Black List? Hah. Hit List. Nope. My top 10 screenplays of the year!


For those of you disappointed that the end of the world didn’t come, I say to you, chin up! A new year is upon us, which means new possibilities, new frontiers, new chances to sell your script. For a little inspiration, let’s look back at the best scripts of the year. Or, at least, the best scripts of the year in my opinion. Which is, of course, the only opinion that matters. For those of you unfamiliar with my end of the year “Best Scripts” list, they don’t always fall in line with my Top 25. I know that makes zero sense, but some scripts burrow into your soul and stay with you all year while others burn brightly at first but fade faster. Still, you’re going to see a lot of familiar faces here, and a couple of surprises. The scripts on this year’s list have a few things in common. They’re either shocking, consistently surprising, really well-written, have a unique voice, have amazing characters, or all of the above. Wanna take a look? So do I!

10. Promised Land – Promised Land is about as “plain” a script as you can get away with and still have it be great. We’ve got a small town. We’ve got small characters. For a script like this to work, the writing has to be top-notch, and it is. I think what stayed with me the most was how much pressure was put on the main character. That pressure created high stakes, which made us care about whether our hero was going to succeed or not. This is something I felt a script like Lincoln really failed at. Despite the 13th Amendment being one of the most important moments in history, the writer managed to make Lincoln’s plight feel only a fraction as important as Promised Land (yes, I just used Promised Land to take one more shot at Lincoln). Anybody seen this movie yet? How is it?

9. Untitled Arizona Project – Rarely does a script with just one great scene leave such an impression on me, but this one did. Yes, I’m talking about the Squirrel Scene. For those unaware of the Squirrel Scene, just imagine being trapped in a confined space and then being bombarded with hundreds of terrified angry squirrels. Yes, that actually happens in this script. But this is also one of the unique voices I was talking about. You’re so unsure of what these bizarre one-of-a-kind characters are going to do next, you can’t help but continue reading. I remember reading this one like it was yesterday, which I can only say for a handful of scripts.

8. Echo Station – Is Echo Station benefitting from the freshness of only being read a week ago? Probably. But I always admire a time-jumping or time-looping narrative that stands up to plot scrutiny. Usually these scripts fall apart faster than a flan baked by your Cousin Edna. Can it handle scrutiny by the super time-travel script assassinators? Probably not. But I’m not sure any time-travel movie can. I mean, those guys could find fault in Back To The Future. I also think Echo Station is a great reminder of what kind of spec gets noticed in the industry. A little hook, a lot of urgency, and some high stakes.

7. The Disciple Program – The Disciple Program is a little like Star Wars at this point. I’m not sure I can say anything new about it. So I’ll just remind you of how the script was written, which continues to fascinate me. TDP was written 10 pages at a time for a contest. Each of those 10 pages was vetted by a judge and those notes sent back to Tyler. So every time Tyler had to turn something in, those self-contained 10 pages had to be exciting and memorable in some way. This is why the script stays consistently good, because you know every ten pages something interesting is going to happen. Now is this a surefire way to success? No. I’ve read some of the other scripts that were in the competition and they didn’t light the world on fire. But it’s still a solid technique that every screenwriter should try at least once.

6. Origin Of A Species – For those who don’t remember, this is the script that won Amazon’s Screenwriting Contest. I’m still kind of surprised by how much flak that contest got. They gave out gobs of money to screenwriters, more than any other competition by far, allowing many of those writers to obtain some momentary financial freedom so they could continue their dream, and they did it over and over and over again. And they also found this script, which was a really original voice and a story so far removed from conventional structure that I needed Google Maps to get me back on track. This writer has a hell of a talent for making small moments interesting. He’s also great with dark moody material. I haven’t stopped thinking about this one.

5. Saving Mr. Banks – To me, the scripts that really give me hope are the ones that I have no business liking, and yet somehow they win me over. I’ll tell you why: Because it reminds me that the most important aspect of your screenplay is your characters. Characters can exist in any world, whether it be space, football, lumberjacking, or children’s book authoring. If they’re interesting enough, if they’re relatable and compelling enough, we’ll wanna see what happens next. There was no reason I should’ve loved a script about a bitchy middle-aged woman complaining about her children’s book being made into a movie. It’s a testament to the writing that I did.

4. The Ends Of The Earth - Myself and the word “sweeping” don’t generally hang out at the same coffee houses. “Sweeping” is something I’d expect from a romance novel. Which is ironic, I guess, since “Ends Of The Earth” is a love story. Although it’s nothing like the love stories you grew up on. This ain’t no Nicholas Sparks, that’s for sure. I won’t spoil the big hook since, if you ever read the script, it’s best to go in knowing nothing. I’ll just say that, despite its defiance of my coveted GSU, it again goes to show that if you have two compelling characters at the heart of your story, you can get away with a lot of structural defiance.

