On the 800th day of 2020 the internet gave to us: This year’s Black List, unveiled by Desus Nice and Kid Mero on a Vanity Fair livestream, featuring special guest appearances by Taika Waititi and Bong Joon-ho. Since debuting in 2005, the annual list of the most-liked unproduced screenplays in Hollywood has yielded a few awards dah-lings and a handful of scripts we’re still dying to see adapted—including that animated biopic about Michael Jackson’s pet chimp (which might court a little too much controversy at this point) and last year’s script about a mischievous Barron Trump trying to sabotage his lame-ass dad’s bid for the presidency (maybe Too Soon to make this one for the foreseeable future).
There are numerous gems featured in the 2020 Black List, which boasts three scripts about transgender characters, some truly wild-sounding biopics, true crime (but of course), various stories set in and around outer space, and revenge (largely of the female persuasion)—all topped by this year’s most popular script, about a “high-functioning cannibal.” You can explore the full 2020 Black List below, but there were a few scripts that particularly stood out, including the aforementioned cannibal script, Headhunter, by Sophie Dawson. The story follows a cannibal who uses Instagram like a meal-ordering service, selecting victims based on popularity (honestly, fair). Everything is going great for our cannibal pal until he encounters a victim who wants to be eaten. Sounds very Ingrid Goes West meets Armin Meiwes (that German cannibal guy, you know the one).
This year’s celeb-inspired scripts are especially intriguing, particularly Abigail Briley Bean’s Gusher, about the life of Anna Nicole Smith, a single mom from Texas who becomes a Playboy sensation and falls in love with an 89-year-old billionaire whose family suspects her of dubious motives. Then there’s Frenemy, which was written by Ariel Sayegh and explores the feud between Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton over who would become Britney Spears’ best friend. Other celeb-driven narratives on the list include the story behind Vice, a script about the inventor of Beanie Babies, and one that has the potential to be transcendent: St. Simmons, described as “the true gospel of Richard Simmons.” With the Finding Richard Simmons podcast having already drawn criticisms from listeners who found it intrusive and exploitative, St. Simmons raises an additional eyebrow with a narrative centered on Simmons’ “holy crusade in daytime television to touch and save the soul of every obese person in America before his demons consume him.” The plot description—with the inclusion of Barbra Streisand appearing to a young Simmons as an angel—sounds divinely wacky and surreal, and Simmons certainly is and always has been a fascinating figure. But telling that story requires a certain sensitivity around the topic of fatness; it will be interesting to see how this one plays out in adaptation.
Another notable script on the 2020 Black List is The Sauce, which sounds a little evocative of the darkly comedic horror of Boots Rileys’ Sorry To Bother You. Written by Chaz Hawkins, the script follows “A depressed, selfish Black man fights for his life after taking a job at a white-owned beauty parlor, whose monstrous owners concocted a wildly popular shampoo that requires a sickening ingredient.” From the true crime genre there’s Blood Ties, written by Aaron Katz (Gemini) and based on Nathan Heller’s New Yorker article about Jens Söring and Elizabeth Haysom. As Deadline reported back in September, Katz is also set to direct Blood Ties, which stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a detective investigating the brutal and senseless murder of Elizabeth’s parents, with Cole Sprouse and Kiernan Shipka attached to play Jens and Elizabeth, respectively.
Headhunter, Sophie Dawson (29 mentions)
A high-functioning cannibal selects his victims based on their Instagram popularity, but finds his habits shaken by a man who wants to be eaten.
Chiang Can Dunk, Jingyi Shao (28 mentions)
A young Asian American teen and basketball fanatic who just wants to dunk and get the girl ends up learning much more about himself, his best friends, and his mother.
Neither Confirm Nor Deny, Dave Collard (26 mentions)
An adaptation of David Sharp’s book The CIA’s Greatest Covert Operation, which chronicles the clandestine CIA operation that risked igniting WWIII by recovering a nuclear-armed Soviet sub, the K-129, that sunk to the bottom of the ocean in 1968.
If You Were the Last, Angela Bourassa (25 mentions)
Two astronauts who think they’ve been lost in space forever fall in love, becoming content with their isolated lives, only to suddenly have to return to Earth.
Two Faced, Cat Wilkins (25 mentions)
A high-school senior attempts to get her principal fired after observing racist behavior, but she quickly learns he won’t go down without a fight.
