kingsman-05

Looking through the Scriptshadow 250 Contest (3 months left to sign up!) entries, I’ve noticed a surprising number of “blockbuster-type” scripts, the kind of screenplays writers hope will become the next big studio franchise. With the summer blockbuster season on our doorstep (Avengers tomorrow! Yay!), this got me thinking – what is it on the writing side that makes a good blockbuster? Because a lot of people don’t think there’s a difference when it comes to these films. When I complain about the believability or the attention to detail of these movies, I’m told, “Stop being so critical! It’s a popcorn flick! Just enjoy it!”

I can’t tell you how much I HATE IT when people say that. Just because it’s a popcorn flick does not give it permission to suck. There are good popcorn movies and bad ones and it’s important, as writers, to know the difference, lest you write the next Lone Ranger. Which is how I came up with today’s article. I want to figure out how to differentiate between the two.

Now in order to achieve this, we’ll have to make some concessions. Namely, super high-profile IP doesn’t count. Batman and Avengers movies are always going to have the most money for effects, production, and marketing. These movies couldn’t make less than a billion bucks if they tried. So, for the “good” blockbusters, I’ll be highlighting films that were surprise hits. That tells me the studio didn’t buy the box office, but rather it was generated organically.

For the “bad” blockbuster movies, I’ll do the opposite. I want to highlight movies that DESPITE the studios spending tons of money on them, they failed. That tells me that the films had to be unappealing in some way or just plain bad.

Now you’ll notice that some films look like they did okay (Battleship made 300 million dollars), but you have to remember that a film’s financial success/failure is relevant to its cost. Seeing as 300 million dollars covered Battleship’s production and marketing costs, the film actually lost a ton of money. Plus it was just a terrible film, which, for the sake of screenwriting, is what we’re focused on here.

Speaking of money, blockbusters these days can make up to 75% of their grosses internationally. For that reason, I’ll be covering WORLDWIDE grosses instead of domestic. That’s really how you judge a blockbuster’s success these days anyway. Finally, I’m going to try and keep this list recent, since trends 20 years ago aren’t as relevant today. So with that understood, here are the lists:

SURPRISE BLOCKBUSTER HITS (worldwide gross)

Guardians of the Galaxy – 775 million
The Kingsman – 401 million
Sherlock Holmes – 524 million
The Fast and Furious Franchise – 1 quatrillion dollars
The Hunger Games – 690 million
Pirates of the Caribbean – 654 million
Inception – 825 million
World War Z – 540 million
Life of Pi – 609 million
Snow White and the Huntsman – 400 million

SURPRISE (TO THE STUDIOS) BOX OFFICE FAILURES (worldwide gross)

The Lone Ranger – 260 million
Battleship – 303 million
White House Down – 205 million
Jupiter Ascending – 181 million
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – 135 million
John Carter – 284 million
After Earth – 243 million
Green Lantern – 219 million
Cowboys and Aliens – 174 million
47 Ronin – 150 million

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Since many people see movies based on marketing (posters, trailers, etc.), how is screenwriting even relevant here? Well, let’s remember: writing isn’t just about what you put in between the margins. Writing is concept. Writing is character. And writing is an attractive storyline. These are all things audiences will pick up on in a poster, a two minute trailer, or a conversation with friends. If a concept is flawed to begin with, it’s a safe bet the writing’s bad.

So, first thoughts. I noticed that three of the breakout successes followed a popular creed I preach on Scriptshadow. If you want to write a blockbuster, find a fresh angle on an established genre or movie trope. Kingsman is a light-hearted cheekier version of James Bond and Jason Bourne. Sherlock Holmes is a “Rock n Roll” version of the usually buttoned up character. World War Z took the zombie trope and turned it into an action movie.

Second, don’t write blockbuster Westerns. Three films on the “bombs” list were Western-inspired (Cowboys and Aliens, John Carter, and The Lone Ranger). I remember a fourth as well, the Will Smith flick, Wild Wild West. For whatever reason, audiences don’t respond to this genre in blockbuster form. That’s the most obvious thing I see from this list.

I also noticed most of the good films are easy to grasp in concept form (and therefore easier to sell). Street racing. Zombies have taken over the world. Rock n Roll James Bond. Rock n Roll Sherlock Holmes. Rock n Roll Snow White. A kid gets stuck in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. A girl must fight against other teenagers in a battle to the death. The only two true exceptions to the rule are Guardians and Inception.

I notice a lot of writers grumbling about the fact that a film’s concept must be condensed into something that can be sold quickly, yet those same writers make judgments that way all the time. When’s the last time you saw a poster and said, “That looks stupid,” or “That looks good?” This is how people make decisions in an information-overload world so don’t knock it. Embrace it! It’ll help you become a better writer.

Case in point. Look at the bad films. What’s Battleship about? What’s 47 Ronin about? What’s Jupiter Ascending about? What’s John Carter about? What’s Green Lantern about? After Earth? In every case, the answer is quite murky and takes some explaining. A guy puts on a ring and all of a sudden he grows a green suit and travels the galaxy talking to aliens? Even a film which seems to have its conflict explained right there in the title (Cowboys and Aliens) is confusing once you start trying to explain it. It’s almost like you have to imagine yourself telling your friends about the idea. If you’re stumbling through your explanation, there may be something wrong with your concept (unless you’re Christopher Nolan, of course).

There’s also an element of “missing your window” to these entries. There are two times to hit. BEFORE anybody is doing something and WHILE they’re doing something. There’s one time to miss, and that’s when the bus has already left. So a movie like Guardians feels fresh. When’s the last time we saw a space opera with that kind of scope? A movie like Jack Ryan, however, seems like it’s coming too late on the heels of Bourne and a revived Bond. John Carter came after Avatar. Battleship after Transformers. White House Down after Olympus has Fallen.

This gives us the best peek into the differentiating factor yet. THINK DIFFERENT. You’re either trying to find a fresh angle on an old trope or you’re trying to come up with an idea Hollywood hasn’t embraced yet. This is further bolstered when you look at Inception and Life of Pi, two “out there” ideas that made huge splashes at the box office.

Of course, this can go both ways. Jupiter Ascending and Cowboys and Aliens were both “out there” ideas as well, and both bombed. We could delve into more specific reasons for why but the reality is, risk is risk. When you try something different, there’s just as much of a chance you’ll fail as a chance you’ll succeed. With that said, it seems to be the only clear-cut variable to success for these films. And I’d say this is QUADRUPLY so for spec screenwriters. Since you can’t show readers what the movie looks like on the page, giving them something different is really the only way to stand out.

I have a feeling that some of you will take the William Goldman approach to this data. “Oh, it’s all random. Nobody knows anything.” I would warn you against that. Since all screenwriters are essentially producers (investing in an idea they hope people will pay money to see), your skill-set must include market-theory. You have to have a strong feel for what works and what doesn’t. And the only data you have to help you form that opinion is past box office. So use it to your advantage.

Keen to hear your thoughts on this. Please share in the comments!

  • Morguloth

    What are your thoughts on the give them the same thing but better philosophy?

    What I’m asking is how much does execution factor in here?

    Say you aren’t trying to find a fresh angle on an old trope or you’re trying to come up with an idea Hollywood hasn’t embraced yet; you’re just doing something that’s already been done, but much better? Is that a valid differentiating factor?

    • carsonreeves1

      Yes. BUT. The more “same” it is, the better the script (execution) has to be.

