The 2016 Black List, the latest edition of Franklin Leonard’s annual list of popular unproduced screenplays, was published Monday, giving the world a glimpse into the minds of Hollywood executives. The list, which is drawn from a survey of film executives about screenplays they liked this year, started in 2005 and rapidly became a Hollywood institution. This year, the script that received the most votes was Elyse Hollander’s Blond Ambition, about Madonna’s early career; the list’s 73 scripts also include new work from established writers like Mindy Kaling, Dan Fogelman, and Dan Gilroy. Although only about a third of the scripts that have made the Black List over the years have been made, it has a remarkable predictive power: Four of the last six Best Picture Academy Award winners and 10 of the last 14 Best Screenplay winners showed up on the Black List before they were filmed.
Besides highlighting individual scripts that have captured Hollywood’s attention, the Black List’s main value for a casual observer is its picture of trends in screenwriting. These don’t necessarily translate into trends in movies, to be clear. For example, after Chewie (a script about the making of Star Wars) and Saving Mr. Banks (about the making of Mary Poppins) both made the list in 2011, there was a run on movies about the making of other famous movies. There are only so many famous movies, so a lot of writers tried to claim the same territory: In 2013, there were two scripts about the making of Jaws; in 2015, there were two scripts about the making of The Godfather. But none of this has shown up at your local movie theater—at least partially because the screenwriters don’t necessarily have rights to these stories—and only Saving Mr. Banks has gotten made so far. (This time there’s a script about the making of Maximum Overdrive, which seems like a move in the right direction.)
It’s clear, though, that screenwriters love writing about making movies and executives love reading scripts about making movies. It’s also clear that they love true stories. So many true stories. So, so many true stories. This year, it seems like a surprising number of people want to tell true stories about George Harrison and Stephen King, who show up in two scripts each, but that’s only the beginning. Here are the 35 real people, famous or not, who are featured subjects of scripts on the 2016 Black List (and may want to call their lawyers):
- Tami Ashcraft
- Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi
- Pattie Boyd
- Ben Bradlee
- Hermine Braunsteiner
- Charlie Chaplin
- Eric Clapton
- Steve Cohen
- Roy Cohn
- Paul Cravath
- Steven Donzinger
- Ann Druyan
- Thomas Edison
- Jeff Gillooly
- Marvin Glass
- Katherine Graham
- Tonya Harding
- George Harrison (two scripts!)
- Sandy Jenkins
- Rosemary Kennedy
- Stephen King (two scripts!)
- Joseph Lelyveld
- Monica Lewinsky
- Randy Mastro
- Alexander McQueen
- Carl Sagan
- Deborah Sampson
- Hannie Schaft
- David Steeves
- Linda Tripp
- Donald Trump
- Fred Trump Jr.
- George Westinghouse
Congratulations, everyone! Here are some highlights from the list, sorted by genre to identify trends. The descriptions are taken verbatim from the Black List and come with the caveat that even the best movies sound terrible when they’re described in a single sentence for an audience of film producers.
True Stories About Famous People
Blond Ambition, Elyse Hollander. In 1980s New York, Madonna struggles to get her first album released while navigating fame, romance, and a music industry that views women as disposable.
Linda and Monica, Flint Wainess. The absolutely crazy true story of the relationship between Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, the woman who nearly destroyed the Clinton presidency—and herself in the process.
The Builder, Tom Cartier. A look inside the torturous drama of Donald Trump’s first Manhattan real estate deal, his relationships with troubled older brother Freddy and famed fixer Roy Cohn, and how they all created the Trump of today.
True Stories About Not-as-Famous People
The Olympian, Tony Tost. The true story of an underdog rower trying to make it into the 1984 Olympics, told through the story of his relationships with his coach, his father, his fiancée, and with competition itself.
Dark Money, Matt Fruchtman. The true story of a young stock trader who goes to work for billionaire tycoon Steve Cohen and gets involved in the biggest insider trading scandal in history.
Kings Canyon, Evan Parter & Paul Hilborn. At the height of the Cold War, Air Force pilot Lieutenant David Steeves vanishes over the Sierra Nevada mountains in a high-value jet. Fifty-four days later, left for dead, he crawls out of the wild with an impossible tale of survival. The media and military brand him a hero, launching him to fame and fortune, only to call him into question when certain discrepancies in his story point to his being a hoax, or worse—a traitor.
True Stories by Famous People
Untitled Late Night Comedy, Mindy Kaling. A veteran late-night talk show host comes close to losing her job after hiring the show’s first female writer.
True Stories About George Harrison (but Not Stephen King)
Revolver, Kate Trefry. Based on true events in Anchorage, Alaska in 1966, a teen girl attempts to sneak into the hotel where the Beatles are staying to lose her virginity to George Harrison.