3. The Equalizer (no review) – Here’s the thing. Every star is looking for a franchise. Everyone wants their Bourne, their Mission Impossible, their Die Hard. Because successful franchises mean longevity. If your career ever goes south (and it can happen folks – remember when Val Kilmer was an A-list actor?), you can pull out another episode from your franchise and you’re back in the mix. It’s why Cruise grabbed onto the Jack Reacher books. It’s why Wahlberg attached himself to Disciple. But franchises can’t become franchises unless that first movie kicks ass. And man is this movie going to kick ass. People have complained about the fact that Denzel’s character never once seems to be in danger. And usually that kind of thing bothers me. But there’s something about how this guy is built that you can’t wait to see him beat down the bad guys. He’s almost like a superhero. You know he’s going to win, you know they don’t have the skills to beat him, but you don’t care. — Equalizer also has the distinction of being the best SCRIPT I’ve read all year. What I mean by that is the writing is so crisp and clean and descriptive and to-the-point. It consistently conveys a ton of information in very few words, which is the essence of good screenwriting.

2. Django Unchained – Quentin is the master of scene-construction. Each of his scenes is like a mini-movie with a set-up, an implied collision, and a climax. I don’t know how anyone writes a 160 page screenplay and has me riveted on every single page. If not for that late scene (spoiler) where Django artificially cons his captors into letting him go – the only point in the script where I was aware of the author’s pen – this probably would’ve been my number 1. But other than that – awesome! I mean what a unique fucking story. A German recruits a black slave to become his apprentice in hunting down slave owners? Genius! And in classic Tarantino fashion, you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next.

1. Desperate Hours – Third act. Third act. Third act. Leave them riveted as they close the final page and they’ll go racing to tell everyone they know about your script. The third act of Desperate Hours is absolutely un-freaking-believable. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a script where I’ve agreed with every single choice the writer made, but I did here. There is so much skill on display in “Desperate,” so much mastery of craft and structure, you’re going to need a scalpel to scrape it all out. The two big knocks on the script were a lack of memorable dialogue and a slow opening. For whatever reason, neither of these bothered me. I usually like realistic dialogue as opposed to the fancy memorable stuff, which is probably why the absence of flash didn’t occur to me. And I was curious enough about the main character that the first act moved quickly (I was intrigued to learn how he had gotten to this point!). I just loved this script. It’s wrapped up in Johnny Depp Land at the moment. Here’s hoping Depp doesn’t wait another 15 years to make it, but rather offers the lead role to another actor.

That’s it for me folks. Doesn’t look like there’s going to be a post tomorrow due to it being New Year’s and all. I’m not a huge partier but even I have to have a little fun every once in awhile. This should give this post plenty of time, however, to get all of your Top Tens in. I’d love to hear about some scripts I haven’t read yet. HAPPY NEW YEAR!  (note – I still haven’t transferred the comments over from the old site so sorry there are no comments on these older posts).

  • gj_d

    Any list like this is, of course, highly subjective. My favorite of the bunch is Saving Mr. Banks.

  • Poe_Serling

    Hey Carson-
    Thanks for the Severed List… oops, I mean the ScriptShadow’s Top 10 Scripts of the Year
    list. :-)

    On a more serious note: A BIG thank you for all your time and effort in making SS a great place to chitchat about scripts, films. and whatever.
    Happy New Year! See eveyone in 2013.

    • Poe_Serling

      Here are some of my top picks from this past year. I decided to just focus on the Twit-Pitch entries and the AF submissions:

      Top of the pile: FATTIES. The reason? For its sheer audacity.

      The rest of the best in no particular order. There were things that I enjoyed from all these writers’ projects:

      Proving Ground


      The Tradition

      Zombie Res-erection



      • Malibo Jackk

        Read and loved four on the list.
        Not a bad year for amateurs.

        • Poe_Serling

          Yeah, it seems that the quality of the AF submissions and such have been on the rise.

  • The Mulberry Tree

    Thank you Carson and everyone in the community for a great 2012. Happy New Year!

    Couldn’t agree more with your Number 1! There are certain moments that you see/read and it just sticks with you. The whistling mobster seemed so freakin’ scary and he didn’t do anything to warrent that fear…but you still knew this guy was not to be messed with. Also, when Frank savagely beats down George…joy, fear, surprise, etc…again, great choice for a number 1. Cheers.

  • Jay_Owen

    Surprised to the see Untitled Arizona Project on there but since I really took a shine to that script I’m happy to see it getting a little more press.

    Nice roundup — though I think Carson might be turning into a period script addict!

    (Though judging by BL12 it appears the rest of Hollywood is as well so maybe it’s just my bad luck to still be in love with scifi/fantasy)

  • ff

    Awesome. Makes it easier to refer to. Thanks as always Carson!