    • S.C.

      Mistake people often make with specs is thinking it has to be COMPLETELY new, like never seen before. Look at the specs that are selling. In fact, look at The Black List. There are precedents for most of them.

      However, having something that is a little similar to something else (Crispus Attucks: Zombie Puncher) is different than having something that is EXACTLY like everything else (guy seeks revenge, man moves into haunted house, etc.) with no original elements at all.

      Vast majority of specs are like that: NOTHING specific. Or if there is an original element, it’s nothing that’s going to draw people in (guy seeks revenge while battling indigestion, man moves into haunted house and is denied planning permission to build an extension).

      • Gregory Mandarano

        Guy builds a space ship, and battles the courts for the rights to take off.

        • S.C.

          Actually, I’d see that!

          Could be a TV show: Lawrence Gurney: Outer Space Attorney.

          • Gregory Mandarano

            God, I can’t even come up with a BAD idea.

        • Michael

          They already made that film:

          • Gregory Mandarano

            hahahahaha Now I have to find this and watch it. I love Billy Bob.

      • Michael

        “Your work is both good and original. Unfortunately the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.”

        Samuel Johnson quote by publishing agent Julian Friedmann in TEDx Talk.

        • S.C.

          Once again Samuel Johnson has expressed in two sentences what I struggle to in three paragraphs! Great quote.

        • Ninjaneer

          The Julian Friedman TEDx talk isn’t awesome but I do go back to it from time to time because there are definitely some good points in there.

  • S.C.

    EARLY NIGHT SYNDROME

    Writing scripts that feel personal to you but which, in all honesty, you wouldn’t pay $10 to see in your local movie theater.

    M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed two movies – Praying with Anger and Wide Awake – which together cost about $6.8 million to make and together made about $1.7 million back. Sitting alone, dejected in his office basement, Night (as his friends call him) looked up at the posters on his wall.

    Jaws
    Star Wars
    Raiders of the Lost Ark

    And he thought to himself: “Why am I not writing stuff like that?”

    EARLY (M.) NIGHT (SHYAMALAN) SYNDROME

    But, of course, there’s a danger in just copying what is successful:


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiZKKS_buKg

    Not quite the same, are they?

    You want to write a blockbuster, something that will be successful, but it needs to be more personal. Otherwise it’s just going to generic fluff.

    And so he wrote a script with the appeal of a blockbuster (a ghost story) but made it personal, gave it his personal twist. The Sixth Sense.

    He did it again with Unbreakable (superhero movie) and Signs (alien invasion). In both cases it was a twist on the genre – a superhero movie that focuses on the origin story, an alien invasion story that centers on a family in a remote area (shades of Poltergeist, probably another favorite Night film).

    You can say that his next few films were disappointing, and his mega-budget blockbusters just there for the pay check.

    But with The Happening he did something which I think was really clever: he took his favorite scene from The Omen:

    and then replays it over and over again:

    Great idea.

    And he looks like doing it again with The Visit:

    Kids in the oven? I’m there!

    I love blockbusters. If you don’t like blockbusters you’re going to struggle in this business (spec writing).

    Don’t like blockbusters? Direct your own script, and best of luck to you!

    Don’t want to direct your own script? Think about films that you love – LOVE! – and write your own version of a blockbuster.

    And best of luck to you!

    • scriptfeels

      Great post. I remember reading about his writing process for ‘The Sixth Sense’ and it was very motivational to me. Write what people want to see, but make it personal and unique.

  • Jack F.

    You called it with the blockbusters failing due to the timing, though “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” would probably have been more successful, had it been released not after Jason Bourne, but in, say, 1992. Have we learned nothing from “The Sum of All Fears”? Which, ironically, also under-performed due to timing.

    In regards to the “same but better”, I could see said approach working better for more established writers.

    “A rogue cop seeks revenge for the death of his partner” would be more appealing to producers, I would imagine if it came from, say, Scott Frank, than it would be from a newbie.

    • S.C.

      Shadow Recruit was OK, just nothing spectacular. It had a budget of $60 million, less than half that of Bourne film and a fifth that of a James Bond film!

      The script was quite good (read Koepp and learn), the plot (Russian economy tanks so they start blowing things up overseas) eerily prescient.

      But they made a few mistakes. They built a huge, magnificent flooded set on the 007 Stage for the climax… then did nothing with it. It was on screen for just two minutes, there was a fight with a chubby guy, and that’s about it.

      Even Vic Armstrong’s setpieces were not up to his usual standard.

      Shame. I was looking forward to it.

      • brenkilco

        Watched thirty minutes of Shadow Recruit on Netflix and turned it off. No desire to finish it. What were they going for? A bond film with no action or wit? Or maybe a more seriously themed spy movie without anything resembling a compelling or surprising plot. I like these sorts of films generally so if I tune out it has to be pretty bad.

        • Ninjaneer

          Same here. Watched about 30 mins. Very GENERIC. Nothing interesting. Everything I watched seemed to be the worlds longest setup to a story.

          Setting up the story isn’t an excuse to be boring and generic. Everything has to be interesting.

    • GYAD

      Jack Ryan struck me as failing because it walked away from itself.

      The series has always been about a middle-aged family guy, so to replace him with a young dude riding a motorcycle and romancing a girl lost the core concept.

      To then have the story be about Russian financial warfare was topical – they caught a couple of SVR guys doing this recently – but too staid for the youth audience.

      The film would have been better if it had picked an audience and stuck to it.

    • Eric

      I think the mistake of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (certainly a mistake of the title) was thinking Jack Ryan was ever a big franchise character. Who went to see Patriot Games in ’92 because they were dying to see what Harrison Ford would do with Alec Baldwin’s character? Who even knew it was the same guy? Clear and Present Danger was a sequel, but it was the sort of sequel you could watch without having seen the previous two movies. I actually saw Clear… before Patriot… and never once felt lost. Then they bring in Ben Affleck for Sum of all Fears and completely reboot the series. And once again, who in the general audience even realized there was a connection to previous movies?

      So why, 12 years later, do they think they can sell another reboot based on the strength of Jack Ryan’s name? As if anyone other than Tom Clancy diehards are going to jump up and say, “Oooh, Jack Ryan.” But they even lose some of the diehards by not basing it on a Tom Clancy book. If there’s one name that ties these movies together it’s Tom Clancy, not Jack Ryan. And if you’re going to try to launch a Tom Clancy franchise directed at young people, just push forward the Splinter Cell project you’ve had in development hell for the past decade. Splinter Cell even has a unique twist on the whole Bond/Bourne formula in that the character is all about stealth and sneaking around in the dark. It’s different modus operandi from all the other spy movies out right now, so it actually has a chance of standing out.

      Not good enough? Just write a role for Jack Ryan in the Splinter Cell movie. What’s stopping them? Who’s gonna call bullshit? Who makes these decisions?

      • Bacon Statham

        I enjoyed Shadow Recruit, but I think they made a big mistake by not basing it off one of the novels. They had plans to create a connected universe between the Jack Ryan and John Clark characters. I assume they would eventually lead into a Rainbow Six franchise (which I would kill for). I don’t know if they’ll ever get around to doing that now. Probably not.

        I personally think John Clark’s Without Remorse story should’ve been the one they started with first. Since he’s the more action oriented of the two, people would be more likely to watch it. And when they do a Jack Ryan film all they would have to do is bring in Clark as a supporting character.

