"Shane is just a genius!" — Robert Downey, Jr.
Though you may not know his name, chances are you are already familiar with Shane Black's work. Fresh out of college, he wrote a screenplay that launched an action movie franchise and catapulted a little known actor to stardom. He would go on to write a string of action movies on his way to becoming the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood. If the high-intensity trailer for Iron Man 3 that aired during the Super Bowl is any indication, Black is about to reached similar heights of success as a director. Get ahead of the curve and find out everything you need to know to sound knowledgeable about Black and his work before the movie comes out by watching the list of movies we've prepared for you.
(1987, 110 minutes)
"You're not trying to draw a psycho pension! You really are crazy!"
Black studied theater at UCLA with the intention of becoming an actor, but when he found it difficult to land good roles he tried his hand at screenwriting. He wrote his second screenplay, Lethal Weapon, in just six weeks' time, and it only took his agent three days to sell it. Produced by Joel Silver and directed by Richard Donner, Lethal Weapon debuted at #1 at the box office on its way to earning more than $120 million.
Black didn't invent the "Buddy Cop" sub-genre of action movies, but a case could be made that he perfected it with his complex, flawed protagonists — by-the-book homicide detective and family man Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and his new partner, the suicidal narcotics officer Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) — and action sequences that propel the plot forward, rather than simply punctuate it. Glover said that he jumped at the chance to play Murtaugh because of the "family aspect" of his character and of the "intricate relationships and subtle humor" in the script. Similarly, Gibson said that the story was "a cut above others" and that "the action is really a sideline which heightens the story of these two great characters."
Black wrote the sequel, Lethal Weapon 2, but he left the production after changes were made to his script and only received a "Story By" credit.
Lethal Weapon | Danny Glover | Mel Gibson | Richard Donner | Movie Trailer | Review
(1991, 105 minutes)
"You can't just walk up and slap a guy, you have to say something cool first."
Riding high off of the success of the Lethal Weapon movies, Black earned a then-record $1.75 million for his follow-up screenplay, The Last Boy Scout. It contained all of the elements that Black would become known for — flawed heroes, quippy dialogue, plot-driven action — and with action master Tony Scott (Top Gun, Unstoppable) behind the camera and Bruce Willis in perfect form as the wisecracking former Secret Service agent-turned-private-dick protagonist, The Last Boy Scout should have been a smash hit. Nevertheless, it underwhelmed critics and had a hard time finding an audience, most likely attributed to its winter holidays release date.
Still, the movie helped to boost Willis' career following the dismal performances of The Bonfire of the Vanities and Hudson Hawk and it would eventually become a hit on the home video market. It also features arguably the best performance of Damon Wayans' career as James "Jimmy" Alexander Dix, a painkiller-addicted former pro football player who was banned from the sport for illegal sports gambling, and a pre-Oscar Halle Berry as a Jimmy's stripper girlfriend.
The Last Boy Scout | Bruce Willis | Tony Scott | Damon Wayans | Movie Trailer | Review
(1996, 121 minutes)
"They're gonna blow my head off, you know. This is the last time I'll ever be pretty. "
Black stumbled a bit when his next produced screenplay, The Last Action Hero, bombed at the box office, but he was soon back on top with his follow-up, The Long Kiss Goodnight, which sold for an unprecedented $4 million. The movie, about an amnesiac woman (Geena Davis) who hires a wisecracking detective (Samuel L. Jackson) to help her discover her true identity and discovers she used to be an assassin, failed to live up to expectations and put an end to Black's status as Hollywood's wonder boy screenwriter.
The failure of The Long Kiss Goodnight hurt more than just his career, notes Black:
[I]t engendered so much anger, I lost friends over it. And no one talked about the creative content of anything I did any more. They all just assumed I was this guy with a formula, a hack formula. So the spotlight was on me. I pretended it wasn't, but it was, and for every wrong reason. It was all about money... I didn't care. I just wanted to write stories, try to become a better writer, improve my style, change genres, even try new things. I didn't like action so much any more. But I wanted out of the spotlight, so I subtracted myself for a few years. ... Of course, the problem is, in getting out of the spotlight to feel safe and invisible again, I overcompensated and went too far into the darkness.
The Long Kiss Goodnight | Geena Davis | Renny Harlin | Samuel L. Jackson | Movie Trailer | Review
(2005, 103 minutes)
"Do not play detective. This is not a book. This is not a movie."
After Black emerged from his self-imposed exile with a script he believed in, he found it difficult to get anyone to read his scripts...or even take his calls. Black turned to Lethal Weapon producer Joel Silver, who gave him a shot at redemption. The result was Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, a neo-noirish hard boiled mystery thriller shot for just $15 million that Black not only wrote, but directed. The movie was the first pairing of Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer and, while not a financial success due to its limited release, was very well received by critics and helped to revitalize Downey, Jr.'s career.
The plot of the movie follows a petty thief named Harry Lockhart (Downey, Jr.) who lucks into a screen test for a movie role and is provided with a detective named "Gay" Perry van Shrike (Kilmer) to help him prepare for the role. Harry and Perry become witnesses to murder and are soon surrounded by dead bodies as several mysteries unfold and intertwine over the course of the movie. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang brought Black back to the attention of the power players in Hollywood and also earned him a friend in Downey, Jr., who would later "hire" him to do some script fixes on Iron Man 2 for the price of fresh fish and blueberries. It was also the movie that Black was the proudest of because what he "wrote on the pages is on the screen."
It is effectively what I wanted. If this movie's bad, it's my fault. It's not somebody else who changed or censored or edited it. This is the stuff I wanted, and that's what's on the screen, and if you don't like it, it's my bad.
If you have an interest in screenwriting or just want to know more about the way Shane Black views movies, check out this awesome action movie tutorial that he put together for The Guardian.