  • ThomasBrownen

    Happy New Year everyone!! I’m looking forward to another fun year of hanging out here and talking about screenplays and movies.

    Was it only this year that Carson found The Disciple Program?? Sheesh. It seems like that was years ago!

    I’d have put Saving Mr. Banks at the top of my list. I loved it on so many different levels that the other top scripts didn’t come close to. I know Carson likes Desperate Hours, but it’s a tad too derivative of High Noon for me to rank it as highly. Also, I thought Origin of Species was interesting but flawed at the time (I think), but I don’t seem to remember much about it now. I’m really surprised Promised Land made the list. Carson liked it in his initial review, but didn’t seem wildly enthusiastic about it at the time. I thought it was a lame Erin Brockovich wannabe script at the time, and I think even less of it now.

    There were a few other scripts I liked that weren’t mentioned. I remember liking Diablo Cody’s Lamb of God script. I also found myself thinking of that Amateur Friday script, Eden’s Folly, the other day. And I liked Flight of the Nez Perce a bit better than Desperate Hours.

    Anyhow, Happy New Year again!!

    • Lisa Aldin

      I forgot about Lamb of God! I liked that one too!

    • Michael

      I didn’t read Promised Land, but saw the movie and “lame Erin Brockovich wannabe” is the best description for it.

  • smaild

    Is it really fair to include Django Unchained – a script from 2011 – on your list of top scripts of 2012?

  • 21BelowZero

    Yeah, gotta agree with CRISTO (though I didn’t like 4.87 billion underlines, italics, bolds and CAPS — yes, I know it’s perfectly acceptable).

    Trying to break into action writing, my other favorite would be, WHITE HOUSE DOWN. Lots of action/humor. And even it’s stepbrother, OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN was pretty good (though not Top 10).


    • 21BelowZero

      Oh man, almost forgot the one screenplay I needed to take a shower and get drunk after reading, BULLET FOR MY BEST FRIEND. What a twisted, sick, breath of fresh air. LOVED it.

  • Lisa Aldin

    Good list!!

    These are ten scripts I read this year that have stuck out to me, in no particular order though (and I’m going to go with movies not yet in theaters too). If you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of mood and atmosphere and perhaps a bit of darkness in scripts with exceptions of course. I don’t have time to read as much as Carson but there was something special about all of these I thought. I’m in the middle of reading SHUT IN which is good so far.

    Third Person
    Stockholm, Pennsylvania
    Saving Mr. Banks
    How to Catch a Monster
    When the Streetlights Go On
    The Tradition
    Lockdown at Franklin High
    Origin of a Species
    The Disciple Program
    Phantom Limb
    Leaving Pete

    HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! May we all make The Black List next year!!

  • jger15

    Hmm…surprised SHANGRI LA SUITE didn’t end up on this, Carson. You’re in love with those dudes :)

  • churnage


    Thanks for your sharing your insights. Happy New Year!

  • blueiis0112

    First off, I downloaded your book onto my brand new, first-ever owned kindle. I am still savoring it. Thank you for doing this book. I am hoping it will help me to flesh out my book. I read “Comancheria” via the link you provided last week. It is an excellent script that will probably get ruined like so many others (read Joseph Wambaugh) but I enjoyed imagining how it could have been done. I am glad that you liked “The Equalizer”. My dad loved the original show and I am hoping that this new version ends up like the remake of “True Grit”. Way back when, movies had to rely on good dialogue/good actors to make the story. Now producers/directors rely on CG and that just does not cut it.

  • Rick McGovern

    Where’s Pewter Island on that list??? ;)

    And awww, I like group hugs!! d;D

  • Craig Paulsen

    Great list, Carson. Happy New Year!

  • EZ

    Funny, as what ruined it for me in Desperate Hours was in fact the Third act – I expected something different and it felt out of place with the rest of the story to me, but to each his own – great list, great reviews, and hoping for a great 2013 !

  • Michael

    Solid screenwriting in all these scripts, though they each have their flaws. This list is as valid as The Black List, The Hit List, etc.

    Happy New Year everyone.

  • jridge32

    “Django” is well-deservant of spot #2. It’s a pretty impeccable piece of writing. Exciting, adventurous, funny, bloody, passionate… just, yeah.

    I really didn’t care that much for the film, though. Cutting out the Broomhilda subplot hurt, I think. It made me care about here even more, explained how she came to be at Candyland and showed Candie as an even more heinous individual: how is that not considered essential to story?

    Also, Calvin blowing up over being ever so gently duped by Django and Schultz about why they’re really there didn’t strike me as… valid. When I was reading the script, or watching the movie. It’s like, ok, just sell them HER, instead. Take it easy. Worst case scenario, you say look, I know you boys are here for Hildy… pay me our agreed-upon amount for her, instead. If not, I’ll do my skull demonstration. Simple.