        As for Splinter Cell, it’s my favourite game series, so I’m looking forward to it, but I’ve got a feeling it won’t follow the games. It won’t follow the core concept of the games. It’ll be a Bourne type of film, not about a lone spy sneaking into enemy facilities and computer hacking and snapping necks in the shadows. I hope I’m wrong, but they’ve gotta bring in a bigger audience than the fans and gunfights, explosions and car chases are how they do it.

  • Randy Williams

    Doesn’t the appeal of a story in 3-D have some effect on its box office?

    Is seeing a cactus in 3-D in a western that much of a thrill?

    • S.C.

      3D burns my eyeballs!

      Shaky cam makes me ill!

      I can’t play modern video games because they make me dizzy!

      I’m such an old man!

  • brenkilco

    Second, don’t write blockbuster Westerns.

    Westerns haven’t really been big for decades though they never quite go away. But back when they were big they didn’t just make westerns they remade successful movies as westerns. Seven Samurai as Magnificent Seven. Gunga Din as Sergeants 3. Red River is basically Mutiny on The Bounty. There’s a western version of The Asphalt Jungle. There’s even a western version of Othello. Have always thought that there was an intelligent blockbuster to be gotten out of a western version of The Godfather. He’s not a mafia chief. He’s a cattle baron. It’s not a gang war. It’s a range war. Sonny doesn’t get machine gunned at a toll booth. He gets Gatling gunned up a box canyon. etc. If this sounds silly be aware that the Joseph Manciewicz film House of Strangers about a corrupt Italian American banker and his three sons became the successful western Broken Lance.

    • Gregory Mandarano

      So you’re saying I should abandon my plans to write the most expensive, blockbustery western of all time, Cleopatralbuquerque?

      • brenkilco

        Nah, go for it. Can’t wait for the scene where the cowhands all stab the big rancher to death. “You too, Tex?”

        • Gregory Mandarano

          Antonio, pray tell, how are things in Dodge?

          I am Texas. I will have guns. The stars told me.

          • Gregory Mandarano

            The Superman who shot Liberty Valance

    • klmn

      I wrote a (fact-based) Western about a range war. Got notes from Carson. He hated it.

      Some people like it. It made the first cut in a few contests, but no further.

      I don’t think I’ll write any more Westerns.

      • Poe_Serling

        Too bad there isn’t a script contest out there with a special category just for Westerns.

        • klmn

          This year I’m entering that script in a few contests that have a historical category.

          That brings up a more general topic. I’m really preferring the contests that have awards for specific genres. After all, how do you compare, say, a sensitive drama about someone dieing of cancer (Carson’s favorite) with a space opera?

      • brenkilco

        I think there’s a bias against the genre nowadays. When Clint Eastwood goes he may take the western with him. Though I’ve not read that much about him, one western character who interests me is John Chisum. John Wayne did a goofy hagiographic movie about him in the seventies but in all the other movies where he’s featured or talked about he comes across as somewhere between ruthlessly unscrupulous and plain evil. Bet there’s a genuinely interesting story there.

        • klmn

          There are a lot of interesting characters in the old West. The hard part is trying to tell the story in screenplay structure.

          • Poe_Serling

            “… a lot of interesting characters in the old West. The hard part is trying to tell the story in screenplay structure.”

            So true… that’s why I always cite the Western script Tombstone by Kevin Jarre as one of the gold standards for accomplishing this rare feat: taking the the facts/legends about so many interesting Old West characters (the Earps, the Clantons, Curly Bill Brocius, John Ringo, etc.) and creating a robust and compelling story about them in script form.

          • klmn

            Funny you mention that. I can think of two or three other versions of that story that could be written. I won’t be writing any of them.

            I’ll leave you with a drawing of the rig Doc Holliday probably wore. This drawing was first published just 24 years after the fight at the OK Corral, so it’s likely accurate. I’ll pull it down after a few days as may be protected by copyright.

        • Bacon Statham

          I think westerns only really work these days if they’re updated, sort of like Assault on Precinct 13. That’s a western disguised as a crime thriller. The Last Stand (Arnie) is the same. You could also say that Sabotage is basically a remake of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

          If someone was to make a Wyatt Earp film today, the best way to do it would be to adapt the Saints For Sinners comic book.

          Instead of being a lawman riding a horse in the Old West, he’s a lawman riding a bike in a dystopian Las Vegas. Instead of bringing bringing Jesse James to justice, he joins forces with him and his crew of high tech thieves in a fight against the Pinkertons.

          I think that is a film most people would go to see.

  • carsonreeves1

    It just helps is all. If someone sees an idea/logline that feels too similar/familiar, it doesn’t mean they’re not going to read the script, but they will go in assuming that the writer isn’t very creative. So you’re writing from a deficit before the reader’s even opened the script. Not a good place to be.

    Ask yourself the question. What kind of movies spark your interest? Is it stuff that feels new/different? Or is it stuff that feels the same?

    • Man of Many Ideas

      Interested I havent seen people speak of remakes/reinterpretations. And as you say about similar stories not making the reader want to go ahead with a script on the feeling that the writer at hand does not have much creativity.

      But, what about unproduced works or lost works? What about films from say…http://www.filmcomment.com/article/unproduced-and-unfinished-films-a-ongoing-film-comment-project

      • S.C.

        It’s difficult to know how many of them would really have been true classics. I’ve read some books about the backstories behind some of those movies; there’s usually a reason they didn’t get made.

        Nice link, though.

        • spencerD

          It would be great to see many of these become something from nothing. Many are interesting even when just short samples of what might have been on that site.

          As for everything it comes down to dollars and cents, what will people want to see and would most likely make money to keep studios going…and what they don’t know might work. But yes in theses days it is more that the projects with a steady base (novel, comic, etc) have more chance of being made then those without. Least it seems that way. As for the talk of WESTERNS, it comes down to a good story and something that goes beyond being just a western with cowboys and such. Take films like: 3:10 to Yuma (heroism comes at all costs, when we lie to save ourselves, and take a chance at redemption. It’s not just good cowboy taking bad guy to train…..) Or True Grit (A woman can do a man’s work just a strongly, when love, family and redemption are involved.) I think one needs to find a comic booky style to make people want to see WESTERNS these days like “WILD, WILD, WEST” (Love it or hate it. I love it, very funny film in my opinion. None the less.)

          • klmn

            Kenneth Branagh is no Miguelito Loveless.

          • Man with many ideas

            Kenneth Branagh is a very good loveless strange, sexual and funny. He wasn’t trying to be the same as in the original series.

  • carsonreeves1

    Well, Captain America 2 did well in that time slot, right? The studios are definitely trying to move that line up though, as it means they can fit more movies into the summer.

    The whole idea of the summer season is to catch the kids when they’re out of school and have time to see movies. But I guess the thinking is, “If it’s big enough, they’ll find a way to see it no matter when we release it.”

    I didn’t know they were opening in March though. That does seem early.

  • ChadStuart

    No, it’s not as crazy as it seems. That’s a new window for a huge movie that’s been cultivated for almost a decade now since “300” did well. It will be in the same window as “Furious 7″ this year, which is now in the top five worldwide grosses and climbing (a billion outside of the U.S. alone). Last year “Captain America: Winter Soldier” over performed in that slot.

