From the creator of Deadpool comes a 2 million dollar spec sale from the 90s that was supposed to be the next huge Will Smith franchise. What happened??
Premise: A mild-mannered campaign worker receives “the mark,” a special ancient marking that gives him all sorts of special powers.
About: This was supposed to be a huge one. The script was purchased in the 90s for 2 million bucks. It was going to star Will Smith. None other than Steven Spielberg was going to direct. Smith’s Independence Day producers, Devlin and Emmerich, were set to produce. And, oh yeah, it was written by the co-creator of Deadpool, Rob Liefeld. Scripts don’t come with much more pedigree than that. According to Liefeld, the project fell apart because of merchandising and producing points. Although something tells me it fell apart after someone read this draft.
Writer: Rob Liefeld
Details: 1997 draft
Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The Devil’s Advocate
The script has it all.
In many ways, this project was the pinnacle of the 90s Hollywood deal. You had this sexy high concept idea. You had mega-star Will Smith. You had Spielberg joining you in the pitch room. Let’s be honest. They could’ve pitched “Bathroom Boy: The Tale of the Lost Toilet Paper” and sold it in the room that day.
But instead they sold The Mark.
And we’re all left to wonder if this was the final nail in the coffin for giant script sales. Cause this script is awful.
We start in Nazi Germany during World War 2 cause of course we do. Some evil German commander named Gates is storming into a Jewish apartment building to find the Jewish man who holds “the mark” on his hand – a special tattooed stamp that means you have powers!
The elder owner of the mark passes it down to his son, Jacob, who then leaps across buildings in a single bound, escaping the evil Nazis, as well as escaping the boring scene.
Cut to modern day and you bet your bottom dollar we got a New York apartment that’s got dirty clothes on the floor, that’s got beer cans on the side table, and, woudln’t you know it, when the alarm clock goes off, a hand shoots into frame and throws against the wall.
Apparently Chat GPT time-traveled back to 1997 and answered the question, “How do I write the most cliched character introduction ever?” And that’s what it came up with before traveling back to the future.
The cliched hand belongs to Mike Collins, who gets a knock on the door soon afterwards and do I even need to tell you who it is? Cause if you don’t know, you’ve never seen a movie before. It’s the landlord! And she wants her money. Cause Mike is late with the rent.
Mike makes an excuse then meets his elder friend, Jacob, by the news stand – yes, Jacob is the same Jacob from before. Jacob tells Mike to bet on the Bulls against the Knicks if he wants to make some money. Mike heads to his campaign job where the mayor is going to be running for president soon. At the end of the day, the Bulls beat the Knicks.
Mike goes to thank Jacob except Mike finds Jacob shooting balls of energy out of his hands at two dudes in the alley. Jacob gets hit by a enemy energy ball and, as he lays dying, PASSES THE MARK TO MIKE! Mike runs away, realizing, in the moment, that he has super speed. And then he also has super strength.
He’s terrified of all this new power and he tries to hide. But he’s soon visited by this chick named Falkon. Falkon then takes Mike to her secret hideout which is in…. Wait for it, the Statue of Liberty. Falkon explains to Mike that he now bears the “mark” and, therefore he’s “the one” and that the evil Jonathan Gates (from the opening) is going to do everything in his power to get that mark because the planets are aligning soon and he needs to have it do destroy the world or something. Yada yada yada. The end.
The Mark may be one of the most blatant examples of how influenced we are by the time that we’re writing in. This was written squarely in 1997 when everyone was writing these scripts.
You’ve got the nobody everyman protagonist. You’ve got the special power that’s passed on from generation to generation. Our character is known as “The One” (although, in the writer’s defense, Matrix hadn’t been released yet). You’ve got Nazis. You’ve got the “learn your powers” fun-and-games section.
I love reading scripts like this for this very reason – to remind you not to write the same stuff that everybody else is writing at that time. You have to be able to step out of your body, travel 20 years into the future, and look back at your current script through that lens of, “Does my script read like every other movie that was being released at that time?” And if the answer is yes, your script either needs a major overhaul or to be thrown in the trash.