  • amuller

    In no particular order: Django Unchained, Proving Ground, Disciple Program, Desperate Hours, Laymen’s Terms, The Judge, Transcendence aka Untitled Wally Pfister.

    And a few of my other favorites that are a bit older but I read for the first time:

    The Serpent and the Eagle (Brian Helgeland)
    Crusade (Walon Green & Gary Goldman)

    • Poe_Serling

      Crusade is a great script. It was very close to production with Paul Verhoeven directing and Arnold as the star. Here’s the story on why the plug was pulled:

      • amuller

        It’s a damn shame… I remember the Coming Attractions and Ain’t It Cool News guys used to go bonkers over Crusade and would post anything with Arnold or Verhoeven that so-much-as mentioned it.

        • GYAD

          “Crusade” is one of those scripts that I never got, probably because I trained as historian and couldn’t bear how distorted the history was. It’s like Sir Walter Scott, Richard Dawkins and Osama Bin Laden wrote a script together.

      • andyjaxfl

        Thanks for the link. I bought the book and the full chapter on Crusade was even more heartbreaking… and it kills me that we’re getting two big budget Hercules movies next year (including one from Renny Harlin) instead of Crusade…

  • Poe_Serling

    Hey Benny-

    Any word yet on when Carson will finish the notes on your Xmas gift and the posting date in the Script Notes section?

    • BennyPickles

      Not specifically. But I’m dying to know too. Carson…?

  • Poe_Serling

    Totally agree… Grim Night was a fun ride.

    • Malibo Jackk

      I heard Terry Rossio talking about that script
      (or one with the same premise.)
      He didn’t mention the title. Only that he loved the concept.
      And yeah, it surprised me. I wondered where he heard about it, but didn’t think to ask.

      • Poe_Serling

        Here’s the latest news I found regarding Grim Night:

        Variety has it that German director Dennis Gansel (We Are the Night)
        will now realize GRIM NIGHT for Universal. Bertino will still produce,
        doing so with Marc Platt and Adrienne Biddle of Unbroken Pictures.

        • Malibo Jackk

          Do you have that one?
          It’s peaked my interest.

          malibujackk at gmail dot com

          • Poe_Serling

            Sorry Malibo-

            I was able track down the original link for the script by going back through my email history… but, here comes the disappointing part, the sendspace site says the file has been deleted by the uploader or some such thing.

            Perhaps some other kind SSer has it on file and can send you a copy.

          • Malibo Jackk

            Thanks for trying.
            From what Terry said, it was the kind of thing he wished he had thought of.

          • Poe_Serling

            So you got it from someone else.. that is cool. I’ll be interested in what you think of it.

  • gj_d

    I can feel it in my bones that this is going to be a very special year for Scriptshadow. New website up. Book out. Quality of readership scripts and commentary rising. Primed and ready for a spectacular 2013, and Scriptshadow community’s biggest year yet.

  • TGivens

    Django is my personal favorite script (and movie) of 2012! Happy New Year everyone!

  • Poe_Serling

    Hey Nick-

    Great list. Enjoyed your write-ups.
    Just curious – any thoughts on Chloe Moretz (I know she’s one of your favs) starring in the remake of Carrie?

  • Somersby

    Wow, another year gone by so quickly. I didn’t read all of the scripts Carson reviewed (who does other than Carson?!), but I read lots of memorable ones – and others not so memorable. But, as a writer, reading as many scripts as possible is an invaluable exercise. You see why the great ones work, and you understand why the not-so-great ones are… well, not so great.

    My favorites from 2012 were:

    1 – Comancheria – a great examples of writing strong, vivid scene descriptions, and a pretty good story to boot.

    2 – Winter’s Discontent – one of those ones you can’t help liking despite yourself. Wonderful characterizations… and a terrific premise. It’s no Star Wars, but doesn’t want to be. There’s an audience for this type of script and I hope it finds its way to celluloid.

    3 – The Grand Illusion – I suspect the film might not live up to what I imagined the screenplay being… Still, it’s a fun, imaginative effort and one I wish I had thought of first (!)

    Honorable mention goes to Wenceslas Square, an intelligent and nicely crafted suspense script that I hope I’ll be able to see at the local Multiplex someday, and Safety Not Guaranteed. SNG had some snags, but it still manages to be a pretty solid indie-feel script. Looking forward to seeing the movie.

    …Oh, and Happytime Murders. This comes from someone with a twisted, but very funny, brain. I’d see it if only to glimpse those luscious “puppet gams”.

    Misfires for me include On a Clear Day (action overload), Celeste & Jesse Forever (gag me with a spoon. Please.) and Abomination. I can’t remember why I disliked Abomination, but that alone is enough to classify it as forgettable.