    As Carson explained in the article, grosses are global now. You can’t look at the old factors that dictated release dates even five years ago. Just because our kids are still in school, doesn’t mean that kids in other countries are. Our winter is a whole other hemisphere’s summer.

    Heck, even domestically things have changed. “American Sniper” made over $300 million in January – which used to be known as the dumping ground.

    The old paradigm of Summer/Christmas is changing. Studios will be experimenting with the entire calendar now.

  • S.C.

    This is quite interesting – Dump Months, the worst months at the box office:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dump_months

  • Nicholas J

    Seeing as 300 million dollars covered Battleship’s production and marketing costs, the film actually lost a ton of money.

    Good. Has anyone here actually watched Battleship? Sweet baby Jesus it’s bad. I caught a good 45 minutes of it the other day, and it was nonstop BWAAMs the entire time. It seriously felt like the equivalent of giving a 5 year old $200 million and telling him to make a movie.

    • Gregory Mandarano

      /shrugs. I liked it.

      • Nicholas J

        What did you like about it?

        • Gregory Mandarano

          I liked the underdog character that arced from zero to hero. I liked Skarsgard brother character and how he was a catalyst for the protag to change his ways. I liked the aliens and their design, and the action was fun. I liked the side plots, the soundtrack was decent. I liked the battleship and the use of the old timey guys at the end. I liked the handicapped character learning to believe in himself. I liked Brooklyn Decker cause she’s slamming hot and had a proactive role in the movie. And I liked how the game battleship kinda became a thing when they had to guess where the enemy ships were gonna pop up out of the water. I thought it was fun, and I enjoyed it a lot more than Pacific Rim.

          • Nicholas J

            I liked the underdog character that BWAAAAAAM. I liked Skarsgard BWAAAAAAM and how he was a catalyst for BWAAAAM to BWAAAAAM. I liked the aliens and their BWAAAAM, and the action was BWAAAAAM.

            About sums up my viewing experience with the movie. Different strokes I guess! Glad you enjoyed it though.

    • S.C.

      I liked some moments of it – the guy with metal legs fighting aliens was awesome, no other word for it! Also, the navy veterans battling the aliens at the end.

      Other times I felt they were padding things out; the sniper scene, for example, felt tacked on. Also, I believe they changed the story to give it more international appeal – specifically, aliens arrive around the world, not just in Hawaii – and I think that killed the story’s credibility.

      So good in parts, perfectly decent night in, but didn’t really work out. I would have prepared a straightforward action film about battleships without the aliens.

      • S.C.

        I also wanted to add that Peter Berg directed that movie to get his next movie, LONE SURVIVOR, made.

        That’s the reality of movies: you sometimes have to write, produce, direct, act in movies that won’t get you into heaven, but might not send you to hell either.

    • charliesb

      I watched the first 10 minutes, I kept thinking “and Berg wanted to make DUNE”. Sooo glad that didn’t happen.

  • brenkilco

    “You have to have a strong feel for what works and what doesn’t. And the only data you have to help you form that opinion is past box office. So use it to your advantage.”

    I know let’s turn Sherlock Holmes into an action hero. Ya know like that Spielberg produced thing from the eighties, that bombed.

    I know let’s make a mega budget tongue in cheek pirate adventure like the one Polanski did and the one Renny Harlin did, that bombed.

    I know let’s do a movie about teen secret agents but with the cheeky vibe of The Avengers, you remember, that movie that really bombed.

    ” What the hell was Battleship about?” It’s the heroic U. S. Navy battling aliens. What the hell was Inception about?

    I know let’s make a picture about a kid learning life lessons while adrift in an open boat with a tiger. OK forget that one.

    Does anybody really know anything?

    • S.C.

      I think the new Star Wars film will make a lot of money. I know THAT.

      • Howie428

        It will certainly bring in a lot of money, but you can be sure the accountants are hard at work ensuring that it won’t show a profit!

        • S.C.

          Ha! True!

  • Nicholas J

    Slightly OT: http://www.ign.com/articles/2015/04/29/sony-developing-a-female-driven-jump-street-film-plus-a-men-in-black-crossover

    After The Avengers, Batman vs. Superman, and now this, I think Hollywood has officially found a new way to make money without having to spend a dime on originality. Simply combine two existing franchises and double the audience! Finally! Someday my dream might come true of seeing a Rocky vs. Predator vs. Jaws vs. Spiderman vs. Forrest Gump movie!

    • S.C.

      There was ALWAYS going to be a 23 JUMP STREET. And a 24 and 25 and a… so this is more an example of Hollywood doing sequels or using the same character. Not so much a lack of originality. There have been lots of Tarzan films, Shelock Holmes, James Bond, etc.

      Of course, Hollywood DOES have a lack of originality. I don’t know what the statute of limitations on remakes is but… a remake of SHE’S ALL THAT? It’s only sixteen years old (and M. Night Shyamalan was an uncredited writer!).

      • Nicholas J

        It’s actually a crossover sequel of a remake. The new version of the four quadrant?

        • S.C.

          Four quadrants, from most important to least important:

          1st quadrant (males under 25):

          Likes: Explicit sex, explosions, graphic violence, potty humor, “You’re so gay” jokes.
          Dislike: Romance.

          2nd quadrant (females under 25):

          Likes: Characters gossiping (especially about boys), fashion, friendship, music, romance, suspense, witty dialogue.
          Dislike: Graphic violence.

          3rd quadrant (females over 25):

          Likes: Critics (won’t see film until they’ve read reviews), music, older women getting their pick of younger men.
          Dislike: Kids in jeopardy.

          4th quadrant (males over 25):

          Likes: Films in which adults act like children, films in which men defend their property, sports, war movies, westerns.
          Dislike: Going to theaters (prefer concerts, bars, etc.).

          Things everyone likes: Action, comedy (especially visual comedy).

          http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/01/19/the-cobra

          • Nicholas J

            The new four quadrant:

            1: Book or Comic
            2: Remake
            3: Sequel
            4: Crossover

            I think Batman vs. Superman qualifies?

          • S.C.

            It’s a reboot of Batman that’s also a sequel to Man of Steel and a crossover of the two. And they’re both comic book characters… yes, you’re right! The new 4 Quadrants.

            OK… sort of OT, but… why are they doing Suicide Squad AND Justice League? Two D.C. Avengers-type franchises? Don’t they cancel each other out?

          • Bacon Statham

            ”OK… sort of OT, but… why are they doing Suicide Squad AND Justice League? Two D.C. Avengers-type franchises? Don’t they cancel each other out?”

            Not really. Suicide Squad is basically the D.C. equivalent of Guardians of the Galaxy and that one worked. I have high hopes for it. I like Ayer and the cast is… interesting.

          • Midnight Luck

            Wow, your breakdown of the 4 quadrants is quite disturbing.
            I believe the human race is just made up of POD PEOPLE anymore.

            Everyone mimics everyone else.
            No free thought or independent thinking.

            scary.

    • Gregory Mandarano

      You forgot about Twilight vs Harry Potter.

      • Nicholas J

        There’s no way that doesn’t happen.

    • S.C.

      A thought – why don’t they have a team up of Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne and Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross? Why does it have to be two seperate movies (although I think the answer to that MIGHT be obvious)?

      But I think a Bourne/Cross-over would be a huge success, maybe bigger than either put together.

    • Bacon Statham

      I honestly have no idea how a Men in Black / Jump Street crossover will work. One is a family friendly film, the other is… Jump Street. It’s got bad idea written all over it.

