, “Little Miss Sunshine” was the first Black List alum to win the Oscar for original screenplay.
This year, Elissa Karasik’s “Frat Boy Genius” took the top slot with a cheeky log line and, like several of this year’s honorees, a zeitgeist-grabbing hook: “A disgruntled employee of Snapchat tells the rise of her former Stanford classmate, preeminent douchebag and current boss Evan Spiegel.”
Zach Baylin’s script “King Richard,” about famous tennis dad Richard Williams, scored the No. 2 spot. Christy Hall’s “Get Home Safe” came in at No. 3 with this horrific setup: “A young woman must get herself home on Halloween with a dead cell phone and GamerGate trolls out to get her.”
Cody Brotter’s Matt Drudge-focused script “Drudge” and Steve Desmond and Michael Anthony Sherman’s “Harry’s All Night Hamburgers,” about a high schooler who discovers a roadside diner is a hangout for parallel universe travelers, round out the top 5.
According to Black List organizers, the last several years have seen a marked increase in gender representation in terms of writers, female-driven stories and writers with female representatives. They began tracking these statistics to chart the long-term landscape of Black List honorees, says Black List founder Franklin Leonard.
“Last year, we noticed a sharp uptick in the number of screenplays by and about women, so we went back and looked at previous years to get a sense of what the longitudinal picture looked like,” Leonard said Monday in an email.
“As we feared, gender diversity was quite poor in the early years of the list but the last two have been a marked change in terms of both author and subject, which is hopeful, though now the question remains whether these films will get made at similar rate as those about and written by and men.”
Hot thematic trends among the Black List 2018 screenplays range from newsmaking current events (“Analytica,” by Scott Conroy, tells the story of Chris Wylie and Cambridge Analytica; Kenny Kyle’s “Just the Facts” tracks the rise of Albert J. Daulerio’s Gawker Media through the Hulk Hogan sex tape trial).
Several biographical pictures centered on high-profile public figures including Kobe Bryant (“Mamba,” by Mike Schneider), Pat Tillman (“Tillman,” by Sean Thomas) to Wendi Deng (“Wendi,” by Amy Wang) and Vanilla Ice (“To the Extreme,” by Chris Goodwin and Phillip Van) made the cut.
Some setups are relatively simple and to the point — “A couple’s anniversary is interrupted by a home invasion” in “Happy Anniversary,” by Holly Brix — while Lena Waithe’s “Queen & Slim,” about a black couple on the run after their first date, and Gary Spinelli’s “Rub & Tug,” the biopic of Dante “Tex” Gill, which was to star Scarlett Johansson until she left the project in July following protests over the casting of a cis actress in a trans male role, also made this year’s list.
Almost a third of this year’s scripts were written by women, a modest decline from 2017, while over 40% are female-driven stories — more than doubling the number of female-driven stories from previous Black List years as recent as 2014. The statistics, Leonard hopes, indicate an increasing openness to inclusivity in Hollywood.
“I hope that they show that industry gatekeepers are more receptive to stories by and about women than they have been in the past, but the proof will be on screen in the coming years: Are they getting made?” Leonard said.
“For too long, there has been conventional wisdom — that is all convention and no wisdom — that female-driven films are somehow less likely to perform at the box office. It’s flat wrong. Hopefully, those with greenlight authority will wake up to that reality, for the culture and for the business.”