101 Greatest Screenplays of the 21st Century (*so far)

James Vanderbilt first read Robert Graysmith’s best-selling book about the Zodiac Killer when Vanderbilt was in high school, so by the time he met Graysmith in 2002, Vanderbilt had history with the material. The immersion showed in the 158-page script Vanderbilt wrote for producer Bradley J. Fischer, but an even deeper development process ensued once Vanderbilt and Fischer teamed with director David Fincher—the trio spent 18 months on interviews and research, culminating in Vanderbilt’s 200-page shooting script. Beyond evoking the fear that gripped 1960s NorCal during Zodiac’s crime spree, Vanderbilt’s script explores the real-life investigation by a cartoonist, a detective, and a reporter, all of whom suffer psychological wounds while trying to decode a murderer’s taunting ciphers. Dramatizing the peril of entering a monster’s secret world, the script ends where the real investigation did—without resolution—so the sense of lingering menace is palpable.