    • Midnight Luck

      I’m holding out for

      Ren and Stimpy vs. The Blob vs. Spongebob vs. South Park

      • Nicholas J

        Only if Powdered Toastman makes an appearance! (Cuz, you know, you need a superhero these days.)

        • Midnight Luck

          “Quick, man! Cling tenaciously to my buttocks!”
          – Powdered Toast Man, Ren & Stimpy

    • andyjaxfl

      What are the odds that someone has seen your idea for Rocky vs. Predator vs. Jaws vs Spiderman vs Forrest Gump suggestion and already pitched it? Or at least secured a meeting to pitch it…

  • charliesb

    Second, don’t write blockbuster Westerns.

    I would say don’t write BAD blockbuster Westerns.

    COWBOYS & ALIENS opened with 51 million and dropped almost 50 % the second week.
    JOHN CARTER opened with 39 million and dropped more than 50 % the second week.
    THE LONE RANGER (despite a ton of bad press, Depp fatigue and no name star) made 60 million in 2 weeks and dropped to 16 million the next week.
    WILD WILD WEST, same thing made 27 million in 2 days, had dropped to 5 million 3 weeks later.

    It seems to me people want a Western blockbuster and are just looking for someone to write one that doesn’t suck.

    • S.C.

      A quality western costing less than $40 million, with big star parts, not CGI gimmicks.

      Script would have to be really good, though. Like Black List Top Five good.

      • GYAD

        True Grit, 2010.

        • S.C.

          Very good example. 3:10 to Yuma didn’t do quite so well. Go figure!

          • andyjaxfl

            I loved 3:10 to Yuma and I watch it a few times a year. It’s my favorite Christian Bale performance and quite possibly my favorite Russell Crowe performance as well. James Mangold made one helluva a movie that still doesn’t get it’s due. I tried to pull as many of my friends into the theater to see it but they preferred to stay indoors and watch football all weekend.

        • NajlaAnn

          Nice movie and characterization.

    • Bacon Statham

      I’ve got an idea for a sci-fi western that I’m in the early stages of working on.

      ”After he steals the plans for a dangerous weapon, a terminally ill soldier must protect his families farm from a vicious gang looking to take it over and the rogue special forces unit he betrayed.”
      Imagine the episode from Firefly where the crew have to protect a brothel from a crime lord and his gang, but throw in an Alliance military unit getting involved too.

      • Lucid Walk

        Props for Firefly reference

    • Murphy

      The greatest movie of the 2000’s was a Western. In my personal opinion the best movie ever made. And it wasn’t No Country for Old Men, which was still one of the best of that decade. Westerns can still deliver an Oscar, even if not an audience.

      • charliesb

        Well don’t leave us hanging…

        • Murphy

          Lol. Didn’t do that on purpose. The Assassination of Jese James”. Criminally underrated.

    • Lucid Walk

      UNDER THE VULTURES

      “A former outlaw and a group of survivors fight their way to sanctuary after an undead plague spreads across the Old West.”

      It’s my cowboy-zombie, blockbuster script that I’m planning to submit to the SS 250

  • mulesandmud

    Here’s a critical piece of advice for those of you hoping to become blockbuster scribes:

    Don’t write a blockbuster.

    Look at the writers of the films listed above. Which of them got their start writing this kind of movie? Which of them began their career with a tentpole extravaganza?

    Wait, don’t answer. I don’t care about the outliers. I’m talking about reality.

    The studio isn’t looking for new blockbusters from untested writers. Hopefully most people here are fully aware of the current studio climate: blockbusters, almost without exception, are now generated from existing IP, through internal development with seasoned writers.

    Even if they always aspired to be a studio big gun, the above writers worked their way to that path gradually, starting with smaller projects that allowed them more freedom to demonstrate their strengths as a writer.

    Blockbusters are mostly a death trap for screenwriters. They come with a huge amount of commercial and demographic baggage that handicaps the creative process and almost guarantees a mediocre, merely functional story. These movies make it incredibly hard to showcase your ability to write dynamic characters in genuinely creative plots. Why hobble yourself this way?

    At best, your work will look exactly like the work of everyone else. No studio is looking for work they can get from anyone else, and if they are, they can go to anyone else but you.

    Instead, write something outside the studio box, something with clear commercial prospects but without the oppressive question of “Would a studio spend $200M to make this?” hovering over you as you write.

    In the last few years I’ve had some of the most important meetings of my life. They came from a project that was about as studio-unfriendly as a project can possibly be.

    Here’s a line that was repeated to me in various forms by studio execs of all ages and power levels:

    “I love what you did with this story. We don’t do that kind of thing here, but I love it. Would you like to do what we do?”

    Most execs chafe at the limits of what their studio will make, and in their own timid way, they want progress. This, then, is what you represent to the studios: fresh blood.

    They want to add your talents to the existing pool. They want to stay relevant as best they can. If you show them a script that looks exactly like what they already make, then you are simply proving your own irrelevance. They already have guys who make that stuff. What can you give them that they don’t already have?

    Your sensibility. That’s all. So write something that showcases that sensibility, and your craft, in the best light possible.

    Write in the genre you like best. Write the characters that most fascinate you. Write the story that you most want to tell. Don’t worry about writing something that sells. Assume that your spec will not sell, because it will not sell – full stop. Don’t just accept that, embrace it; it means you can be a writer, not a salesman.

    Your spec is not a lottery ticket. It’s a doorjamb. Once you’re through the door, if you play the game right, they’ll pay you to write something else.

    It’s a long game, though. Save the blockbusters until you get further down the block.

    • Nicholas J

      Where is your blog, mules?

      • mulesandmud

        Yeah, I keep waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say “Okay, that’s plenty. You can go home now.”

        Meanwhile, a nice little 500 word rant is a great warm up for a writing session, and for better or worse, this has become my default dumping ground.

        I’ll trust you to let me know when I’m over the line.

        • Nicholas J

          Ha. Sorry, I didn’t mean for that to sound like a complaint. What I meant was, if you had a blog I’d read it because I enjoy many of your comments like the one above.

        • klmn

          Rant on, friend.

        • Matthew Garry

          You’re not “over the line,” not even close.

          In fact, I remember Carson encouraging the submission of guest articles for the main blog a while back. I humbly request you consider taking him up on that so that instead of expanding on a given subject you’ll be able to go in depth about some aspect of screenwriting you feel is important but overlooked.

          I’m sure I would not be the only one looking forward to that.

      • walker

        Yeah dude quit piggybacking on S.C.’s popularity.

    • S.C.

      Scripts that sell, most of them are blockbusters. Scripts people want to read (on AOW, for example) many of them are blockbusters. If you’ve got a blockbuster idea, write it.

      To do otherwise is to put yourself at the bottom of the pile.

      As for waiting for them to hire you to write a blockbuster… don’t. Prove you can write one yourself.

      Write a blockbuster. Just make it your version of a blockbuster.

      • Jarman Alexander

        Mules lays out some great advice here thanks to his experience from the other side of things. The most important thing laid out in my opinion, “write something outside the studio box.”

        You’re writing a script? Everyone has a script. This is the mentality that sets the stage for all of the writers trying to break in. Not everyone has an amazing script.