    There was a great one about the British genius who broke the Nazi’s code. I remember liking it a lot, but can’t for the life of me remember its title. (Anyone?… Buelller?… Anyone?) That gets honorable mention too.

    Happy New Year everyone. May 2013 be very kind to all of us!

    • Citizen M

      The Imitation Game is about Alan Turing breaking the Enigma code. It is brilliant, but I think it counts as a 2011 script.

  • Poe_Serling

    ‘I don’t want my girl to become typecast as the “creepy girl in horror movies” ‘

    lol. I doubt that would ever happen… she seems to be red hot right now. Upcoming films include:

    **Kick-Ass 2
    **Trolls – a family film (even though it does sound like another horror film) …”An origins story for the beady-eyed, fuzzy-haired dolls.’
    **Man Under
    **The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

  • GYAD

    Well, Happy New Year everyone,

    Thanks as always to Carson for running this website and to the people who post here for their insights. Here’s hoping a Scriptshadow (or two) reader breaks Hollywood this year! Now, onto the scripts I enjoyed most this year (in no particular order):

    Cristo: Surprised this update of “The Count of Monte Cristo” never got much buzz, as I thought it was one of the best adventure scripts of the year. Loads of great plot, plenty of momentum, some really cool set-pieces, plum characters and a compelling hero. As pure entertainment, it was one of the best.

    Way to the Cage: Amateur script about the beginnings of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) that, whilst it gets repetitive later on and strays too far from it’s social realist roots, has the potential to be a twenty-first century “Rocky” with its working class hero finding meaning and achievement in fighting.

    47 Ronin: Finally watched and loved “Cellular” this year (perhaps the model high concept thriller) and consider Chris Morgan to be one of the most underrated screenwriters in Hollywood. This swashbuckling samurai tale does nothing new but is tremendously satisfying. A must read for anyone interested in big historical(-fantasy) scripts.

    Desperate Hours: Didn’t like the overblown ending but this “High Noon”-esque tale about a lone man uniting a town against gangsters in the aftermath of the Great War and the 1918 Influenza epidemic was full of top-notch writing (and mediocre dialogue).

    End of Watch: Not a particularly conventional script but testament to the power of a single great relationship. Who, reading this script about cop buddies, didn’t feel the love between those guys and want them to succeed? After the hollow dramatics of “Gangster Squad”, this was a great reminder that human beings are more interesting than action scenes.

    The Tiger’s Child: A really heart-rending script about a pair of Laotian children trying to escape after their tribe is massacred during the Vietnam War after their CIA allies abandon them. One of the few scripts to make me choke up this year.

    Magic Mike: The subject matter – male strippers – isn’t really my cup of tea (to put it mildly) but I thought the subtext to this – commercialised sex and the changes in masculinity in 21st century America – was fascinating. A great example of how exploring a good subject in depth can yield something interesting.

    Valerio: SS favourite Kelly Marcel’s British crime script, about a playboy Italian bank robber in the 1980s. OK, so it bogs down in repetitive sex scenes but the first half is brilliant and I dare anyone to read the first two pages and not want to read more.

    • kidbaron

      I finally saw End of Watch and wow. I wasn’t that impressed with the script but I now know I was right to see the movie. The chemistry between the 2 leads makes the movie. A good flick to check out.

  • nawazm10

    Wait, top 10 scripts written in 2012 or top ten scripts we read in 2012?

    If the latter, here is my top five. :)

    1. The Giver – Amazing, loved it. This is the definition of a great script, everything in it just blew me away. Haven’t ever read such a memorable ending.

    2. Ion – A little late on the party here but this has to be one of the best, if not the best, sci fi I’ve ever read. The script plays a lot with time and it’s confusing at times, but the payoff is worth it. Great visuals and an original story.

    3. Anatomy of a Stick Figure – There was something that clicked in my mind when I read this. I didn’t like it initially but I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. It reminded me of American Beauty and even though the protagonist was very distant, I somehow liked it more when he
    finally got up from his ass and showed initiative.

    4. The Invisible Woman – Knew next to nothing about this script when I started reading it. Some of the most confusing first pages ever, was ready to put it down until I discovered Naomi Watts was originally set to star. So I cracked it open, breezed through it. Some really good characterization here, I enjoyed this far too much for this type of story.

    5. Clive – A Blacklist script! I don’t think I’ve ever read a script where I FELT that I was the main character. Here, I really did feel like I was an amputee myself. Every single time Clive struggled with something, I could feel myself struggling as well. A really good read.

  • Poe_Serling

    CARSON ALERT: The Mayans were wrong about Dec. 21… it’s tonight.

    The End of Gangnam Style.

