Top Script Sales

Post image for Top Script Sales

by John Robert Marlow

Let’s be clear: most screenplays—like most books—do not sell. Unlike books, however, those screenplays that do sell, tend to sell for a lot.

Though the WGA minimum is in the $130,000 range, the typical selling price for a spec script (a screenplay written on speculation, with no committed buyer) hovers in the neighborhood of $300-$600,000, plus bonuses.

Why the difference in price? Because when a studio or production company owns the rights to something and wants to keep costs down, they can hire a less-established writer for “scale” (WGA minimum). If Writer A won’t accept that price, they move on to Writer B. But when buying a spec script owned by someone else, there is no Writer B—so if they don’t pay a decent price up front, they don’t get the script. There was a 48-hour period in 2012 when three different scripts sold for $1M or more in a single 48-hour period—one of them the same day it was offered.

For those wondering just how big the Hollywood Jackpot can get, this is a list of the 15 highest-selling spec screenplays of all time. Note that these are script deals only; screenplays purchased from established writer/directors, writer/producers, and writer/actors (who will also direct, star, or produce as part of the deal) are not included. Because directors, actors (and in some cases producers) are paid far more than writers, the overall prices of such hyphenate-deals (which sometimes include a percentage of the gross) do not accurately reflect the price paid for the script.

 
SCRIPT PRICE WRITERS RELEASED AS

Deja Vu $5.6 million Terry Rossio
and Bill Marsilii
Deja Vu

The Long Kiss Goodnight $4 million Shane Black The Long Kiss Goodnight

Snow White and the Huntsman $3.2 million Evan Daugherty Snow White and the Huntsman

Bright $3 million plus Max Landis Bright

Basic Instinct $3 million Joe Eszterhas Basic Instinct

Medicine Man $3 million Tom Schulman Medicine Man

Bad Dog $3 million Dale Launer (unproduced)

Married in the Morning $3 million Harry Elfont
and Deborah Kaplan
(unproduced)

Panic Room $3 million David Koepp Panic Room

Mozart and the Whale $2.75 million Ron Bass Mozart and the Whale

Jackson $2.5 million Brandon Camp
and Mike Thompson
(unproduced)

Jade $2.5 million Joe Eszterhas Jade

The Superconducting
Supercollider of
Sparkle Creek, Wisconsin
$2.5 million David Koepp
and John Kamps
(unproduced)

Twister $2.5 million Michael Crichton
and Anne-Marie Crichton
Twister

Untitled Will Davies
Romantic Comedy
$2.5 million Will Davies (unproduced)

 

NOTES: Offers for Bright reportedly went as high as $4M, but the $3M+ deal came with a $90M production commitment (while the $4M offer reportedly came with a $50M commitment).

The Superconducting Supercollider deal was $2.5M (up front) against $3.25M (if made), with an additional deferred bonus (if made) of $1.5M for Koepp.

Another screenplay—Steinbeck’s Point of View, by writers Brandon Camp and Mike Thompson—sold for $750,000 against $3.75M, with a potential casting bonus of $2M. Though the writers received only $750k up front, their total payment (if the film goes into production) will be at least $3.75M—and could climb to $5.75M.