Five Must-See Man In A Box Movies

Posted by Bob Schultz
Richard "RB" Botto Richard "RB" Botto

Today, a fun guest blog by Stage 32 member, Bob Schultz. Bob has been the Executive Director of the Great American Pitchfest & Screenwriting Conference (GAPF) for ten years, helping guide it from upstart to the premiere event of its kind. Along with GAPF founder/screenwriter Signe Olynyk, he produced the award-winning thriller Below Zero, starring Edward Furlong (Terminator 2: Judgement Day, American History X, The Green Hornet) and Michael Berryman (One Flew Over the Coocoo's Nest, The Hills Have Eyes, The Devil's Rejects), which is currently on a worldwide tour of film festivals, and is available for purchase from Amazon. Bob and Signe are currently producing the zombie thriller Breakdown Lane, which Bobalso wrote.



With the recent release of Below Zero, and the changing face of the film industry, more and more independent producers are turning toward "Man In A Box" stories to get their films made. When Signe Olynyk and I created Man In A Box Films, we were attracted to the writing challenge of putting a limited number of characters in one location. With only story, character, and theme to rely on, the end result is stronger stories on a manageable budget.

But we are far from the first filmmakers to put a man in a box. Here are the five best MAN IN A BOX FILMS. To qualify, a film must have very few locations, small casts, and few-to-no special effects (sorry, Die Hard). Any genre will do (though we focus on horror and thrillers).

  1. The Shining. The ultimate cinematic expression of claustrophobia, writer's block, and the slow descent into madness. This classic may be more Stanley Kubrick's story than Stephen King's, and in retrospect, Nicholson was clearly trying to tunnel out of the Overlook by eating the scenery, but The Shining still remains king of the mountain. Sitting at our computers, staring blankly, waiting for the next spark of inspiration, how many of us have typed ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY, just to get the ball rolling? Though the Overlook was a huge, luxurious box, it was a trap for the Torrance family, just the same.
  2. Cube. Canadian horror doesn't begin and end with the work of David Cronenberg. Nestled comfortably between the works of Bob Clark (BLACK CHRISTMAS) and Maurice Devereaux (END OF THE LINE), Vincenzo Natali's paranoid thriller turns the potential disadvantages of a Man In A Box structure into strong story dividends. The standard "Ten Little Indians" style of modern horror sees the small cast getting bumped off in creative ways one by one, but the inventive prison, a healthy dose of suspenseful geometry, and character-based twists and turns makes Cube a hidden treasure. The whole movie is shot in one room, repurposed over and over again to give the feeling of an ingenious and expansive prison, proving that confining characters to one location need not be claustrophobic..
  3. The Disappearance of Alice Creed. Where many horror/thriller movies (particularly those of the Man In A Box variety) rely on an external evil, or a mysterious inner demon, ALICE CREED leans on that old reliable stand-by: People are evil, and often have hidden agendas. Three strong characters (two kidnappers and their victim) drive the story and leave the audience wondering what happens next. Alice's titular disappearance both answers questions and opens up whole new ones, as the viewer is pushed to question his allegiances until the very last frame.
  4. Misery. Another writer trapped in that box, this time his own inner demons come in the form of an obsessed fan (a legendary performance by Kathy Bates). Sure, she's demented and obsessed with a fictional character, but even author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) admits that she inspires his best writing ever. When writing Below Zero, Signe Olynyk arranged to have herself locked in a slaughterhouse freezer for five days for inspiration. Though she was not held against her will (and left with two functioning feet), Below Zero, like Sheldon's Misery series, benefited from the inspiration of forced isolation.
  5. 12 Angry Men. The degree of difficulty on this classic was lower than the others, which were created in an age of spectacle and blockbuster scale. But you can't beat this formula: Put Marin Balsam, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, and Henry Fonda in front of the camera, put Sidney Lumet behind the camera, and take the leash off. One of the all-time classics of stage & screen both, the characters drive the plot in this one. A lone hero facing impossible odds in his pursuit of justice is a logline that has been used and reused over the years, but every writer must embrace the joy of a protagonist using words to deliver justice in a higher form.

Honorable Mention:

  • Panic Room
  • Saw
  • Open Water
  • 127 Hours
  • Phone Booth
  • Cast Away (with points deducted for the high budget)

Unless you hold the rights to The Avengers or The Hunger Games, which offset risk with a built-in audience, it is going to fall to the writer to reduce risk for a producer in other ways. With a strong story and engaging characters, a writer can build a script that commands an extremely limited budget and attracts a name cast, to boot. With limited scope, your story can be even stronger, attracting producers, both with the budget and the quality of the script.

In an age when literally anything is possible on film or in screenplays, the unique challenge of confining characters to very few locations presents a lot of advantages (low budget, stronger characters, no deus ex machina temptations), and incredible challenges for the screenwriter who chooses to go this route. Inner conflict has fueled movies since the dawn of cinema. Without so many external obstacles available as tools to the writer, the story is forced to turn inwards and discover the strengths and flaws in your protagonist and your writing

We are always looking for unique, exciting horror/thrillers that fit the Man In A Box structure. If you have one, please pitch us! Send your logline to And here's hoping you can write yourself out of any box that traps you.

So what's your favorite "Man in a Box" film? Discuss in the comments section below. Bob is also available for questions, remarks, or accolades in the comments section as well.

And don't forget to check out Below Zero on Amazon!

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