Bring Me Back, Crosby Selander (22 mentions)
When a woman on an interstellar voyage falls in love with someone during a cryosleep simulation, she attempts to discern whether the man is a real passenger on the ship or just a figment of her imagination.
Bubble & Squeak, Evan Twohy (21 mentions)
Two newlyweds traverse a fictional country on their honeymoon but slowly realize they’re yearning to take separate journeys.
Emergency, K.D. Dávila (21 mentions)
Ready for a night of partying, a group of Black and Latino college students must weigh the pros and cons of calling the police when faced with an emergency.
Forever Hold Your Peace, Emma Dudley (19 mentions)
Twenty-four-year-old, quiet, self-conscious Hazel has struggled with her sexuality ever since her conservative dad walked in on her kissing a girl at a middle-school sleepover and flipped his absolute shit. On the way back to her hometown for her dad’s wedding, Hazel gets drunk and makes out with an older, attractive female flight attendant. She’s thrilled to have moved past her hang-ups and had some fun, until she arrives home and realizes that the flight attendant is her dad’s fiancée.
Video Nasty, Chris Thomas Devlin (18 mentions)
Three teenagers who rent a cursed VHS tape are pulled into an ’80s slasher movie that threatens to trap them forever.
Saturday Night Ghost Club, Steve Desmond, Michael Sherman (17 mentions)
After being haunted by a terrifying entity, a 12-year-old boy teams up with his eccentric uncle and three other misfits to form their own ghost club, investigating all the paranormal sites in town so that he can find and confront the ghost that’s tormenting him.
The Sauce, Chaz Hawkins (17 mentions)
A depressed, selfish Black man fights for his life after taking a job at a white-owned beauty parlor, whose monstrous owners concocted a wildly popular shampoo that requires a sickening ingredient.
Sharper, Brian Gatewood, Alessandro Tanaka (17 mentions)
A chain of scam artists goes after one wealthy family with the perfect plan to drain them of their funds. But when love, heartbreak, and jealousy slither their way into the grand scheme, it becomes unclear whether the criminals are conning or the ones being conned.
Birdies, Colin Bannon (16 mentions)
When Tabitha, a struggling foster kid, wins a contest to become part of the BIRDIES, a popular daily YouTube channel featuring the radiant and enigmatic Mama Bird and her diverse brood of adopted children, she soon learns that things get dark when the cameras turn off.
Possum Song, Isaac Adamson (16 mentions)
After discovering his secret songwriting partner dead, a country-music star struggling to record new material makes a Faustian bargain with a family of possums who have taken up residency within his walls.
The Black Belt, Randall Green (15 mentions)
Eighth-grader Simon Paluska dreams of being a Tae Kwon Do black belt, but he’s not allowed to take lessons. So he buys a black belt on Amazon for 25 bucks. Then, he has to use it.
Ripper, Dennis MaGee Fallon (15 mentions)
London, 1888: When their friends begin dying at the hands of a brutal killer, an all-female crime syndicate, the Forty Elephants, must work together to take down the predator stalking them: Jack the Ripper.
A Big, Bold, Beautiful Journey, Seth Reiss (14 mentions)
After both attending the same wedding solo, David and Sarah embark on a big, bold, beautiful journey with a little help from their 1996 Passat GPS and a little bit of magic for the road trip of their lives.
Enemies Within, Cat Vasko (14 mentions)
In the 1950s, Joseph McCarthy and his right-hand man Roy Cohn sit at the height of their influence, casting aside democratic norms unchecked — until the Army’s lowest-level lawyer, John G. Adams, stumbles upon the shocking truth behind their power grab, and makes it his mission to reveal this to the public.
The Man in the Yard, Sam Stefanak (14 mentions)
When a dangerous stranger shows up at her front door, a depressed widow must confront her own past in order to protect her two children.
Suncoast, Laura Chinn (14 mentions)
An awkward teenage outcast comes of age against the backdrop of the hospice where her brother (and coincidentally, Terri Schiavo) are dying.
Fish in a Tree, Jeff Stockwell (13 mentions)
Based on the eponymous novel by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. A young girl in an intimidating new school finally faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her learning and in her social life when she crosses paths with an energetic-but-inexperienced substitute teacher.
The Neutral Corner, Justin Piasecki (13 mentions)
A Nevada court judge who moonlights reffing high-profile boxing matches must face his demons when he’s assigned to the Olympic fight of an ex-con he’d previously sentenced for murder.
