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The Brightest Films of Searchlight Pictures

By Kevin Nelson · July 11, 2022

Shining a Light on Searchlight Pictures

Take a look at some of the smash indie film hits from Searchlight Pictures.

As independent studios began to show success with specialty films in the early 1990s, executives at 20th Century Fox wanted to try and emulate that success by creating Fox Searchlight Pictures. The specialty arm released a series of independent films starting with Girl 6 by Spike Lee. While the films were critically acclaimed, they weren’t box office successes. 

The Full Monty, written by Simon Beaufoy and directed by Peter Cattaneo, was the first Searchlight film to earn universal acclaim, top the box office, and be nominated for an Academy Award. It seems that they found a sweet spot in the independent film realm.

After Disney acquired the studio, it was announced in 2020 that Fox would be dropped from the name — giving us Searchlight Pictures.

The studio has aimed to produce and distribute specialty films of serious artistic merit with mass appeal. Here are some Searchlight Pictures screenplays whose light breaks through the darkness.

Scripts from this Article

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Directed and co-written by Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild is based on Zeitlin’s friend and co-writer Lucy Alibar’s original play titled Juicy and Delicious. The two have been friends since their early teenage years. When the two submitted for a playwriting award, they were awarded a trip to New York where the two bonded over Broadway shows, particularly Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Zeitlin was always one of the first people Alibar would send her work to. So when she sent him Juicy and Delicious, he was immediately drawn to it. She wrote the play during a very difficult time in her own life. It was a gut reaction to the pain of seeing her father suffer through illness. The screenplay adaptation is a young child’s exploration of loss, abandonment, and finding freedom in the grief that comes with the circle of life.

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28 Days Later

Written by Alex Garland and directed by Danny Boyle, 28 Days Later turned the zombie genre rabid — literally. Usually assigned to being slow-moving and vapid-brained, the zombies in 28 Days Later are berserkers who respond to one emotion, a rage-fueled bloodlust.

The opening sequence grabs your attention, and when Jim wakes up from a coma in a post-apocalypse London — a sense of eerie anticipation settles in. It doesn’t take long for the action to continually rise to a fever pitch.

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Written by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor and directed by Payne, Sideways was the fourth collaboration between Payne and Taylor. The two met while working gigs in Los Angeles while trying to make it in the industry. Taylor moved in with Payne when things got financially tight. Their first feature, Citizen Ruth, was made while he was studying at NYU in 1996. 

Sideways kicked off a craze for wine, to which I happily toast my glass. The script is full of hilarious moments of men in a middle-aged crisis.

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Wild is an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and was written by Nick Hornby. Reese Witherspoon produced and starred in this tale of one woman’s trek on the trail to come to terms with the death of her mother and her failed marriage and recent abortion.

Most of the script features a single character against the wild, with supporting characters who come in and out of Cheryl’s journey — but ultimately Cheryl carries the majority of the action.

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Little Miss Sunshine

Screenwriter Michael Arndt lived the fantasy most screenwriters dream of. He wrote the screenplays for Little Miss Sunshine in three days. Never having a feature produced before, he was able to sell the script for $250,000.

The script is a grounded dramedy with a whole lotta heart that’s perfect to read if you’re looking to balance genres with ease. 

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The Wrestler

Written by Robert Siegel and directed by Darren Aronofsky, The Wrestler takes a look into a counterculture not often seen on screen. Most people have watched the bright lights show of professional wrestling, but most have never seen a Deathmatch and all the blood that comes with body-slamming someone on thumb tacks.

The screenplay is a great character study that an actor can really sink their teeth into, and it helped revitalize Mickey Rourke’s career.

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(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer is an unconventional rom-com written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber. The script features a nonlinear narrative that jumps back and forth between the days of a doomed relationship, as indicated by title cards. 

It’s a great script to read for any writer who wants to color outside of the lines in an inventive and clear way. 

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Black Swan

Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, & John McLaughlin, Black Swan is a psychological thriller about a ballerina under immense pressure when she has to compete for a role she thought was all but hers. 

Director Darren Aronofsky first conceived of the idea while his sister danced ballet in high school. He hired screenwriters to rewrite Andres Heinz’s The Understudy, which Aronofsky saw as a companion piece to The Wrestler, being that ballet is considered high art and wrestling is low art, but their artists are just as dedicated to the point of mental and physical deterioration. 

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Adapted from Colm Tóibín’s book of the same name, Brooklyn was written by Nick Hornby. It’s based on an Irish woman who immigrated to Brooklyn to find work. While there, she falls in love with an Italian boy — but ultimately she has to choose between her new home and motherland. 

The film is a faithful adaptation of the book aside from one minor detail — the ending. Sometimes audiences need a happy ending over an open one.

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The Shape of Water

Written by director Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, The Shape of Water is a sci-fi romance about a love affair between a mute janitor and a top-secret amphibious humanoid. Guillermo del Toro was inspired by films like Creature from the Black Lagoon

The director initially pitched the idea to Universal Studios from the creature’s perspective, but the executives weren’t having it. He wanted to tell a story that reflected the polarized world today, where love will hopefully win over fear and hatred. 

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Searchlight Pictures has brought some of the best specialty films to our screens. Since 1994, Searchlight Pictures has amassed over 164 Academy Award Nominations (44 wins) and 117 Golden Globe noms (26 wins) — along with countless other awards. 

It’s fair to say that Searchlight will continue to shine a light on stories that illuminate our world. 

Scripts from this Article