    Psy told MTV that he will be “ending” his smash hit tonight during Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, capping a whirlwind year for the K-pop star, whose worldwide breakthrough came in the form of the signature pony dance in the “Gangnam Style” video. “Being in Times Square on New Year’s Eve is already special – it’s the biggest stage in the universe – plus it’s my birthday, so, with all that, it may be the ending of ‘Gangnam Style,'” said Psy

    • Malibo Jackk

      We know where Carson will be.

      • Poe_Serling

        Your crystal ball must have been on full power tonight. ;-)

        From Carson’s twitter feed: ‘What? Psy and MC Hammer!!!??? Best pairing

    • Citizen M

      I can understand Carson’s love — Psy dances like he has a severed arm stuck up his butt.

  • ChinaSplash2

    I just watched the trailer for Beautiful Creatures. And yeah, it really does look good! Heck, even the rather preposterous Jeremy Irons looks like he’s in the right place for once.

    I’ll have to check out the script… Thanks for the heads up.

  • JaredW

    I didn’t read a lot of scripts this year, but the two that really blew me away were When the Streetlights Go On and The Disciple Program. Two vastly different scripts, but two that elevated the craft and took some risky chances that ended up making them quite memorable. Hopefully I get to see them both on the big screen sooner rather than later.

  • NajlaAnn

    Happy New Year to you too!

  • Guess who

    Carson, are you going to review the Equalizer?

    • carsonreeves1

      At some point, hopefully.

  • Christopher Pendergraft

    The critics are slamming Promised Land. 48% on Rotten Tomatoes. What happened? Did the filmmakers change the script around much?

    • Kevin Lenihan

      I couldn’t stand the script, a formulaic approach to creating a preachy story designed to make a political point. The twist felt grafted on well after the original writing, perhaps based on criticism that the story felt more like an anti-fracking commercial. A story conceived by people who presume to know what’s best for people living in farm communities but who know nothing about those places and wouldn’t be caught dead living in one, or even visiting one…unless it was to preach.

      • Michael

        Exactly how I felt about the film. John Krasinski originally wrote the script about people scamming government subsidies by building wind turbines with no intention of them ever working, but later adapted the script when fracking became big news. The film seemed very unfocused, maybe that’s why. If you could ever pass on Devils At Play I’d appreciate it. ineedscripts at gmail

  • yeebarr

    Am I too late for the group hug? Ugh – that’s what you get for being sick for 2 weeks…no one wants to let you in for a cuddle… :P

    My top list is a little different than Carsons; a combination of scripts which have inspired me as well as those that gave me great ‘what I learned” tips as a script writer. In no particular order

    * The Disciple Program (an amazing story of how writing a great script can open the right doors. Live the dream! Congrats to Tyler and to Carson!)
    * Ends of the Earth
    * Desperate Hours (the scene at the train station…brilliant)
    * White House Down (I love action scripts and this is a great one to study; this could have been the next Die Hard..except those f**kers keep giving all the roles to Channing Tatum!)
    * Nathan Decker (oh Dan Fogelman…let me be your slave just so I can stand near you and watch you write!)
    * Fatties (black comedy at it’s best)
    * Fascination 127
    * Echo Station (for all it’s flaws it’s one of the more decent sci-fi attempts I’ve seen of late)

    Alright, so the world didn’t end; time to stop procrastinating and finish that first draft and get it submitted to Amateur Friday…

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      Hope you’re feeling better ;-) But don’t complain. Zombies also get left out…

      • yeebarr

        Thanks ZombiGirl! You know you’re not loved when even the zombies don’t want to touch you! :)

        Was slightly disappointed with the zombie scripts this year…hope the horror section of this group can really hit one out of the park this year! (Hey Carson – can you review Warm Bodies when it comes out? I loved the novel but interested to see if it translates well as a movie)

        • Marija ZombiGirl

          Oh no, I meant it the other way around. Zombies want to touch and hug but they keep getting pushed away with a firm “Stop nibbling !” when they approach people… Oh well :-)

          There was a zombie script that I quite liked but I stupidly forgot the title :-( The one taking place on a boat ?

  • Avishai Weinberger

    Ah, Origin of a Species, I was wondering if I’d hear of that again. That was a good fun script, definitely memorable. I think it derailed a little at the end and wrapped up the wrong story line, but it was still a solid read.

    Disciple Program- how’s that going? It’s being developed right now, isn’t it? How long until we see it? I just saw the Bourne movies, and this feels totally in line with them.

    And I’m part way through Django. Way cool. Tarantino writes like no other.

  • Malibo Jackk

    Another Carson in the making.
    (It’s terrifying.)

  • Citizen M

    FWIW the top scripts I read in 2012:

    The Leonardo Job
    The Happytime Murders
    Django Unchained
    Bad Words
    Nathan Decker
    The General
    The Flight of the Nez Perce
    Run All Night
    The Counselor
    The Driver
    The Wedding
    Saving Mr Banks
    The Wunderkind
    The Ends of the Earth
    Crazy for the Storm
    Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho
    The Equalizer
    Alien: Engineers by John Spaihts

    • Poe_Serling

      Gotta agree… among the pro scripts David Twohy’s The Leonardo Job was one of the best.