Layla … and Other Assorted Love Songs, Derek Weissbein. Based on the lives and times of Eric Clapton, George Harrison, and Pattie Boyd and the tumultuous love triangle that inspired an entire generation of music.
True Stories About Stephen King (but Not George Harrison)
The Kings of Maine, Kathy Charles. Living with his wife and child in a trailer while working as a janitor, Stephen King struggles with alcoholism and his own dark history as he attempts to complete Carrie.
Maximum King!, Shay Hatten. An outlandish, surreal imagining of how in 1985 Stephen King wrote and directed his horror classic Maximum Overdrive.
True Stories About Stephen King and George Harrison on a Road Trip, Possibly to Visit Madonna
Probably there’ll be five of these on the 2017 Black List.
True Stories About Fruitcake Heists
The Fruitcake, Trey Selman. The remarkable true story of an unremarkable church-going accountant who stole $17 million in the biggest fruitcake heist of all time.
True Stories That Are Clearly Not True Stories at All, Who Are You Kidding?
Orb, Steve Desmond & Michael Sherman. Inspired by actual events from a phenomenon that occurred in 1974, a young married couple discover a mysterious metallic orb in the woods near their house following a meteor shower. While the unusual object dazzles the couple by exhibiting some awe-inspiring properties, its true purposes are revealed to be far more sinister than they could ever imagine.
True Stories About Charming but Psychotic Sea Captains (Non–Moby Dick Division)
The Miserable Adventures of Burt Squire Aboard the Horn High Yo, Ben Bolea. The unbelievable true story of a family man from Alaska in the midst of a midlife crisis who embarks on what he hoped would be a dream sailing vacation but ends up shipwrecked in the Atlantic Ocean with a charming but psychotic sea captain who has decided to stop taking his medication.
True Stories That Sound a Little Like 2016 Best Picture Winner Spotlight, You Remember That, Right?
The Post, Liz Hannah. Before Watergate, there was the Pentagon Papers. This is the true story of how the Washington Post scion Katharine Graham and legendary editor Ben Bradlee overcame their differences to publish the story that would change their lives.
Bad Education, Mike Makowsky. The unfolding of the single largest public school embezzlement scandal in United States history—an incredible true story that pits corrupt educators against dogged student journalists against the backdrop of a cutthroat Long Island suburb.
Stories That Sound More Than a Little Like 2003 Oscar Nominee Adaptation, You Remember That, Right?
A Deconstruction of Reality, Mattson Tomlin. Tasked with finding a game-changing take for the sixth Jason Bourne movie, Tom Milton goes deep down the rabbit hole of cracking the story. With the guidance (and abuse) of a professor from his past and Bourne himself, Tom begins workshopping scenes that begin to bleed into real life in unexpected ways.
Stories for, by, and About People Who Just Want to Be Left Alone
I Think We’re Alone Now, Mike Makowsky. The apocalypse proves a blessing in disguise for one lucky recluse—until a second survivor arrives with the threat of companionship.
Man Alive, Joe Greenberg. After an alien invasion takes over the minds of humankind, one survivor known as “Man” must make peace with the alien force to fight a greater evil.
Mother, Michael Lloyd Green. A teenage girl is raised underground by a robot “Mother”—designed to repopulate earth after an extinction-level event. But their unique bond is threatened when an inexplicable stranger arrives with alarming news.
Stories for, by, and About People Who Want to Feel Connected to All of Humanity Throughout History
In the Blink of an Eye, Colby Day. Explores the entire history of the universe and our species through three interwoven stories that question the very nature of life, love, mortality, where we’ve been, and where we’re going; the past, present, and future of the human race.
Life Itself, Dan Fogelman. A multigenerational love story that weaves together a number of characters whose lives intersect over the course of decades from the streets of New York to the Spanish countryside and back.
The Time Traveller’s La Ronde, Tom Dean. An exploration of relationships as a man witnesses different types of love across the ages.
Stories Where the Only Thing That Doesn’t Compute … Is Love
Turned On, Charlie Kesslering. When a socially awkward engineer creates an android to fill in for her, things go awry when it becomes self-actualized.
Boyfriend Material, Mackenzie Dohr. In the near future, a heartbroken girl who hates technology participates in an experiment that allows you to program a robot into your dream man.
Stories That Seem Like Maybe They Really Should Have Just Been a Mean Tweet Sent to Max Landis
Untitled Lax Mandis Project, Seth Spector. A frustrated film exec at odds with the state of his industry is forced to work with the one person who is making him question everything.
The complete 2016 Black List can be found here.