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Exclusive: 'The Black List' -- Top 11 unproduced screenplays of 2009

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Last December, we introduced you to Franklin Leonard and The Black List, the list of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. Since then, Leonard (pictured, inset) has been named by The Hollywood Reporter as one of the top 35 executives under 35 working in Hollywood and his list has gained even more prominence. This year’s list consists of 97 scripts with 311 people contributing to the ranking — up from 260 in 2008. The top 10 (actually, 11, thanks to a tie in 10th place) is filled with mostly up-and-comers, with the exception of Aaron Sorkin and David Scarpa. All of the scripts are in some stage of development around Hollywood, with two of them currently in production. Take a look and beginning stages of what will be coming to a theater near you, some day.

1. The Muppet Man

By Christopher Weekes

What it’s about: The life and times of the late Jim Henson (pictured), the man behind Sesame Street and The Muppets.

What it’s like: The Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon, but with puppets. This moving story depicts the life of a creative genius, with occasional surreal appearances by the likes of Kermit and Miss Piggy.

Status: Set up at The Jim Henson Co.

2. The Social Network

By Aaron Sorkin

What it’s about: Chronicles Mark Zuckerberg’s complicated journey towards creating Facebook. Sorkin depicts both the founder’s motivations for starting the largest social network in the world and the human casualties that came with his profound success.

What it’s like: The fascinating biographical elements of Shattered Glass meets the courtroom drama of Kramer vs. Kramer, without the tears. Sorkin cuts between Zuckerberg’s heated depositions with his former Harvard colleagues who claimed he stole Facebook from them and the chronological retelling of the company’s trip to becoming a billion-dollar enterprise.

Status: In production for Sony Pictures. Jesse Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg while Justin Timberlake portrays Sean Parker, one of the founders of Napster and Zuckerberg’s idol. David Fincher is directing.

3. The Voices

By Michael R. Perry

What it’s about: Jerry, a schizophrenic worker at a bathtub factory, accidentally kills an attractive woman from accounting. While trying to cover his bloody tracks, Jerry starts taking advice from his talking (and foul-mouthed) cat and dog.

What it’s like: Watching the lovable pig from Babe join forces with American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. Some may be turned off by the script’s twisted sense of humor — Jerry has friendly conversations with his victim’s severed head — while others will get a kick out of its sheer audacity.

Status: Vertigo Entertainment is trying to package the film with a lead actor. Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) is developing.

4. Prisoners

By Aaron Guzikowski

What it’s about: When his young daughter and her best friend vanish on Thanksgiving Day, a Christian survivalist named Keller Dover takes matters into his own hands, imprisoning and torturing a suspect whom the police have set free. But does Dover have the wrong man? And if he does, who really has his little girl?

What’s it like: Silence of the Lambs meets Mystic River. A terrifying, riveting read. Vivid, unforgettable characters, a bullet-fast plot, and scenes that mine our deepest psychological fears. Lock the doors and windows (and go to the bathroom) before turning the first page.

Status: Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) directing for Alcon Entertainment and Warner Bros.

5. Cedar Rapids

By Phil Johnston

What it’s about: Tim Lippy is a small-town insurance man who’s somehow made it to middle age without having quite done anything. Everything changes when he unexpectedly gets the chance to represent his company at the Cedar Rapids insurance convention, where comedy ensues, of course.

What it’s like: The 40-Year-Old Virgin meets Napoleon Dynamite. A sad, but not pathetic, middle-aged man comes of age in the Midwest. A speedily told story with romance and action and some legitimately funny jokes.

Status: In production, with Miguel Arteta directing and Ed Helms playing Lippy. John C. Reilly, Alia Shakwat, Anne Heche and Sigourney Weaver co-star.

6. Londongrad

By David Scarpa (The Day The Earth Stood Still and co-wrote The Last Castle)

What it’s about: An adaptation of Alan Cowell’s 2008 book The Terminal Spy: A True Story of Espionage, Betrayal and Murder, chronicling the life and strange death of Alexander Litvinenko. Remember in 2006, when that ex-Soviet spy was allegedly poisoned with radioactive tea at a London sushi joint? That’s him.

