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Because movies ultimately start with a writer, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that some of the best screenwriters — as well as some terrible ones — love injecting their own craft into a screenplay.
Yes, movies about writers are prevalent enough that they could form their own mini-genre, and within this mini-genre is the most popular subgenre: movies about writer's block (like The Words, out this weekend). After all, nothing says "inspiration" like writing a movie about someone who's unequivocally failing to do the very same thing.
That said, there have been some damn good writer's block movies over the years. Our top 10 (see below) features a Best Picture winner, as well as films by brilliant screenwriters like Charlie Kaufman, Stanley Kubrick and The Coen Brothers. So to poo-poo the writer's block film was a little disingenuous of me, but I couldn't for the life of me come up with a better idea for this introduction (I'm here all night, folks).
10. Secret Window
We start the countdown with this 2004 thriller, which sees Johnny Depp in what's arguably his most normal role to date. He plays Mort, an author who retreats to his secluded cabin after catching his wife cheating. Once there, he's stalked by a man who claims Mort stole his manuscript and turned it into his most successful novel. The resemblance is uncanny, but that doesn't mean this poor guy deserves some of the freaky things that happen to him. In other words, don't watch it with the lights off.
The Words star Bradley Cooper headlined this minor box office hit last year about a strung-out, struggling writer who takes a magic drug that unlocks his mind and fosters a period of indescribable intellectual growth.
8. Ruby Sparks
Zoe Kazan wrote and starred in this indie comedy, which is out in limited release right now (check out our review). When Calvin (Paul Dano) hits a snag writing his latest novel, he uses the beautiful young woman in his dreams for inspiration. As he writes more and more about her, a real-life version of her shows up on his doorstep, and Calvin falls head over heels in love straight away.
7. Finding Neverland
This one isn't about writer's block per se, but rather what creative inspiration looks like. Before he met Sylvia Davies (Kate Winslet), J. M. Barrie (Johnny Depp, a writer again) was a struggling playwright. After developing a relationship with her and her extraordinary sons, he wrote Peter Pan, a definitive classic of children's literature.
6. Wonder Boys
Michael Douglas stars in this underseen 2000 film about a college professor whose talented English student threatens to swoop up a book deal from right under his nose.
5. Stranger Than Fiction
Will Ferrell has never been better than he was in Marc Forster's 2006 film about a sad sack accountant whose fate is linked to the whims of a struggling writer (Emma Thompson). She knows she wants to kill the main character in her latest novel, Harold Crick, but can't decide how to write the deed. Crick, she later learns, is a real person whose life she's been narrating, which begs the question: if she writes the ending she wants, will this man die?
4. The Lost Weekend
The best and only film about writer's block to win an Academy Award for Best Picture was this Billy Wilder effort from 1944. Ray Milland (in a Best Actor-winning role) plays a writer who's turned to the bottle for inspiration. His novelistic ambition and intentions are matched only by his utter lack of ideas and his love of booze. Once this poor guy gives in to temptation, we get go to with him on one of cinema's craziest benders ever.
3. Barton Fink
The Coen Brothers won the Palme d'Or at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival for this … um … well, I'm not exactly sure what this movie is. It's about writing, though. And John Goodman might be playing the devil. Not sure. Anyway, it's a wild one.
2. The Shining
Most people don't think of Kubrick's totally gonzo horror flick as a writer's movie, but the reason Jack Torrance takes his family deep into the Colorado mountains is to awaken his creative juices. A former English teacher, Torrance is struggling to complete a novel, and his lengthy stay at the Overlook Hotel certainly inspired him to write. Problem is he only came up with ten words: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
Back in 1994, Charlie Kaufman was commissioned by director Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) to adapt Susan Orlean's novel The Orchid Thief for the big screen. Eight years later, the film (sort of) made it to the big screen. It was called Adaptation, and it starred Nic Cage as none other than Charlie Kaufman.
Kaufman just didn't know where to go with the novel, so he wrote a film about the process. It's not entirely accurate (the film includes Kaufman's fictional twin brother, Donald, who's also played by Cage), but it's a flat-out brilliant depiction of the process from one of film's most out-there minds you'll ever come across.