Gusher, Abigail Briley Bean (12 mentions)
Based on the story of Anna Nicole Smith, a shrewd young mother rises out of a small Texas town to become a famous Playboy centerfold, but when she falls in love with an 89-year-old billionaire, his son and the entire world believe she’s nothing but a gold digger.
Bikram, Silpa Kovvali (11 mentions)
Based on an unbelievable story, Bikram chronicles the rise and fall of celebrity yoga guru Bikram Choudhury through the eyes of his young wife, Rajashree, who engineers his ascent to fame and fortune, then fights to salvage their empire when his crimes bring it crumbling to the ground.
Borderline, Jimmy Warden (11 mentions)
A bodyguard protects a pop superstar and her athlete boyfriend from a determined stalker in 1990s Los Angeles.
Lurker, Alex Russell (11 mentions)
An obsessed fan maneuvers his way into the inner circle of his hip-hop idol and will stop at nothing to stay in.
My Dear You, Meghan Kennedy (11 mentions)
Based on a short story by Rachel Khong. A love story set in the afterlife about our struggle to let go of the past, even when our present is heaven … literally. Tess keeps searching for the love of her life without realizing he’s right there next to her the whole time, helping her look.
Occupied, Tara Cavanagh (11 mentions)
When a tactless Nordstrom’s store manager denies two trans women access to the bathroom, Fran and Althea seek restitution and occupy the ladies’ room in protest.
Reptile Dysfunction, Creston Whittington (11 mentions)
A chemical leak in a local water supply in Central Florida wreaks havoc on the invasive population of pythons, leading a family to the fight of their life to survive.
St. Simmons, Greg Wayne (11 mentions)
When a very fat and possibly gay boy from New Orleans is visited by an angel called Barbra Streisand, he sets out on a holy crusade in daytime television to touch and save the soul of every obese person in America before his demons consume him — if only to make his daddy proud. It’s the true gospel of Richard Simmons.
The U.S.P.S., Perry Janes (11 mentions)
Following in his murdered mother’s footsteps, Michael Griffiths enlists in the United States Postal Service … only to discover a mail route full of surprises and a job that means maybe, just maybe, saving the world.
Annalise & Song, S.J. Inwards (10 mentions)
Annalise is a girl who quite literally “sees the world differently” from everyone else and finds herself a lonely, misunderstood outcast who keeps her “cursed sight” a secret as a consequence. But everything changes when Annalise meets her new neighbor, Peter Song — a fellow teenager whom everyone else sees as a disfigured boy, but whom Annalise sees entirely differently.
Blood Ties, Aaron Katz (10 mentions)
Based on the New Yorker article by Nathan Heller. A true-crime thriller based on the story of two brilliant college lovers convicted of a brutal slaying. An obsessed detective investigates the true motives that led to a double homicide, and the decades of repercussions that follow.
The Boy Who Died, Monisha Dadlani (10 mentions)
A young girl creates a robot version of Harry Potter while her father simultaneously is treating Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe for a terminal disease.
Crush on You, Shea Mayo (10 mentions)
Summer on a secluded campus takes a dark turn for three college girls when a supernaturally sexy mystery man begins haunting their dreams.
The Culling, Stephen Herman (10 mentions)
A troubled priest confines himself to a remote cabin in the middle of the woods where he attempts to make a last stand against the demon that terrorized his family when he was a child.
May December, Samy Burch (10 mentions)
Twenty years after their notorious tabloid romance gripped the nation, a married couple buckles under the pressure when an actress arrives to do research for a film about their past.
1MDB, Scott Conroy (10 mentions)
The incredible true story of the multi-billion dollar Malaysian government corruption scandal which led to the conviction of Prime Minister Najib Razak and almost $5 billion in settlements paid out by Goldman Sachs.
Rewired, Adam Gaines, Ryan Parrott (10 mentions)
Harvard. 1959. A young Ted Kaczynski is experimented on by Dr. Henry Murray during a secret CIA psychological study that may have led to the creation of the Unabomber.
Story, Emily Siegel (10 mentions)
When a journalist turned stay-at-home mom relocates to Los Angeles to rebuild after a personal trauma, she blurs the lines between fact and fiction… only to find herself at the center of her own story.
Cosmic Sunday, MacMillan Hedges (9 mentions)
A small percentage of the population is stuck in a time loop and have had to create a society that functions within the same day, repeated day in and day out. One man struggles to find himself for the first time in ages amidst a society clinging to a sense of normalcy.