  • Marija ZombiGirl

    Happy New Year, Carson and fellow ScriptShadowers :-)

    My pick, in no particular order except for the first one :

    – Beasts of the Southern Wild (and the movie is gorgeous ! Imperfect but a heart as big as the world <3 )
    – The Grey
    – Stephanie
    – Sunflower
    – The Equalizer
    – The Laymen's Terms
    – Tundra
    – Fatties
    – A Rose in the Darkness
    – Hidden
    – The End

    … And I should stop there :-) I'm forgetting some, particularly AF entries. A very good year for those so writers, keep'em coming !

    • Poe_Serling

      Hey MZG-

      Thanks for the reminder… I kinda forgot all about the Hidden and Stephanie. Both were solid horror projects.

      “I’m forgetting some, particularly AF entries.”

      Yeah, pull up a seat and join the club…:-) Carson really served up an all-you-can-read buffet of scripts this year…

      Besides the featured weekly scripts and the AF submission, we were treated to picks from the Blood List, Hit List, Black List, C’s own Severed List, Twitpitch finalists, bonus pro scripts, bonus amateur scripts, etc… All of a sudden, I’m feeling a bit bloated. :-(

  • bruckey

    It was actually reviewed in late 2011 but I’m still making it my script of 2012……Endurance

  • Kevin Lenihan

    SAVING MISS BANKS: Brilliant. When a writer can take a character like that and get us to feel empathy, and to even worry about how things will turn out, that’s talent. If Banks had been a completely fictional character, this would be a masterpiece. Since it’s based on a real person, I’ll settle for brilliant. The most three dimensional character in a script this year. Fragile, complicated, insecure, determined, perhaps lost.

    DESPERATE HOURS: A slow but careful build up culminates in a masterful third act in this High Noon inspired thriller. Unlike the film that inspired this, the writer gives us depth of character and unexpected twists. Also driving things is a strong sense of mystery which almost even flirts with a supernatural tone for a time, before veering into period gangster. Like High Noon, the suspense and tension steadily builds until the dramatic showdown.

    DEVILS AT PLAY: Watch out for this script, a Nicholl’s winner that made the black list. Perhaps poorly titled, this is one of the most original scripts I have ever read(no, I don’t know the writer). It takes people whose job is to do monstrous, unspeakable things and makes them human, sympathetic. Even more original, it strangely makes us root for a goal that we know is both wrong and terrible! That’s a tough trick to pull off, and this writer does. And there is redemption in the end, as the character’s arc finally brings him around. If it’s true darkness you seek, give this script a try. Humans are not only capable of terrible things, but terrible things can be normalized under the right conditions.

    THE DISCIPLE CLUB: Designed for the modern audience, the opening act plays for keeps and brings you right into the story, keeps you on the edge of your seat. The main character is easily someone we want to follow on an adventure, and that’s really half the battle in scripts. The second and third acts could benefit for some plot reconsideration, though they are far from poor. The Canada trip needs to be re-conceived or possibly replaced. And I STRONGLY recommend that our hero finds out at the MIDPOINT that he has a chip in his head, which could be activated any time by any signal. So he’s nervous around any TV, radio or cell phone tower. That would bring the tension to a fever pitch. But this is a writer to watch, and this is a film that should do well.

    GANGSTER SQUAD: Yes, there are a lot of characters, and none are developed with great depth. But if one is looking for action, style and colorful dialogue, this is where you want to spend some time. We’re talking scripts here, not the movie, and the writing here is ALIVE. Unorthodox at times, but alive. It’s easy to track the many characters because of it. If Scorcese and Tarantino raised a child together, we just met him. Watch out.

    • ChristianSavage

      I really liked Gangster Squad. I’ll have to add that to my list of favorites. Will Beall is a fantastic writer. Can’t wait to see what he does next.

      • Kevin Lenihan

        Check out Devils at Play if have chance. I stumbled on this couple weeks ago when Black List came out. Very unique. Not without flaws, but it achieves things that I’m not sure I’ve seen before.

  • ElliotMaguire

    Just got out of my self-inflicted hibernation and read the list. It really goes to show the range of different scripts that catch your interest and they would all make incredible movies.

    I was surprised to see ‘Origin of a Species’ on the list, mainly because I hadn’t noticed your review. I read it over a year ago from AS and was underwhelmed, it felt TV movie for me. But I know since then the writer has had feedback and done further drafts, so will have to give the most recent iteration a read.

    That’s all I’ve got, head is back on the pillow, why do I drink vodka?

    Happy New Year Scripters!

  • carsonreeves1

    Ooh yeah, Hidden was good!