        Almost every blockbuster today is scribed by time-tested-vets and based on existing IP. I may be a dreamer, but I believe the best superheros have yet to be created. If you have a blockbuster idea that is outside the studio box, why not put your best into it? Show studios that you have the skills to pull off the projects the vets are doing, and the imagination to create story’s and characters that are so far outside the studio box that your worth is immediately apparent. Everyone has a script, so take yours somewhere no other writer has been.

        • Frankie Hollywood

          Fuck yeah!

    • Kirk Diggler

      Ever since Grendl went missing you have taken his place as the King of Insight.

      • klmn

        Maybe they’re the same person?

        • Kirk Diggler

          No, I hear Grendl died in a bizarre gardening accident, choking on someone else’s vomit.

          • klmn

            Spinal Tap?

          • Kirk Diggler

            No thank you, sounds painful, but you go right ahead.

      • Casper Chris

        Mules has always been more insightful than Grendl. No offense to Grendl. I love me some Grendl.

        • Midnight Luck

          Grendl is everyone.
          Everyone is Grendl.

          • Casper Chris

            His legend seems to grow in his absence.

        • Kirk Diggler

          Grendl’s comments were far more jaded and pessimistic, so I can see how you feel that way.

      • Ninjaneer

        Whatever happened to Bodhicat and KarlosD. They were some of the most prolific and insightful SSers. Bodhicat made me crack up everyday.

        There are a bunch of other’s I haven’t seen for a long time: seanfast, Bennypickles, Keith Popely, Jaco, Jakebarnes and Graham.

        • Casper Chris

          Bennypickles became more a lurker after he got a lukewarm review from Carson. He wanted to pursue directing instead.

        • Jaco

          I lurk. I used to comment a lot more back in the day – the training wheel days I suppose they could be called.

      • HRV

        Without the attitude.

    • Midnight Luck

      so very, very well put.
      really great thoughts, and incredible insight.

    • Levres de Sang

      If ever Carson decides to put up a “Top 10 Comments” in the sidebar then this one would certainly get my vote! A wonderful validation of the writer.

    • kenglo

      You….are a beast….thank you mules….

    • ArabyChic

      I agree with a lot of what you are saying but this ignores a reality of being a screenwriter — you’re spec scripts will probably not get sold, no matter what the genre, and probably no matter how good. So much of it is the luck of the right time right place right person. But the scripts you write become a portfolio piece, like a photographer. A newspaper isn’t going to hire someone to be a war photographer when their portfolio is all shots of fashion week. So it is with screenplays. You show your work around and someone sees it and thinks we need someone who writes THIS KIND OF THING. That’s huge, “this kind of thing.” That’s why people always advise you to stick to a similar genre or genres. You don’t hire someone who writes biopics or romantic comedies to do write a blockbuster action movie (unless his name is Brian Duffield, and he actually wrote a romantic comedy blockbuster sic-fi spec, so they knew he had the chops). So if you want to write blockbusters, then yeah, write a blockbuster. Don’t focus on “will it get made?” Focus on “will it make a good writing sample for my portfolio?”

      • mulesandmud

        The portfolio strategy has a lot of merit, no doubt. I certainly agree that you need to treat specs as samples first and foremost.

        Remember, though, that blockbusters are not a genre. It’s more of a question of scale. If we’re talking about someone getting the assignment for, say, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 6 or something, the writer of a taut spy movie in the vein of SAFE HOUSE will not get boxed out that meeting because his other films were too small. He’s in the same wheelhouse, content-wise, so he’s a prime candidate.

        He may, however, get boxed out for lack of experience.

        When studios sit down to decide who writes their blockbusters – and this speaks to the heart of my point – they are interested in proven writers only.

        They don’t care if your sample is exactly what they want. They don’t give a shit about your sample. This is not the kind of meeting that you get from a sample. This is a rung or two up the ladder from that point in your career.

        You will not get on the short list for blockbuster assignments unless you have proven yourself as a professional, either with box office numbers or previous produced or assignment work.

        If any of the stat freaks here can find an example of an unrepped, uproduced writer with no previous experience in studio development landing a studio blockbuster assignment, then I will apologize and delete my disqus account immediately.

        So no, don’t write a blockbuster spec because you think it will help you get blockbuster jobs down the road. It almost definitely won’t. But if you really do think that your blockbuster concept will be the best representation of yourself as a writer, then for sure, that’s the one you should write.

        Fast forward to ten years later, and you still haven’t gotten that tentpole gig, but you just won an oscar for 13 YEARS A SLAVE, because who the fuck knows where you’ll end up in this batshit business.

  • scriptfeels

    I still think looking back on the Snow White and the Huntsman spec is important. That writer broke in with a blockbuster, so it is possible. I’m not surprised to see Western’s perform poorly at the boxoffice.

    In terms of blockbusters, if I’m interested in writing action, I’d be interested to see the pricerange/budgets of films made below the blockbuster. From what I understand there’s a large gap and writing for the budget under blockbuster is what I’m attempting to figure out. So probably in the pricerange of films like nonstop and Lucy.

    • S.C.

      And SAFE HOUSE and OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN and many more I can’t think of right now.

      You don’t have to write a $300 million blockbuster about fighting robots – they already have TRANSFORMERS – but you could write a $80 million blockbuster about robot horses in the Kentucky Derby.

    • HRV

      It was originally called The Huntsman and was about him.

  • Evangelos

    “Second, don’t write blockbuster Westerns.”

    Unless it’s a Tarantino Western.

    • klmn

      If Hateful Eight and Bone Tomahawk are hits, maybe the studios will risk making a few more.

      • S.C.

        It’s tough there are no or few western towns, pre-built sets, western preparatory companies – everything has to be done from scratch. Tough to make a low-budget western.

  • S.C.

    It’s come up quite a bit, so…

    … a non-definitive list of most expensive movies based on original spec scripts (to the best of my knowledge) written by new or almost new writers (to the best of my knowledge). Enjoy (and don’t get all Wikipedia on me!):

    Robin Hood $210,000,000

    Pacific Rim $190,000,000

    Evan Almighty* $175,000,000

    Snow White and the Huntsman $170,000,000

    The Island $120,000,000

    Mr. And Mrs. Smith $110,000,000

    I, Robot* $105,000,000

    The Adventures of Pluto Nash $100,000,000

    What Lies Beneath $90,000,000

    Die Hard: With a Vengeance* $90,000,000

    The Interpreter $90,000,000

    Volcano $90,000,000

    Air Force One $85,000,000

    Safe House $85,000,000

    Enemy of the State $85,000,000

    The Rundown $85,000,000

    The 6th Day $82,000,000

    Bruce Almighty $81,000,000

    Four Christmases $80,000,000

    Face/Off $80,000,000

    Six Days, Seven Nights $80,000,000

    Daylight $80,000,000

    The Rock $75,000,000

    50 First Dates $75,000,000

    Immortals $75,000,000

    Vertical Limit $75,000,000

    Killers $75,000,000

    Fool’s Gold $72,500,000

    Olympus Has Fallen $70,000,000

    Battle: Los Angeles $70,000,000

    The Score $68,000,000

    Space Cowboys $65,000,000

    Cliffhanger $65,000,000

    This Means War $65,000,000

    I, Frankenstein $65,000,000

    Blades of Glory $61,000,000

    The Truman Show $60,000,000

    Daddy Day Care $60,000,000

    Collateral $60,000,000

    The Family Man $60,000,000

    Any Given Sunday $60,000,000

    * = started off as an original spec before being branded

    • scriptfeels

      thank you thank you thank you. Great List! What I like about it is that there are films from all types of genres here. Also, the Truman Show is incredible.

