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20 Best & Worst Films Made From Black List Scripts

Features
by The Playlist Staff
April 10, 2014 3:12 PM
19 Comments
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The Invention Of Lying

The Worst:

10. "This Side Of The Truth" by Matt Robinson (2009) (released as "The Invention Of Lying")
Black List Appearance: Seventeen votes in 2007, behind Jim Rash & Nat Faxon's "The Way Way Back," ahead of "Charlie Countryman." Boy, that was a questionable year.
The film that became "The Invention Of Lying," originally titled "This Side Of The Truth," is a fascinating case study: there are probably worse films on this list, but none that squandered the promise of its source material in the same way. Initially penned by first-timer Matthew Robinson (later joined by Ricky Gervais, who co-wrote and co-directed the film with him), the comedy had an undoubtedly irresistible high-concept: it's set in a world where no one's capable of lying, and focuses on an ordinary man (Gervais) who suddenly finds himself able to tell untruths. At the height of his fame, Gervais was able to attract a phenomenal cast—Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Louis C.K., Christopher Guest, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Jason Bateman, and cameos from Edward Norton and Philip Seymour Hoffman. On the page, it's funny (with pretty much one joke, but a pretty good joke), and even subversive in its treatment of religion, and its creation of a world without subtext, enough so that you can see why people were excited about it as a prospect. But Robinson and Gervais are clearly writers rather than directors: it's about as ineptly-helmed a comedy as we can remember, with a flat, deeply ugly look, aimless performances for the most part, and crude editing that buries many of the jokes. In the right hands, this could have been something, if not special, then highly enjoyable, but Robinson and Gervais were, at that point, simply not equipped with the directorial skills to pull it off, sadly. Robinson seems to be recovering, though: his web series "The Power Inside" won fans, feature "May The Best Man Win" got good reviews at SXSW, and he's writing for hotly-tipped NBC series "Black Box."

A.C.O.D. Adam Scott

9. "A.C.O.D." by Ben Karlin and Stu Zicherman (2013)
Black List Appearance: Six votes on the 2008 Black List, tied with Cameron Diaz vehicle "Bad Teacher," Emma Stone breakthrough "Easy A," and the upcoming thriller "Child 44."
There was plenty of reason to look forward to "A.C.O.D" (standing for, as was the original subtitle, "Adult Children of Divorce"). Co-written by "Daily Show" bigwig and "Colbert Report" creator Ben Karlin and Stu Zicherman (who directed the finished film), it seemed to be a smart comedy dealing with a serious issue (being a child of divorce), and assembled a cast of absolute winners—Richard Jenkins, Catherine O'Hara, Jane Lynch, Clark Duke, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Amy Poehler, Adam Pally, Ken Howard and, in a much-deserved lead role, Adam Scott. Who wouldn't want to see that? Well, not many people, as it turns out: the finished product, which eventually premiered at Sundance five years after the Black List appearance, didn't translate to the screen. Put simply, despite the wealth of comic talent on display, the movie simply wasn't very funny, and just sort of sits there, feeling and looking like a comedy (especially as it's not very well shot), but rarely really acting like one. The plotting creaks like a 1970s stage farce, and the characters are unlikable enough that even with a cast this beloved, it's difficult to want to spend too much time with any of them. And the end result doesn't even shed much light on the subject matter, either. There are probably worse films here, but this makes the final ten if only for squandering such an A-grade cast on such D-grade material.

