Every writer might face the stage of writer’s block every now and then. Even while some wordsmiths refer to the writer’s block as a myth, writers can encounter moments when their creativity falls to a low and no ideas seem to emerge. Several films centered around writers (real or fictional) can depict writer’s block as either a realistic phase of hopelessness or a surreal state of panic and frenzy.
Some like The Shining tend to add external elements as causes of the writer’s lack of ideas while other films like Adaptation, were based on the screenwriter’s actual struggles with writer’s block.
10 Young Adult (2011)- 6.2
Diablo Cody (of Juno fame) penned the script for this comedy-drama that functions as a coming-of-age story for an author undergoing a mid-life crisis. Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a writer behind a moderately successful YA novel franchise. As she struggles with new ideas and alcoholism, she decides to make a trip back to her hometown, hoping to be reunited with her ex-boyfriend. Her life goes down a spiral when she finds her ex-beau to be well-settled with a family of his own.
Theron perfectly captures the angst and frustration of her character’s career, who wishes she could have had more in her life, both personally and professionally.
9 People Places Things (2015)- 6.9
People Places Things is a film that perfectly captures the transient nature of human love. Comedian Jemaine Clement plays a graphic novelist who’s coping with the slump in his career and a recent divorce. He strikes up a new relationship with one of his students’ mothers. But when his ex-wife decides to leave his children with him too, he finds it hard to juggle roles.
With his mind drifting away from work, he also starts having doubts about whether he’s over his ex or not. The central character goes through a lot of self-introspection, a familiar yet heartwarming trope that can be found in many other films dealing with writers.
8 Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)- 7.1
Can You Ever Forgive Me covers the life of Lee Israel, with Melissa McCarthy delivering one of her best lead performances. It’s based on Israel’s memoir of the same name, in which she elaborates on her literary forgeries. The film depicts Israel as a washed-out writer who once was a celebrity biographer. Now all she faces is writer’s block, rejected ideas, alcoholism, and financial troubles.
She doesn’t end up channeling her frustration in her next big book. Instead, she starts forging and recreating letters by deceased authors and playwrights. She uses her literary abilities to recreate such authentic-looking writings that are then sold at high prices.
7 TIE: Shakespeare In Love (1998)- 7.1
Surely, Shakespeare In Love is a melodramatic romance. But beyond that, it functions as a good fictional take on the writing process that went behind Romeo & Juliet. Joseph Fiennes plays the Bard of Avon who’s shown as a playwright with some repute. Desperate for a new play, fate brings him close to the noble lady Anne Hathway (Gwyneth Paltrow). Their love is depicted in a poetic manner and forms the crux of the story.
However, there are also several scenes when Shakespeare struggles both as a writer and as a lover. Finally, it’s his passionate real-life love story that motivates him to put pen on paper for his next magnum opus.
6 TIE: Wonder Boys (2000)- 7.2
Michael Douglas stars in Wonder Boys as a professor of creative writing who ironically can’t finish his own novel. Added to the mix are his divorce, an affair with the college Chancellor’s wife, and his own students one of whom is an aspiring writer himself.
This complicates tensions and makes the protagonist jealous, as he believes his student might very well be on the road to becoming a bestselling author. In the pursuit of finishing his book, Douglas’ character evokes a sense of aging and cynicism. The film boasts of a talented ensemble, with the likes of Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, and Robert Downey Jr.
5 TIE: Ruby Sparks (2012)- 7.2
A charming romantic fantasy, Ruby Sparks finds a writer who is trying to recreate the success of his first book. Distraught and anxious, he randomly decides to write about the ideal romantic partner in his life. This results in the creation of Ruby Sparks, a woman literally coming out of his pages. Not wanting to reveal the creation of her, the writer ends up striking a relationship with her. Whatever he writes, Ruby Sparks follows suit.
Matters go awry at times as is the case with every romantic relationship. This confuses him further on how to complete his story with the woman of his thoughts. The leads, Zoe Kazan (who also wrote the film) and Paul Dano add enough drama and wit to make it an amusing watch.
4 TIE: Barton Fink (1991)- 7.7
The titular character in Barton Fink (John Turturro) is a shy screenwriter who’s commissioned to write low-budget films for a Hollywood studio. However, anything and everything seems to bother him from achieving his goals and he starts struggling with writer’s block. Fink’s neighbor, a mosquito, a writer’s assistant, and several other external factors that don’t allow him to focus.
The film delves into several philosophical themes and it’s hard to categorize it as a genre. While it’s reminiscent of other satires by writer-directors Coen Brothers, the film also has traces of a psychological thriller and a horror noir.
3 TIE: Adaptation (2002)- 7.7
Charlie Kaufman was tasked with adapting the nonfiction book The Orchid Thief for a screenplay. Feeling uninspired and going through writer’s block, Kaufman ended up penning a wildly original exaggeration of both the book and his own writer’s block, that got presented as the film Adaptation. He also conjured an identical twin brother, adding to the several meta-elements in the film.
Nicholas Cage plays Kaufman and his fictional twin brother Donald, as he struggles to finish his screenplay. A subplot involves reinterpretations of incidents from The Orchid Thief. If anything, Adaptation is a fine example of a writer capitalizing on his own writer’s block.
2 Almost Famous (2000)- 7.9
Based on writer-director Cameron Crowe’s own experience working with Rolling Stone, Almost Famous is the quintessential film for aspiring music journalists. 15-year-old William Miller (Patrick Fugit) leaves his home to write a Rolling Stone feature on the band Stillwater. Touring with the band leads to several life-changing experiences for the teenager.
He eventually struggles writing the piece, struggling to make his narrative straightforward and honest. Apart from being a commentary on music critics and rockstars, the film offers a perspective on separating the ‘personal from professional’.
1 The Shining (1980)- 8.4
Writer’s block can be quite a terror, especially for a writer who is working on a new book. Combine that with a supernatural presence and one would get one of the most iconic horror films ever made. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a slow-burning horror drama, with Jack Nicholson’s energetic and chilling performance as Jack Torrance being a highlight.
Torrance is a writer susceptible to rage issues. Developing a habit with the bottle, he’s wandering aimlessly in writing his new novel. After he gets the offer to serve as the Overlook Hotel’s caretaker one winter, he thinks the hotel’s solitude would offer him the perfect working environment. He moves in with his family, slowly discovering the hotel’s paranormal past. The results are bouts of insanity and pages that read nothing but ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’.
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