As a young writer, Shane Black exploded onto the scene with scripts that had a lot of voice, subverted tired tropes, and felt fresh inside the industry. He pioneered the crazy spec rush of the early 90s, at one point selling a spec for around $4 million.
It's crazy to even say you want to model your career after a guy like this one because the business has changed so much. But it's not crazy to learn some lessons from what he's accomplished and help yourself find the path to success.
This post has a few purposes. I want to gather some lessons from Shane Black's screenwriting career and figure out how we can apply them to us, and I want to serve as a portal to all of Shane Black's scripts for download. We have every Shane Black script PDF here, ready for your enjoyment.
So let's dive in and see what we can gather.
Screenwriting Lessons You Can Learn from Shane Black Movies
For this post, I'm going to take you through the produced screenplays of Shane Black and try to give you a lesson for each one. As you know, most writers in Hollywood actually make their living fixing and doctoring scripts. While we don't have any tangible examples from Black's career here, know that the following PDFs represent the movies he wrote that were made.
On some of them, he had co-writers working for him. And I cannot verify they are final drafts, because there's always writing that happens on set.
Regardless, I think tracking a career is really impactful and a great way to learn more about voice.
Lethal Weapon (1986) - Read the screenplay!
This is the script that put Black on the map.
Lethal Weapon took the buddy cop film and turned it on its head. It had emotional depth and character development. It tackled PTSD of a generation and even talked about how Vietnam still hung over the heads of men across America.
For our purposes, the lesson here is clear; do something new with something old. What's a genre or story you can tackle in a new way? What's something fresh your voice brings? Black also put Christmas into this one, a signature he would use again and again.
The Monster Squad (1987) – Read the screenplay!
One of the things I most admire about Shane Black is his ability to collaborate. He and Fred Dekker were classmates at UCLA and worked on this fun concept together.
The idea? Five kids find themselves up against the combined might of Dracula, the Mummy, the Gill-Man, and Frankenstein's Monster who arrive in town in search of a magic amulet.
The lesson? If you don't have access to intellectual property, try to use the public domain. This super team of villains gave them a recognizable concept to attach producers. What can you use to do the same?
Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) – Read the screenplay!
The story behind Lethal Weapon 2 is that Shane Black wanted to kill Riggs at the end. The studio wanted to ensure there were sequels. At some point, Black walked away from the table, refusing to change the ending he believed was best.
This was early in his career but turned out to be the right move. There's a certain art to taking your notes. You want to play ball as much as possible. But at the end of the day, you are allowed to walk away from the notes you think don't work as well. Know when to compromise and know when to stand your ground.
The Last Boy Scout (1991) – Read the screenplay!
I've found this to be a rather underrated movie and an even better read.
This is a buddy action comedy, like Lethal Weapon, about two mismatched guys. Immediately, I'd say this is Black capitalizing on what he's known for.
When you have a brand as a writer, Hollywood likes to pigeonhole you. That can be hard to deal with, but in the short term, it's good to get as many movies made as possible. How are you branding yourself as a writer? Can you follow through with that with new ideas?
Last Action Hero (1993) – Read the screenplay!
This is a movie that's largely forgotten outside of selling for a huge price tag. But this was one of Black's earliest signs that he was still innovating.
This is another reinvention of the buddy formula and proof he could write something not hardboiled. This time it's a kid and a hero, playing off classical Hollywood ideas and riffing on what he was already known to do well. So think about your brand and subverting yourself. A lot of this is writing something great, consistently. Easier said than done.
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) – Read the screenplay!
File this under a refreshing take on the buddy formula and the spy formula.
This time, Black gender-swaps the protagonists. The biggest lesson that I think his entire career embodies is writing for stars. There's so much elbow room in all of these roles. You're writing clear starring ideas, this one is inventive and allows an actress to play two different people. Again, this work is in the wheelhouse.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) – Read the screenplay!
Shane Black took some time off after Long Kiss. He attributed a lot of it to burnout, and I think it has to go with reinventing the wheel a lot. When he came back, it was time to work on something close to his heart, but with stuff he had more control over. If you look at his past films, they really stood out with his voice, but the directors' changed things or put their stamps on it.
If you have a passion project that you want to direct, be okay saving it for yourself, even if that takes years. While in the director's chair, he was able to lean into his strengths. He wrote for stars, cast people he knew, and got to experiment shaking things up.
Iron Man 3 (2013) – Read the screenplay!
With Black in the director's chair, he collaborated on this script with Drew Pearce. This was Black proving that he could still use his voice and his touch within the studio system again.
Marvel had a brand and he was able to do a movie that still felt within their beloved saga but touched by him as an artist. More importantly, it got his name hot again and allowed him to come back to a story he'd wanted to tell for a long time.
The Nice Guys (2016) – Read the screenplay!
Easily my favorite of Black's scripts, this was a return to the buddy comedy and a showcase of Black's strengths. Here we have stars hamming it up with razor-sharp dialogue and an exciting escalation of a case. He does "two people in over their head" so well.
This screenplay takes on corruption in the government as well. The lesson here is perseverance. This script got passed around Hollywood in the early 2000s. I read it when I was an intern. But great writing never goes away.
Predator (2018) - Read the screenplay!
We're on Black's most recent release, and I'm running out of lessons. Just kidding, this one basically writes itself.
Black played a role in the original Predator movie, and when fans heard he was taking on a sequel, the buzz was out. While changes were made to Black's script and the movie, he still got to be a part of the franchise that helped break him years ago. The lesson here is that you're never above being recut and rewritten. If you want the final cut, get famous, or write a novel. In the world of screenplays, there are always polishes, studios, notes, and tweaks.
Still, making stuff up and entertaining people is one of the many pleasures of the world. So keep at it, take these lessons to heart, and keep writing and reading.
I can't wait to see what you come up with next.
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