  • Magga

    Two decent movies on that list.

  • Poe_Serling

    John Carpenter has stated numerous times in interviews that all of his films are basically Westerns in disguise.

    And like brenkilco already pointed out , “back when they were big they didn’t just make westerns they remade successful movies as westerns.”

    Will we ever see an epic blockbuster Western again? I hope so. Do certain story elements, settings, and character types from Westerns still influence the successful tent-pole movies of today? I’d say definitely.

    Just for fun, here’s the top-five Westerns based on box-office receipts (adjusted for inflation). I’d say those are blockbuster-like numbers.

    1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – $560,229,400
    2. Blazing Saddles – $502,026,500
    3. Duel in the Sun – $405,102,000
    4. Dances with Wolves – $346,972,400
    5. Shane – $272,635,000

    List courtesy of Newsday and Boxoffice Mojo.

    • cjob3

      Shanghai Noon was a pretty great action comedy western.

    • S.C.

      Double Bill for tonight – Classic Western, modern-day western:

      • Poe_Serling

        Travolta has a ‘real’ Western waiting to be released.

        In a Valley of Violence. Directed and written by Ti West.

        I must say I’m more than a little interested in that future release. The main reason? I really enjoyed what director/writer West did with his earlier efforts The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers.

        • RolandDeschain1 .

          I’m really looking forward to BONE TOMAHAWK, from Scriptshadow favourite S. Craig Zahler.

    • charliesb

      Will we ever see an epic blockbuster Western again?

      Hateful Eight maybe? Or remake of Magnificent Seven?

      • Cfrancis1

        Can. Not. Wait.
        For Hateful Eight
        (Poet and I know it)

    • Levres de Sang

      Had no idea Duel in the Sun was so successful. I used to love anything with Jennifer Jones, but funnily enough don’t remember too much about Duel in the Sun.

  • klmn

    In those days it was a popular entertainment to wreck outdated, worn-out locomotives. If you go on YouTube you can find a number of them.

    • klmn

      Scott Joplin wrote a piano piece about it.

  • Citizen M

    I watched Snow White and the Huntsman last night.

    I would have called it a bad blockbuster.

    Listening to the commentary track, the director and a couple of other guys thought so too. They sounded shell-shocked and tried too hard to sell the movie instead of giving a light-hearted behind the scenes look. (“I love how she…” “I thought it was great the way…” “They did a fabulous job on the…”)

    • S.C.

      It got a B+ Cinemascore (same as Jack Ryan, coincidentally) but they sold the shit out of it. Spent hundred million dollars plus making it the must-see movie for tweens that summer.

      Worked too. Sequel on the way.

      But I wouldn’t chance it. Write a better blockbuster.

    • HRV

      Most people thought that “Miss Emotionless” was miscast. Isn’t Snow white supposed to be beautiful?

  • S.C.

    He wanted to do Lone Survivor after Hancock, but they insisted he do Battleship first (he probably got paid more to do Battleship too).

    If you think Battleship was bad, imagine how much worse it would have been with someone less talented than Peter Berg at the helm.

    (While I’m on the subject, a big mistake Battleship made was opening overseas a full month before it hit America. Gave people a chance to find out it wasn’t much cop before it crossed the Pacific/Atlantic.

  • S.C.
  • S.C.

    I think very often you just need one or two other people to want to see it too. Not everyone; if everyone wanted to see it, I mean you’d be rich, but it would never work. It would be soulless.

    But I agree, I think the “Would I buy a ticket to see this rule” is the key.

  • S_P_1

    Today’s article is correlation and causation. We’re retroactively equating quality (or justification) AFTER the box office tallies.

    SURPRISE BLOCKBUSTER HITS (worldwide gross)

    I’ve commented on all the movies. Only one do I personally consider a surprise hit.

    Guardians of the Galaxy – 775 million

    Not really. It was previously an obscure MARVEL I.P that was ramrodded into the Marvel cinematic universe. Will Howard the Duck, The Punisher, Blade, Elektra, Man-Thing, Ghostrider, Daredevil be included in this cinematic universe.

    The Kingsman – 401 million

    Not really. It had Spy Kids, Agent Cody Banks, Johnny English, Austin Powers to crib from prior to it’s release.

    Sherlock Holmes – 524 million

    Maybe. Well known novel. The best BIG screen interpretation.

    The Fast and Furious Franchise – 1 quatrillion dollars

    No brainer. Fast cars and sexy women. Two universal constants that resonant with the male ego. Paul, Vin, and Rock eye candy for the female audience.

    The Hunger Games – 690 million

    Not really. Based off of BATTLE ROYALE.

    Pirates of the Caribbean – 654 million

    A slight surprise. A PG-rated high seas adventure with Johnny Depp playing a quirky character that fit the role.

    Inception – 825 million

    No brainer. Ride the coattails of the director from the most successful Batman trilogy produced.

    World War Z – 540 million

    A true surprise. A zombie picture that broke through the baggage of The Walking Dead and George Romero’s iconic legacy.

    Life of Pi – 609 million

    Slightly. This movie had international sensibilities from the start.

    Snow White and the Huntsman – 400 million

    Maybe. An updated action adventure movie based on a well known I.P .

    • S_P_1

      SURPRISE (TO THE STUDIOS) BOX OFFICE FAILURES (worldwide gross)

      Its extremely obvious from the outside looking back.

      The Lone Ranger – 260 million

      Johnny Depp was the star in a movie about The Lone Ranger.

      Battleship – 303 million

      Based on a board game from 1967.

      White House Down – 205 million

      Competed with the exact same concept a few months earlier.

      Jupiter Ascending – 181 million

      No longer a relevant writing duo.

      Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – 135 million

      Hidden in the long shadow of Jason Bourne and Mission Impossible.

      John Carter – 284 million

      Based on a series of novels from the early 1900’s. Previously adapted into Star Wars.

      After Earth – 243 million

      Nepotism.

      Green Lantern – 219 million

      This movie should have been the original Guardians of The Galaxy. Technically ALL Green Lanterns are cosmic police officers.

      Cowboys and Aliens – 174 million

      I don’t consider this a total failure. This is the same premise as The Predator. An advanced alien species comes to Earth to dominate through technology and biological enhancements.

      47 Ronin – 150 million

      Why is Keanu Reeves the star of a movie concerning feudal Japan?

    • charliesb

      For HUNGER GAMES I’d add, that it was a hugely popular book series ala Harry Potter and Twilight.

      The only one I think is a genuine surprise (and not that it was a hit, but how much of a hit) is KINGSMEN. Unknown star, KICK ASS 2 was not the hit they expected, Colin Firth is great, but not someone I would expect to draw in the people.

  • Midnight Luck

    I am sorry Carson, I love what you do, I truly truly do so just take what I am saying here as having a conversation, but all this “how to”, “what you should do”, “how this works” stuff is becoming just well, muddled. One week it is “Make it Big!”, then “Don’t go for Blockbusters”, then it’s “Character is IT!”, then, no “Idea is King!”, then “Concept”, then GSU, then Character again, then Flashy, then IP, then Dialogue, then Character again, then Story, then Logline, then Query, then….well you get the idea.

    and the thing is all of it is true.

    or at least most of it is.
    or some of it is sometimes, or at different times.
    Or now, or tomorrow, or last week, but not this week.