London Boulevard

8. "London Boulevard" by William Monahan (2010)
Black List Appearance: 2008, with six votes, the same number as "A.C.O.D." That is, at least, two more than already-legendary disaster "47 Ronin" managed.
A British gangster thriller nodding through its title to Billy Wilder, marking the directorial debut of the man who won an Oscar for his profane, hugely enjoyable screenplay for "The Departed" had to be a pretty strong proposition, right? Wrong. Despite a strong cast (Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Ben Chaplin, Stephen Graham, Anna Friel, David Thewlis, Eddie Marsan and Ray Winstone), "London Boulevard" is a badly-directed mess that seemingly never works out what kind of movie it wants to be. The looseness and tonal playfulness of director William Monahan's script for "The Departed" carries over, but when not in the hands of a master like Scorsese, the story (about ex-con Farrell falling in love with reclusive movie star Knightley, and taking on Winstone's very Winstone-esque crime boss) just feels tangential and thin, too in love with its quirky side-characters, and not enough with its central ones (Farrell and Knightley both feel under-developed). It may have been that the problem lay in part with Ken Bruen's novel, but even then, Monahan doesn't remotely have the same feel for the London underworld as he had for Boston (or even for Jerusalem in "Kingdom of Heaven"), and it's incoherently edited. There's the occasional thing to like—it looks nice, thanks to Ken Loach's go-to DoP Chris Menges, and David Thewlis' performance is thoroughly entertaining. But otherwise, it's something that makes us wary, rather than excited, about Monahan's upcoming follow-up "Mojave."

Mysteries Of Pittsburgh

7. “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” by Rawson Marshall Thurber (2008)
Black List Appearance:
2005, with 2 mentions
So the first year of the Black List was, as we’ve mentioned, a very mixed bag, but sight unseen had you been forced to take a punt on any of the projects that year, “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” wouldn’t have seemed like a bad bet. Based on the first novel from Pulitzer-prizewinner Michael Chabon, whose “Wonder Boys” had been adapted into a critically if not commercially successful film in 2000, ‘Pittsburgh’ was also a definite passion project for its writer/director, Rawson Marshall Thurber who had just had a huge studio hit as writer/director of the endearing “Dodgeball.” Indeed, the story goes that he made that film in the hopes that it would buy him the goodwill to get ‘Pittsburgh’ financed. What’s so puzzling then, is how Thurber’s script (with the blessing of Chabon himself it should be noted) should deviate in such detrimental ways for the source material, notably conflating two characters (one gay, one straight) into one bisexual character, and promoting one female character (played eventually by Sienna Miller) at the expense of another (Mena Suvari). The result somehow takes the fresh spin on a coming-of-age tale that had featured in the book and renders it instead as a rote love-triangle-with-Daddy-issues, and it didn’t help that in approach and casting (Peter Sarsgaard doing smarmy; the rather uncharismatic Jon Foster) it seemed overly similar to films like “Garden State” and “The Informers” (which was released the same month). Ultimately it’s a hollow, boring movie that, despite the director’s passion, seems to totally misunderstand what was good about the book. “Dodgeball” may have been Thurber’s “one for them,” but it’s infinitely superior on every level.

REd Riding Hood

6. "Red Riding Hood" by David Leslie Johnson (2011)
Black List Appearance: 2009, with 10 mentions
Proving once again that the Black List is a crap shoot in terms of quality, this four-course helping of terrible was on the same list, with the same number of mentions, as Sarah Polley’s “Take this Waltz” (see “Best”) That said, David Johnson’s script must’ve seemed like such a no-brainer that we half suspect a few people gave it the thumbs up off the logline alone: a gothic retelling of the Red Riding Hood story with added love triangle, aimed squarely at the then-ravenous teen girl market whose hormones had goosed “Twilight,” released the year before, to phenomenon status. Not to mention that the writer had already had a modest Black List success, with horror film “Orphan,” which was also released in 2009. The film got picked up and snagged an impossibly perfect cast—Amanda Seyfried, Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons as the photogenic, lovelorn central trio with Gary Oldman, Julie Christie, Lukas Haas and Virginia Madsen in support. They even got “Twilight” alum Billy Burke to come along for the ride, and netted original “Twilight” director Catherine Hardwicke. But at some point somebody has to have actually read the script, right? Because the end product is just awful, and script-deep awful too, with a mess of contrived, uninteresting plotting, lumpen erratic characterization and jaw-droppingly inane dialogue. Perhaps this is one case where the fact that the script was Black Listed and not immediately snapped up for production, despite all its ostensible marketability, should have set off some warning bells?