Earworm, Austin Everett (9 mentions)
A former music therapist is recruited to use a mysterious machine to dive into the memories of a serial killer on death row.
Excelsior!, Alex Convery (9 mentions)
The true story of the meteoric rise (and subsequent fall) of Marvel Comics and the star-crossed creators behind the panel: Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.
Flight Risk, Jared Rosenberg (9 mentions)
An Air Marshal transporting a fugitive across the Alaskan wilderness via a small plane finds herself trapped when she suspects their pilot is not who he says he is.
High Society, Noga Pnueli (9 mentions)
A depressed, progressive woman stuck in a conservative small Texas town starts micro-dosing the entire town with marijuana to make them all get along.
Horsegirl, Lauren Meyering (9 mentions)
Living under the full time care of her cancer-stricken mother, a twenty-six-year-old, socially awkward, horse-obsessed woman attempts to prove her independence by winning a hobbyhorse competition.
Magazine Dreams, Elijah Bynum (9 mentions)
A Black amateur bodybuilder struggles to find human connection in this exploration of celebrity and violence.
Mouse, Kelly O’Sullivan (9 mentions)
When seventeen-year old Minnie’s best friend Callie is killed in an accident, she struggles to find an identity of her own and forms a complicated friendship with Callie’s grieving mother.
Murder in the White House, Jonathan Stokes (9 mentions)
The President is murdered during a private dinner, and Secret Service agent Mia Pine has until morning to discover which guest is the killer before a peace agreement fails and leads to war.
Nanny, Nikyata Jusu (9 mentions)
Aisha is an undocumented nanny caring for a privileged child. As she prepares for the arrival of her only son, who she left behind in her native country, a violent supernatural presence invades her reality, jeopardizing the American Dream she’s carefully pieced together.
A Single Point of Failure, Terry Huang (9 mentions)
Journalists race to expose how Boeing knowingly misled regulators, pilots, and airlines to cover up a problematic flight software system on the 737 MAX, leading to two major airplane crashes and the deaths of 346 people. Based on real events.
State Lines, Rachel Wolf (9 mentions)
When headstrong but well-intentioned college student Sara Jane bails on Senior Spring Break to drive a fourteen-year-old girl to get an abortion, she’s shocked to discover that her passenger is an undercover pro-lifer who has kidnapped her.
Viceland, Chris Parizo (9 mentions)
The true story of how Vice magazine grew from a free magazine in Montreal into a multi billion dollar media empire, making two of its founders multi-millionaires while the third founder was kicked out and went on to modernize the white supremacist movement by creating the Proud Boys.
Emancipation, Bill Collage (8 mentions)
Based on a true story, a runaway slave has to outwit bounty hunters and the perils of a Louisiana swamp to reach the Union army and his only chance at freedom.
Fight or Flight, Brooks McLaren, DJ Cotrona (8 mentions)
A mercenary takes on the job of tracking down a target on a plane but must protect her when they’re surrounded by people trying to kill both of them.
The Gorge, Zach Dean (8 mentions)
A brazen, high-action, genre-bending, love story about two very dangerous young people, who despite the corrupt and lethal world they operate in, find a soulmate in each other.
Here Come the Bandits, Ethan Dawes (8 mentions)
Mickey Bradley, a wildly talented minor league baseball player in his early twenties who returns home to Los Angeles after an injury and coaches a little league team full of misfits who remind him why he fell in love with baseball in the first place. And theres a sweet romance in there too.
Plush, Alexandra Skarsgard (8 mentions)
Sex, money, and one schoolyard fad that took a nation by storm. Based on the true story of Ty Warner, the enigmatic entrepreneur behind a ‘90s toy craze that sparked madness, murder, and a billion-dollar empire.
Towers, Aaron Rabin (8 mentions)
A businessman’s obsession with his competitor leads him down a rabbit hole of self-discovery, fantasy, and delusion.
Trespasser, Gabe Hobson (8 mentions)
A father and daughter living in remote isolation must fight for survival after aliens arrive seeking revenge for killing one of their own.
Uncle Wick, Gabe Delahaye (8 mentions)
An action comedy wherein Benji Stone, a lovable but deeply unpopular sixteen year old, is pulled into an international assassination plot by his uncle, a retired undercover assassin charged with babysitting Benji for the weekend.
What If?, Alvaro Garcia Lecuona (8 mentions)
An unassertive seventeen year old turns his high school on its head when he asks out his crush, a transgender classmate.
