Believe it or not, there was a time in Hollywood when all studios wanted was a spec script. The next big thing. More Shane Black movies. Before Hollywood became the land of superheroes, reboots, and remakes, it was the land of original IP. Welcome to the ‘80s and ‘90s, when writers would write, directors would direct, actors would act, and the studios had their checkbooks open. So, who is Shane Black? Just a recent UCLA grad who took full advantage of this seller’s market, becoming the world’s highest-paid screenwriter by the age of 30. Let’s find out how.
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Shane Black Screenwriting
First, who is Shane Black?
Just like movies can represent a shift in culture and cinema, so can the people who write those movies. Screenwriters are often overshadowed by actors and directors, but Shane Black has done all three (write, act, direct). Yet still, the talent he’s most known for is the one linked to his typewriter. That’s how you know he’s good!
Shane Black Movies
Who is Shane Black?
Shane Black is a writer-director best known for Lethal Weapon and shaping the buddy-cop genre.
To date, Shane Black has written nine produced scripts: Lethal Weapon (1987), Monster Squad (1987), The Last Boy Scout (1991), Last Action Hero (1993), The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Iron Man 3 (2013), The Nice Guys (2016), and The Predator (2018).
He sold Lethal Weapon (1987) at 22 years-old and sold The Last Boy Scout (1991) for a record of $1.75 million. 5 years after that he sold The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) for another record $4 million. He was the hottest writer in the business by any metric.
However, while not duds, neither of these films yielded the expected financial return for such a big price-tag. Afterward Shane Black went, well, black for nearly 10 years battling personal issues and contempt for his work.
His comeback script and directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) is arguably his best and most original work. Since 2005 Shane Black has directed all 4 of his screenplays.
What to Expect From Shane Black Scripts:
- Set in Los Angeles
Shane Black Writer
Shane Black writes buddy-cop movies
Maybe not always a cop, but either a cop or private investigators. Either way, it’s definitely gonna be a two-hander. Just look at his posters!
I can’t make this stuff up. That’s basically six of the exact same poster. Two people (normally two guys), weapons in hand, game face. Perhaps Drake said it best in his 2015 song Back to Back “Back to back like I’m on the cover of Lethal Weapon.”
But Shane Black doesn’t stop at the poster, his movies mirror themselves in a number of ways. Be warned, there are admittedly some reaches in the following clip, but the point is well made.
Now, just because Shane Black’s movies have similar tones and themes, doesn’t mean they aren’t good. This guy is a legend for reasons beyond his outrageous screenwriter salary of the '90s; he knows his way around a gunshot/explosion.
Black’s use of violence is not only entertaining, but often funny, creative, surprising, revealing, and sometimes all at once.
With those examples, it's easy to see how action/comedy is the perfect genre for Black. Yes, he’ll write movie cliches, but he also plays with cliche and expectation in incredible ways.
Shane Black Director
Shane Black screenwriting is meta
Shane Black scripts are full of meta jokes. The Last Action Hero is about a kid who becomes part of his favorite movie. It’s maybe the most meta thing I’ve ever seen. Kind of a Willy Wonka meets Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the film certainly has its critics, but its concept and level of parody is far beyond his time.
Despite lackluster US box office and critical response, Black was just getting his meta gears warmed up. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang features extremely meta narration from start to finish with lines like:
- “Thanks for coming. I guess you’d call this a detective story; there are dull parts, but there’s a murder in it. Also a broken heart so I guess it’s a love story.”
- “Don't worry, I saw Lord of the Rings. I'm not going to end this 17 times.”
- “Look, I hate it too. In movies where the studio gets all paranoid about a downer ending so the guy shows up, he's magically alive on crutches, I hate that… But the point is in this case, this time, it really happened. Perry, like, lived. Yeah, it's a dumb movie thing, but what do you want me to do, lie about it?”
You get the idea. Not only this, but the plot of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is directly tied to the film industry.
Harry (Robert Downey Jr) finds himself being used as a pawn in a Hollywood chess game. He coincidentally meets private investigator and consultant Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) and eventually winds up in the middle of a murder mystery, providing constant meta narration.
Similarly, The Nice Guys screenplay revolves around investigating the death of a porn star. Setting films in LA, specifically the porn and film industry, lets Black make fun of Hollywood parties and never be too far away from an inside LA joke.
