December 11, 2007 / 12:06 AM / in 10 years

Political films still hot topic in Hollywood

<p>Tom Cruise in a scene from "Lions for Lambs" in an image courtesy of United Artists. Politically themed films might be tanking at the box office, but executives are still salivating over the genre, according to a ranking of hot scripts making the rounds at Hollywood agencies. REUTERS/Handout</p>

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Politically themed films might be tanking at the box office, but executives are still salivating over the genre, according to a ranking of hot scripts making the rounds at Hollywood agencies.

According to the Black List, compiled annually by production executive Franklin Leonard, five of the top six scripts were political in nature.

Danny Strong’s HBO Films election drama “Recount” came in at No. 1, and Beau Willimon’s political thriller about a politician’s communication director, “Farragut North,” which has been plucked by Warner Bros., finished at No 2.

The Black List, released Friday, polls an estimated 150 development execs and other officials for their favorite scripts that won’t be produced and released in the next year, and then ranks them according to the greatest number of mentions. “Recount” turned up on the lists of an overwhelming 44 executives.

One part popularity contest and one part tip sheet, the Black List has in its three years of existence become an essential tool for determining the state of the script business. It also provides a kind of zeitgeist barometer, indicating what types of projects and scribes are currently in vogue. This year’s list suggests that political themes continue to offer extensive dramatic fodder, even as the potential for box office remains limited, as exhibited by such films as “Lions for Lambs” and “In the Valley of Elah.”

The sixth-most popular script was the most topical of all; occupying that slot was Steve Knight’s “Curveball,” a Focus Features project about false intelligence information in Iraq.

More than 40 scripts this year on the list were cited by at least five development execs, and more than 100 got at least two mentions, the minimum required for a spot on the Black List.

It’s impossible to lobby for a spot on the list, but agents and studios wait with bated breath to see if their clients or scripts make the cut. And the list tends either to predict or reinforce success. Current releases “Juno” and “Lars and the Real Girl” were previous top-five finishers.

Many of the highest-ranked scripts on the list -- including “Recount,” “Farragut” and the IRA drama “Infiltrator” by Josh Zetumer, which has been bought by Warner Bros. -- have been snapped up.

But several popular scripts remain available. The third-most-liked script is a sci-fi tale called “Passengers” from Jon Spaihts, which according to its logline involves a passenger on a spaceship who is awakened from a cryogenic slumber. Keanu Reeves is on board to produce.

The fifth-most-popular script is also available; “Selma,” written by Paul Webb, is a historical drama about Martin Luther King Jr., Lyndon B. Johnson and the Civil Rights movement.

Other available scripts to make the top 10 are the youth-oriented comedy “I Want to F-- Your Sister” from Melissa Stack, about a cad who tried to protect his sister from other scheming young men, and Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s coming-of-age tale “The Way Back.”

Of course, with the Hollywood writers strike still raging, it’s unlikely writers will be peddling these scripts anytime soon (the introduction to the Black List endorsed the writers’ cause). But the strike won’t stop the list from being passed around -- and gloated upon. “You can live without having a client on it,” said one agent. “But once you do, it immediately becomes part of your pitch.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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