Bella, Jason Markarian (7 mentions)
Set against the backdrop of an unprecedented crime wave that gripped New York City in the 80s, a hyper-stylized action thriller about a cop’s daughter who, after her father clings to life following an assassination attempt, goes on a rampage to unearth her father’s assassin and weed out deep-rooted corruption in the NYPD.
Dust, Karrie Crouse (7 mentions)
A young mother in 1930s Oklahoma is convinced that her family is threatened and takes drastic steps to keep them safe.
Frenemy, Ariel Sayegh (7 mentions)
A chronicle of the infamous Lindsay Lohan/Paris Hilton feud of 2004-2006 over who would be Britney Spears’ best friend.
Gabi Seems Different, Victoria Bata (7 mentions)
After spending several years recovering from a devastating car crash that pulled her out of the spotlight, Gabi, a famous pop star, gets ready to perform again for the first time. But with the pressure mounting and her memory failing her, the young woman begins to doubt who she really is – and if Gabi really survived the crash at all.
Generation Leap, John Sonntag, Thomas Sonntag (7 mentions)
After a global pandemic causes NASA to send a crew of astronauts into deep space to find another habitable planet, the crew is unexpectedly awoken from hypersleep and must survive a mysterious new threat that comes from the future generations they sought to save, and the one place they never expected - Earth.
Get Lite, Eric Gross (7 mentions)
Saunders, a headstrong Bronx teenager, is caught between his love of Litefeet subway dancing and his strict father’s insistence on becoming an engineer. After he finagles his way onto a ragtag Litefeet crew, he’s exposed to an electrifying new world as well as a new crush. Now he has to decide who and what he’s willing to sacrifice in order to compete in the biggest dance competition of the year: Kingdome.
Good Chance, Tricia Lee (7 mentions)
A feisty transgender teen helps a church-going, undocumented Asian woman escape deportation, and they form an unlikely friendship that helps them heal the rifts in their own families.
Handsome Stranger, Greg Navarro (7 mentions)
Based on the incredible true story of serial killer Paul John Knowles and the week he spent with British journalist Sandy Fawkes in the midst of a murderous killing spree.
I.S.S., Nick Shafir (7 mentions)
At any given moment in time there are roughly six astronauts living on the International Space Station. The station itself is divided into two segments: one half Russian, one half American. When a world-war event occurs on Earth, America and Russia find themselves on opposing sides. As such, both nations secretly contact their astronauts aboard the ISS and give them instructions to take control of the station by any means necessary. The six astronauts must each secretly choose between their friendships with each other and their allegiance to their country.
Margot, Emily Adams (7 mentions)
Annie Mills has always known Margot Ellison to be two things: her best friend and a devout Mormon. But as high-school graduation nears and Margot starts to crave change, the girls must grapple with the fear that growing up might require growing alone.
The Peak, Arthur Hills (7 mentions)
A troubled young surgeon travels to a desolate peak to climb the mountain where her father suffered a mental breakdown years earlier, only to realize halfway up the rock wall that she might be subject to the same fate.
Reality, Heather Quinn (7 mentions)
A woman abruptly discovers nothing she’s known until now is real, and she must recover the truth in order to save the rest of the country, still trapped inside of the lie.
Ruby, Kat Wood (7 mentions)
After her husband is attacked, assassin Ruby is lured into the open to hunt down those responsible, leading her back to the boss who wants to keep her in the fold at any cost.
Tin Roof Rusted, Michelle Harper (7 mentions)
When two lifelong best friends discover that they’re both pregnant, they promise to embark on their journey together. But with the constant pressure of outsiders, the two struggle amid personal differences and must relearn that what connected them as children can still be their glue as adults.
War Face, Mitchell LaFortune (7 mentions)
A female U.S. Army special agent is sent to a remote, all-male outpost in Afghanistan to investigate accusations of war crimes. But when a series of mysterious events jeopardize her mission and the unit’s sanity, she must find the courage to survive something far more sinister.
The Women of Route 40, Erin Kathleen (7 mentions)
A struggling single mother must confront dangerous forces — and sins of her past — when her world collides with that of a serial killer. Inspired by the true story of Delaware’s only serial murderer, the Route 40 killer.
Yom Kippur, Brett Melnick (7 mentions)
After getting high on the night of Yom Kippur, three distant cousins wake up with muddled minds and empty stomachs as they find themselves in the middle of a kidnapping and a major drug ring.