    I still think that Goldman is correct, and I think you believe it as well. Nobody really knows (there I said it, just like you said). It is just an educated guess, throwing shit against the wall and hoping it sticks. Believing you have a solid story idea and good character with great dialogue, is intriguing while still building suspense and mystery boxes and caring about the characters and world, and keeping it interesting and exciting, and thrilling and full of laughter and hope and tears, and laughing more or scaring someone’s pants off while keeping it centered on character, while being same old yet New, about revitalizing while rebooting old films or concepts or remaking something again, yet with a twist.

    In the end, it really is about writing something from your heart, be it a small indie, a CGI fest action flick, a walk-and-talk, a horror flick, a contained thriller or horror, a drama, a comedy.

    It needs the writers WHOLE HEART put into it.
    a lot of luck.
    a solid idea.

    And who knows?
    Stars to align?

    It really still is a case that no one really knows. I have read enough books and articles and blogs and such, and while the Producers and Agents and Managers TELL everyone they know what they are doing (because otherwise people will stop paying them), but deep down, they know they don’t actually know. If they string together enough hits they are golden. Until someone asks “What was your last film (script, show, success). Overall They are just doing what everyone else does, making an educated guess and hoping it will HIT.

    Past success isn’t a good plan for future success. It rarely works.
    The problem is, the times it does work, are just good enough to keep everyone thinking it DOES work.

    And Box Office is only ONE GAUGE of good: if it is good for the Bank Coffers. (and yes that is an important and necessary part, but definitely only one part, it isn’t the ONLY factor. (though you would never know these days. The dolla’ is all important))

    By the way, in terms of the list above, I disagree, for me watching these, or reading them:

    total crap movie: Guardians of the Galaxy – 775 million
    didn’t see, but looked terrible: The Kingsman – 401 million
    crap films: Sherlock Holmes – 524 million
    TOTAL crap movies, but made bank so EVERYONE loves them: The Fast and Furious Franchise – 1 quatrillion dollars
    Mostly bad, but marginally enjoyable 1st one: The Hunger Games – 690 million
    total CRAP, terrible movies (but had Johnny Depp): Pirates of the Caribbean – 654 million
    Fun, and inspired, almost. Didn’t quite get there, fell apart by the end: Inception – 825 million
    Total CRAP movie: World War Z – 540 million
    Didn’t see, but want to, but not enough to actually get me to watch?: Life of Pi – 609 million
    Terrible, terrible, terrible flick (but script sold for BIG bucks!): Snow White and the Huntsman – 400 million

    but all these made a bajillion dollars, so “it’s all good”. They must be good right? they made bucks, so yeah, they are good.
    —–

    to me, something MUST be written well. It must have that special something. But first and foremost the writing must be great. Without that, and a good story, and great characters, and great dialogue, well what is left? (and all of that makes for good writing anyway, so my point still stands= it must be written well first, or nothing else matters).

    • Casper Chris

      I am sorry Carson, I love what you do, I truly truly do so just take what I am saying here as having a conversation, but all this “how to”, “what you should do”, “how this works” stuff is becoming just well, muddled. One week it is “Make it Big!”, then “Don’t go for Blockbusters”, then it’s “Character is IT!”, then, no “Idea is King!”, then “Concept”, then GSU, then Character again, then Flashy, then IP, then Dialogue, then Character again, then Story, then Logline, then Query, then….well you get the idea.

      Yea, I’ve been thinking that for a while as well. The longer you read Scriptshadow, the more you become privvy to the endless repetition and contradiction in the advice given. Repitition can be good. Contradiction confusing. Then again, it’s part of the fun, isn’t it? Trying to solve the unsolvable…

      Also, to Carson’s credit, it must be dificult to come up with new articles every damn week, year after year. I admire his tenacity.

      I believe Socrates beat Goldman to it.

      • Midnight Luck

        Yeah I always suffer from “too much information”.
        It sucks, because that can really strangle you.
        kill your enthusiasm.
        The opposite of what is needed in this adventure.

        And I do believe Socrates was an intelligent man, and probably said it.
        But i KNOW Goldman is, and did.

      • Buddy

        That’s why we want the “10 movie tips” back ;-)

    • Poe_Serling
      • Midnight Luck

        Thanks Poe.
        Goldman = Genius

  • brenkilco

    The color palette of westerns? When was the last genre movie that had a natural color palette. It’s an endless parade of desaturated, grey blue muck.

  • fragglewriter

    I agree with most of your thoughts about good vs bad, but also when you put a twist on genre, don’t forget, that depending on how big the twist feels to be fresh, it’s still a risk to the stadium unless someone else does it first.

    In this day in age of technology, I would say write a blockbuster, after you’ve master writing a few scripts to get tone, pacing and structure down. And write as many blockbusters as you can. You don’t know what will sell, just be over prepared and have your arsenal ready.

  • Lucid Walk

    Don’t write blockbuster Westerns?
    Ah, man. And I’ve been working on my “cowboys surviving the zombie apocalypse” script for almost 2 years

    • Gregory Mandarano

      Thats not a blockbuster. Its a twist on the genre and sounds like a fun one at that. Keep it up.

    • klmn

      Finish what you write. But think long and hard before starting another Western.

  • romer6

    Carson, I have an idea for a weekly article, reminiscent of the 100 tips from the classics: how about we dedicate a day to try and “fix” a failed produced script? I know it sounds very arrogant but it could lead to some nice ideas and great imagination exercises. You could give your ideas on why the script didn’t work and we could share our opinions on how we would fix it in the comments. I don’t know, it was just something that crossed my mind.

  • Gregory Mandarano

    Speaking of Westerns, just wanted to throw out there that

    David Webster of White Owl Films

    is especially seeking Westerns at the moment, for those of you that have them.

    • klmn

      Thank you.

  • Midnight Luck

    I believe you responded to the wrong comment.
    I’s talkin’ about Ren And Stimpy!

    No spandex here!

  • http://j.nelsonleith.com/ John Leith

    I agree with pretty much all of this except the “Western” thing. Lone Ranger and Cowboys and Aliens both crumpled under just plain awful stories, I suspect from the hubris that comes from casting heavy hitters like Depp and Ford.

    And John Carter failed from terrible and confusing presentation. This is a
    movie about “cowboy goes to Mars” (talk about easy-to-grasp) yet the title sounds like a dry biopic
    about some obscure politician or athlete.

    When the buzz began, I knew
    who John Carter was, and maybe a hardcore faction among sci-fi fans also
    did, but the average movie-goers must have been scratching their heads
    and thinking: “Who is John Carter and why is he bouncing around with four-armed orcs in the Old West?”

    I would have titled the film John Carter and the Princess of Mars.
    This construction–regular guy name + sci-fi/fantasy element–satisfies your “easy to grasp concept” standard. It says: “a guy we can
    all kinda relate to goes on a crazy adventure!” This also would have set up a
    title tag on which to hang future John Carter movies.

  • RolandDeschain1 .

    I’m so glad THE KINGSMAN made so much money, not least because it’s a hard-R rated movie.

    It seems Matthew Vaughn has a full-time job making good movies out of Mark Millar’s terrible comic books.

  • Jeffrey

    To call Guardians of the Galaxy a surprise hit seems weird. Disney easily spent over $200 million on it.