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19 Comments

  • 2dodidoo | May 3, 2014 11:01 AMReply

    I was under the impression that Cowboys vs Aliens was also on the black list. That was horrible.

  • nightgoat72 | April 15, 2014 10:13 PMReply

    I really don't understand everyone's hate for Lions for Lambs. That movie is fantastic; it's not "preachy" at all and much deeper than the ridiculous oversimplification of "war is bad" (which the movie is not even saying).

  • Steven Felson | April 13, 2014 12:42 PMReply

    "The Snorks" is the live-action/animated film based on the animated television series. The film stars Steve Carell and Rashida Jones with the voices of Mark Ruffalo, Kesha, Anthony Head, Kate Upton, Charles Adler, Tom Kenny, Kel Mitchell, Ty Burrell, and Eddie Izzard. It is being produced by Illumination Entertainment for Universal Pictures. Thank you, Steven Felson.

  • gui | April 10, 2014 11:39 PMReply

    About the article on The wolf of wall street : please tell the d..bag writer to get geography class. It is Colombia no Columbia, unless this US state also was the main cocaine producer in the world in the 80's

  • j | April 11, 2014 10:14 AM

    I think you're late for grammar class.

  • Nolan Turner | April 10, 2014 4:55 PMReply

    So, when David Gordon Green is making trash like "The Sitter," the Playlist likes the movie (gave it a B-) and takes every chance it gets to take shots at the people who are bummed that he isn't making interesting movies anymore. Now that he's back to making interesting movies, they say that "The Sitter" is terrible. Funny.

  • Trevor | April 11, 2014 8:19 PM

    It's almost like those things were written by different people at different times!

  • P-DUB | April 11, 2014 4:03 PM

    You realize The Playlist is not one person with one opinion and there are, you know, multiple writers with multiple opinions.

  • Shane | April 10, 2014 4:25 PMReply

    You guys are crazy for lumping The Book of Eli into the poor-to-terrible list. That movie was a blast. It was wildly inventive, violent as hell, had a really impressive cast and two (TWO!) fun twists. This movie was so much fun, and it really shows on screen. It was really evident that the filmmakers were completely capable of capturing that sense of fun on screen.

    I also object to Dan in Real Life and Changeling being in that worst list. The former was a really absorbing drama you felt invested in and Changeling was such an unbelievably disturbing story that it stuck with you long after it was done.

  • Film Runner | April 10, 2014 4:09 PMReply

    The second I saw Seven Pounds come up I found myself involuntarily backing away from the screen and growling at it (seriously). That thing is an abomination which should have stayed in the writer's therapy class. Also the 47 Ronin script that was on the Black List was completely different to the final product (it had ninja clans fighting ogre blacksmiths inside a volcano) and was actually pretty good, it's just the studio had it rewritten to make way for whitey.

  • owdl114 | April 10, 2014 4:06 PMReply

    Oh, I quite liked 'The Way Way Back'. Was totally charmed by it.

  • JJ | April 11, 2014 7:48 AM

    I liked it too! It is that kind of film that makes you feel happy, which is a good thing nowadays.

  • Jack | April 10, 2014 6:12 PM

    You are not alone, very good film.

  • Kabir | April 10, 2014 4:06 PMReply

    I thought the Nic Cage classic 'Season of the Witch' was on the black list.

  • VIC | April 10, 2014 4:00 PMReply

    Take This Waltz is awful.

  • Shitz | April 10, 2014 4:15 PM

    Fuk u is dumb.

  • Rick | April 10, 2014 3:42 PMReply

    I'm curious how overhauled some of these get from the blacklist to the screen, if at all.

  • C'mon dude | April 10, 2014 4:16 PM

    All scripts get overhauled. It's part of the development process. But "overhauled" is really relative to that screenplay and movie. Some is major, some is minor.

  • BEF | April 10, 2014 3:26 PMReply

    Jennifer's Body gets a bad rap. Hitchcock was fun. Bachelorette had it's moments ... I certainly wouldn't put any of them on a "poor to terrible" list.

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