    • 21BelowZero

      I forgot about HIDDEN too. EXCELLENT twist, best in a long time.

      Rule #2, never lose control, never let anger take over.

  • carsonreeves1

    I gotta read “Story Of Your Life!”

  • carsonreeves1

    Right back at you! Happy new year!

  • carsonreeves1

    Yeah baby!

    • Scots Chris

      I’ll start with next week’s scripts (whenever they arrive!) and I look forward to discovering the next disciple project (was that this year? I was around for that) … Or who knows, I could be that next one! That’s my early new year positivity speaking… ;)

  • Kevin Lenihan

    When are you doing another review, man? Obviously I’m a fan of Carson’s reviews, even read the book, but I like the change of pace too. More guest reviews in 2013! No reason they can’t be posted on the weekend.

    • ChristianSavage

      Thanks, Kevin! I’m happy to do another review whenever Carson asks. :-) Definitely looking forward to the next year of good reading.

  • fragglewriter

    I know scripts are subjective and this list has me wondering about your tastes, but glad that this lists contains amateurs and pros

  • A H

    Totally agree with Desperate Hours as #1. It was by far the most complete, tightly constructed, and fun unproduced screenplay I’ve read all year.

    Thanks for a great year of reads Carson!

  • lest78

    Is anyone able to send me the scripts for Desperate Hours, Origin of a Species and Saving Mr Banks? I would love to read them.

    elturno at mac dot com

    Thanks a bunch.

  • John Bradley

    Hey, Carson and everyone…I’m a screenwriter about 15 months into the craft. I live in Colorado, which is an obvious disadvantage. I have 2 screenplays that are getting very close to the quality of something a reader would not vomit all over themselves 2 pages in. I have been very interested in submitting them in to contests. My concern is outside of The Black List, Blue Cat, and PAGE I’m not sure if any of the competitions are worthwhile or legit.
    My question to Carson, would do do a review of screenwriter competitions on your blog and give general advice about them? I think for a lot of young screenwriters, and screenwriters outside the state of California, these competitions can really level the playing field.

    • carsonreeves1

      I haven’t broken them down yet but click “contests” up above and you can see my favorites.

  • shewrites

    Happy New Year, Scriptshadow Nation!
    My favorite scripts this year were Ends of the Earth, Comancheria, Django Unchained, The Leonardo Job.
    Anyone has the Seven Psychopaths script? Kindly send it my way: ourdiah at
    Thank you.

  • Jimithy_Christmas

    The best scripts I read in 2012:
    1. Straight Edge (Rich Wilkes)
    2. John Dies at the End (Don Coscarelli)
    3. Hidden (Matt & Ross Duffer)

    and in no particular order:
    Noah (Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel)
    The Equalizer (Richard Wenk)
    Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn)
    The Counselor (Cormac McCarthy)
    Viral (Dustin T. Benson)
    Out of the Furnace (Scott Cooper)
    The Driver (Zach Luna & Spenser Cohen)
    Bone Tomahawk (Craig Zahler)
    Urinal Vinyl (Jay Eden)
    The Wheelman (Frank Mugavero)
    Pompeii (Lee Batchler & Janet Scott Batchler)

    Most interesting learning experience from studying two
    Ten AKA Breacher (Skip Woods) (117 pgs) (Ayer revisions
    Ten AKA Breacher (Skip Woods) (129 pgs)

    Biggest letdown for all the buzz:
    The Disciple Program (Tyler Marceca)

    Worst Waste of Paper Award:
    Bermuda (Nathan Brookes & Bobby Lee Darby)

  • Colin Moriarty

    I still say DESPERATE HOURS needs a title change. I can’t see it without thinking of the Humphrey Bogart movie and the Anthony Hopkins remake. But yeah, I realize most won’t have that problem…

  • dianuj

    Anyone able to send over a copy of desperate hours. I enjoyed flight of nez perce. See what else writers has to offer.

  • Andrew Stoeckley

    Just read the Equalizer and it certainly has some great stuff happening, though I wouldn’t put it my own Top 10 or probably even Top 20. Here’s why: a lot of the plot points are nothing we haven’t seen many times before, and thus my interest waned a bit in many parts. But the creative battle in the Home Depot store, and tidy “what’s next?” ending and the pro writing style made up for all that. The script didn’t make me want to see the movie but I’m glad I read it.

  • Gerard Kennelly

    after reading the blacklist
    i want to see ,,,
    Stanley tucci in the kubrick moon landing
    Jeremy renner in where angels die
    colin firth in man of sorrow
    will and jaden smith in the autopsy of jane doe
    colin Farrell in broken cove
    meryl streep in beauty queen
    clint eastwood and ken watanabe in the sea of trees

  • Gerard Kennelly

    i wish Edward Norton had played the krasinski role