Shane Black: Our Last Action Hero

Written by Jesse Gelinas April 21, 2013

Shane Black

He doesn’t always write movies. But when he does, they f@#%ing rule!

“There aren’t any heroes left in the world.”

The 1980’s were dominated by an era of film that combined Reaganesque cowboy Conservatism with hardcore, man-on-man ass-kickingness. 80’s action films were all the rage thanks to men like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and van Damme. But there’s one action hero, who for the most part, sadly goes unsung. A man who helped pioneer the white/black buddy-cop movie. The man who taught us that wolfman’s got nards. The man who wrote the million dollar script. The man who managed to disappear from Hollywood for a decade and suddenly reemerge at the helm of a billion dollar franchise. Shane Black is that hero. This is his legend…

Shane Black landed on the Hollywood scene right out of school (where’d he’d trained as an actor) and took off running. At the behest of his friend, Fred Dekker, Shane tried his hand at writing and delivered a script that would immediately shoot him to stardom. “Lethal Weapon” was released in 1987 and helped launch not only Mel Gibson’s career, but Shane’s as well. A quarter-million dollars richer, Shane Black got a taste, and it was good. That same year he would help his friend Fred write “The Monster Squad” (classic!) and appear alongside Ah-nuld in “Predator”. The producers claim they gave him a role just to keep him close by to help review the script. 107 solid minutes of nonstop one-liners? Time well spent.

“My childhood superheroes tended to be in the adult section of the library.”

“Lethal Weapon” would spawn three sequels, only one of which bore his name with a writing credit. After some disagreements with producers and director Richard Donner, Shane left the film when his script was altered beyond his realm of tolerance. The film was still a hit and his star was still rising. But the 80s were coming to a close.

Shane Black as Hawkins in "Predator"

“She said ‘me too; mine’s as big as a house!'” – Shane Black, “Predator”

Shane Black quickly became the highest paid writer in Hollywood. In 1990, he became the first writer to sell a script for $1 million (1.75 to be precise). “The Last Boy Scout” brought together huge stars like Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans and Tony Scott for another buddy-film. It didn’t deliver the blockbuster earnings expected, but Shane’s screenplay impressed everyone who mattered in Hollywood. He’d earn another million for “Last Action Hero” — and before we go on… Say what you will about the ridiculousness of that film; it was insanely clever and a great throwback to what made 80s actioners great. — His next, I’m gonna say masterpiece, “The Long Kiss Goodnight” would set a new Hollywood record, earning him a $4 million paycheque. He was on top of the world.

And like that, he was gone. Shane Black disappeared almost overnight. No note, no phone call. Not a trace. Countless hacks and has-beens have been swallowed up by the infinite abyss that is Hollywood. But why would a superstar action writer, at the top of his game, and the top of the pay grade suddenly just up and leave? Was he tired of the limelight? Was he sick of having his scripts stolen away and rewritten by strangers? Who’s to say? Well, he is, and that’s what he says. But, maybe it wouldn’t last.

Eight.

Years.

Pass.

It’s 2004.The 90s are well and clearly over, and people had all but forgotten a time when men were men, and women were almost criminally underwritten. A script has been written. Written by a name thought lost tot the footnotes of history. Robert Downey Jr. is cast. The man who defines “the shitty 90s” is getting another chance at stardom, by a man who nearly let those shitty 90s destroy him. Shane Black is directing “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”.

Shane Black with Robert Downey Jr onthe set of "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"

RDJ: “I’ll pay you back in 8 years, Shane.”

“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” was a hit. With no major release, it didn’t get the chance to wow the masses, but critics and industry heads were paying attention once more to the genius of Shane Black. Fresh out of rehab and impressing everyone with his recent comeback, RDJ starred opposite Val Kilmer in the hilarious black-comedy that seemed to let Shane Black excise all his demons at once. You get your buddy-cop charm, your profuse use of “fuck” (sorry, Midwest), and oh so many gay jokes. The movie brought Shane Black, and seemingly RDJ as well, back to life.

“I’m not in the market any more to crash helicopters or blow up the Washington Monument. I’m certainly content to stick at — if not the $15-million level — then certainly below the level of blockbuster.” … Whatever you say, Shane.

Fast forward another seven years. Nothing much happened. So, maybe it wasn’t the comeback story you were expecting. Not every Hollywood story has a happy ending… Luckily, this one does. Robert Downey Jr. is one of the biggest stars in the world. “Iron Man” is a household name for the first time in decades, and Marvel is Hollywood’s latest Giving Tree.

“Iron Man 3” is less than two weeks away, Shane Black’s sophomore directing job, and his first since 2005. This billion dollar franchise is in the hands of the man who revolutionized actions films more than twenty years ago. How? Did Downey Jr. have anything to do with it? Is this some sort of bro-back pact. Who’s to say. But Robert Downey Jr. was down, and now he’s a king. And now Shane Black is back, and about to get bigger than ever. Are you excited?

“Lethal Weapon”. “The Monster Squad”. “The Long Kiss Goodnight”. “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”. “Iron Man 3”.

Are you excited yet? I am.

Shane Black's next film, "Iron Man 3" is set to hit theaters on May 3rd.

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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