I always say that a screenwriter becomes a screenwriter when they watch other movies and don’t think, “Ooh, that’s cool, I’m going to include that in my script,” but rather, “Ooh, that’s cool, now I can’t use that in my script.” You learn to actively avoid the things that everybody else is doing.
But let’s play a different game for this review. Which is, if I read this in 1997, would I like it? And the answer to that would be no. I’ll tell you why. Because the secret base is in the Statue of Liberty. Let me repeat that: THE SECRET BASE IS IN THE STATUE OF LIBERTY!!!
I have seen many a questionable writing choice in my day. I’ve seen scripts written entirely on one’s cell phone. I’ve endured twenty-minute scenes of characters watching The Shining… IN SPACE. I’ve read not one, not two, but THREE Mattson Tomlin scripts, which, combined, exhibited the thoughtfulness and sophistication equivalent to a fifteen minute visit to the bathroom.
But giving your characters a secret base in the Statue of Liberty in a non-comedy is up there with the dumbest creative choices I’ve come across. I’m not even sure Mattson Tomlin would do something this dumb. I mean, are you even trying at that point?
As soon as that happened, I was out. The script was trending downwards before that. That brought it into “bottom of the ocean” territory.
Another problem is that Liefeld adheres to formula so rigidly that it strangles the story’s ability to live. This is a debate that’s raged on for years in the industry and this script shows you why. Because every single beat of this script is lined up with the Blake Snyder beat sheet and, as a result, there’s no life to it.
It’s just a screenplay beat sheet. It’s not a real thing that happened.
Which is what you’re trying to achieve, by the way. You’re trying to make your movie feel like something that really happened. The second we don’t feel that, we start seeing your movie as a produced fake product rather than an experience to get emotionally wrapped up in.
I think structure is good. But it has to be invisible. You can’t be so clunky in your construction of it that all your plot pillars are visible. You have to hide it, like exposition. Which basically means that your characters are dictating what happens as opposed to the writer dictating what happens.
When the Terminator walks naked into a bar and finds a biker his size and tells him to give him his clothes, we feel that as a genuine moment because the Terminator needs to blend in to society. And he can’t blend in without clothes. It’s imperative that he do this to succeed at his mission.
Conversely, when Captain Marvel steals a guy’s jacket and motorcycle who tells her to smile, that moment is 100% created by the writer. It doesn’t need to happen for the story. It’s just the writer wanting to get this thing in there they want to say.
Structure works the same way. If we feel like, “Oh, now we get the scene where the guy gets a tour of the secret base,” and, “Oh, now we get the scene of him practicing his new powers,” and “Oh, now we get the scene where the love interest pops in,” then we start falling asleep.
A script dies the second the reader knows what’s going to happen three minutes from now. Once they can always tell what’s going to happen in three minutes? Your script is dead to the world cause it’s terrible.
You’ll never be able to perfectly hide everything, of course. But you have to be good enough to hide most of it.
To be fair to Liefeld, this doesn’t feel as cliched if we’re reading it in 1997. But it doesn’t matter because there is literally nothing to offset the cliches. Every single choice, from the main character to the love interest to the powers to the rules, are so insanely bland that I don’t know how he was okay with others seeing these pages.
At the very least, try.
That’s all I ask from writers. Let me see that you’re trying and, even if you write a bad script, I will respect you for giving it your all.
This script had zero try-factor.
And you can read it yourself! – The Mark
[x] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: There’s a famous moment in the movie National Treasure where Nicolas Cage’s character has to use the Constitution, which is encased in bullet proof glass, to deflect some bullets. The reason this moment is so famous is because it’s ironic. It’s clever. That you’re using this 300 year old document to defend yourself. Having a secret base in the Statue of Liberty is not ironic. And because of that, it comes off as lazy and dumb. So, if you’re tasked with coming up with something and you don’t know if it’s cool or stupid, do the irony test. If there’s some irony there, it’s probably cool.