Best Shane Black Films
Top 5 Shane Black Movies
So, Shane Black likes cops, he likes LA, he likes macho characters, and he likes two-handers. To make all that work, you need sharp, ping-pong dialogue, which means you’re gonna get some good quotes.
Below are my favorite Shane Black movies, and the best quotes associated with each...discretion advised.
Shane Black Predator and Others
5. The bottom of the barrel
When looking at Black’s films, there are really only four clear cut choices, not five. So, I’ll clump The Last Action Hero, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Monster Squad, and the Shane Black Predator together.
His critics point to these films, saying all he does is make empty, macho blockbusters with big explosions. Black is certainly guilty of that charge, but he can also do so much more, luckily the list has only begun.
The Long Kiss Goodnight
- Samantha: Easy, sport. I got myself outta Beirut once, I think I can get outta New Jersey.
- Mitch: Yeah? Well, don't be so sure. Others have tried and failed. The entire population, in fact.
The Last Boy Scout
- Jimmy Dix: What, you don't believe in love?
- Joe Hallenbeck: Yeah, I believe in love; I also believe in cancer.
- Jimmy Dix: What, they're both diseases?
- Joe Hallenbeck: Yeah, something like that.
The Last Action Hero
- Danny Madigan: I thought I was going to die.
- Jack Slater: Well I'm sorry to disappoint you but you're gonna live to enjoy all the glorious fruits life has got to offer — acne, shaving, premature ejaculation...and your first divorce.
SHANE BLACK MOVIES DIRECTED
4. Iron Man 3
Many credit Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok (2017) as one of the most original installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). However, Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 came out four years prior and certainly has a case to be made.
Iron Man 3 marks the start of Phase 2 of the MCU, when Marvel started giving directors more creative control, letting them put their own spin on the films. Tony Stark is the perfect character for Black’s witty banter and high-profile action sequences.
That scene above just screams Shane Black, from the Val Kilmer-esque henchmen to the little kid helping out, to the chaotic action with quick jokes built-in, but it undoubtedly works with the Tony Stark character from the first two Iron Man films.
Shane Black Lethal Weapon
3. Lethal Weapon
The film that made Shane Black’s career comes in at #3. You could easily give Lethal Weapon the #1, but I prefer the witty detective stories that come later more than this macho action film.
Lethal Weapon might be the perfect symbol for '80s/'90s Hollywood. You get megastar Mel Gibson doing badass Mel Gibson stuff, Shane Black right before he becomes the hottest writer in the business, crazy guitar riffs, and a film that defines (along with 48 Hours) the buddy-cop genre.
Shane Black’s Lethal Weapon hinges on the character of Martin Riggs. He’s absolutely crazy, but entertaining. It’s common for Shane Black scripts to lean on a character who’s wholly unpredictable. Either due to craziness or cluelessness. Download and read the entire Lethal Weapon script to see how this insanity gets written on the page.
Shane Black Films
2. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Most people would point to Lethal Weapon, but when I think Shane Black, I think Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It's more comedy than crime, it’s more wit than explosion, and an entertaining film from top to bottom.
The narration is a little too meta for me, and the flashback sequence doesn’t work, but the love story in the middle delivers, Val Kilmer is awesome as Gay Perry, and of course, all the buddy cop moments deliver exactly what we expect from Shane Black movies.
The scene is chaotic, unexpected, and violently comedic in the face of death. Shane Black has mastered this tone. Download and read the screenplay for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Shane Black Movies — The Nice Guys
1. The Nice Guys
A nice companion to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys hits a lot of the same notes. Ryan Gosling replaces Robert Downey Jr. as the doofus detective, but this time Russell Crowe offers the veteran savvy instead of Val Kilmer. The movies are ingrained in LA, involve a dead girl, mystery, and a lot of jokes.
So, why is The Nice Guys #1? Its close, but The Nice Guys plays within the ‘70s porn scene without meta narration, which helps a lot, and it also was awarded a bigger budget ($50 million vs $15 million). This goes a long way for the action sequences. Better believe, if you give Shane Black an extra $35 million, he’s gonna use it.
If you don’t like that scene, you won’t like The Nice Guys. If you do, you might wanna download and read The Nice Guys script.
Who is John August?
Alright, so now you’re an expert on Shane Black. Wanna continue getting to know the great Hollywood scribes? The next stop is a no brainer, there are few writers in Hollywood with more influence than John August.