What it’s like: The script evokes Born of the Fourth of July, Silkwood, and Robert DeNiro’s history-of-the-CIA saga The Good Shepherd — but in Russia, with spies. Using Litvinenko’s final days as a framing device, Scarpa’s script flashes back to pivotal passages of Alexander’s adult life: training and serving as a KGB agent; trying to staunch the growing influence of Russian mobs as a Russian super-cop after the fall of Communism; and boldly deciding to publicly accuse his superiors of trying to assassinate a Russian business tycoon, as well as facilitating the rise of Russian president Vladimir Putin through acts of terrorism.

Status: Warner Bros. has optioned the script.

7. L.A.Rex

By Will Beall (based on his novel of the same name)

What it’s about: Rookie LAPD officer Ben Halloran gets partnered with scarred and tobacco-spitting Officer Marquez, and the unlikely team hit the streets of L.A. on the brink of a gang-rivalry explosion. Amid run-ins with the Mexican mafia, brutal gang murders, and corrupt cops, we soon find that Halloran may not be as squeaky clean as his brand new badge.

What it’s like: Training Day combined with the brutal violence of The Departed. L.A. Rex is as much a cop story as it is a graphic portrait of underground crime in Los Angeles.

Status: Paramount Pictures has optioned on behalf of producer Scott Rudin.

8. Desperados

By Ellen Rapoport

What it’s about: Wesley Robbins, a 30-something single attorney with an unhealthy obsession with coupling up, thinks she’s found the perfect man. But when he doesn’t call for days after the first time they sleep together she freaks out and sends him a scathing email, only to learn he’s been laid up in a Mexican hospital with some broken bones. On a whim, she and her girlfriends travel down south to erase the email before she ruins what she believes could be her one true love.

What it’s like: The Hangover meets The Sweetest Thing, but in a good way. This equal parts raunchy and sweet script has LOL moments and the potential to be a big hit, especially with audiences loving movies today with complicated female protagonists.

Status: Isla Fisher is attached to star with Mark Gordon and Jason Blum producing at Universal

9. The Gunslinger

By John Hlavin

What it’s about: When a Texas Ranger is horrifically tortured and killed, his sharp-shooter older brother, Sam Lee Hensley, plots revenge against the mysterious, sadistic leader of a notorious drug cartel. Sam Lee’s quest for vengeance will cost him seven years in prison, his right hand and one eye. It will imperil his young nephew and wreak havoc on the lives of those who love him. And it will not bring him peace.

What it’s like: No Country For Old Men fused with Death Wish, graced by the melancholy of Unforgiven. Violent, macho, and action-packed, it’s as fun as a Dirty Harry script, but the remorse and grief of the central character linger long after the final gunshot.

Status: Warner Bros. and Andrew Lazar producing

10. (tie) By Way of Helena

By Matt Cook

What it’s about: Set in the south at the turn of the century, Texas Ranger David Kingston and his Mexican bride are sent down to the mysterious town of Helena to investigate the multiple Mexican bodies washing up in the river. What they discover is an idyllic-like town where everything is not as it seems.

What it’s like: Pleasantville meets High Noon where dueling-pistol showdowns take on a whole new meaning and the definitions of righteousness and morality are twisted into unrecognizable concepts.

Status: Purchased by Russian billionaire Sergey Gordeev

10. (tie) The Days Before

By Chad St. John

What’s it about: A man from the future keeps hopping one successive day into the past desperate to stop a vicious race of time-traveling aliens from wiping out humanity.

What’s it’s like: This lightning-paced, time-travel adventure is Back to the Future meets Independence Day meets Demolition Man accompanied with a gargantuan production budget.

Status: Warner Bros. has optioned it and a few big-time action directors have circled it but no one is yet attached.

(Reported by Sean Smith, Adam Vary, Jeff Jensen, Josh Rottenberg, Paige Parker, John Young, and Chau Tu)

Photo Credit: Leonard: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images; Henson: Everett Collection

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