From Games Console to Screen

Games 06/27/2016

Since the beginning, Hollywood has produced films based on some form of template—be it a novel, play and story, or remake of an old film or TV series. Since the 90s however, the dream factory has seen repeated attempts at adapting games for the big screen—with some more successful than others. The most recent example is the Warcraft film, a project into which games producer Blizzard Entertainment and production company Legendary Pictures invested around 160 million US dollars. Additionally, director Duncan Jones was brought on board to create a film based on the Warcraft story. Just as hotly anticipated is the Assassin’s Creed film, which will be released in cinemas worldwide in December 2016. At the same time, Ratchet & Clank from Sony, as well as the Angry Birds screen adaptation by Rovio Entertainment together with Sony, have also garnered plenty of attention this year already, despite the fact (or perhaps because of it) that they also appeal to kids and families. This genre is undergoing change and the quality is getting better, given that past screen adaptations of videogames have largely been complete flops or merely resulted in mediocre action films.

More Flop than Top—Past Screen Adaptations of Videogames

Over 30 gaming brands have already made the leap from games console to cinema screen, and almost all of them have fallen far short of expectations. The first screen adaptation of a videogame was the Super Mario Bros. film that was released in 1993, based on the Nintendo classic of the same name—but somehow, at the same time, was not. Apart from the fact that Mario (Bob Hoskins), Luigi (John Leguizamo), King Koopa/Bowser (Dennis Hopper) and Princess Daisy appear in the film, the plot is as adventurous as it is contrived. The film does this fantastic platform game no justice whatsoever. But game-to-screen adaptations such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Wing Commander were also unable to convince neither film nor gaming fans in the 90s, and were quite rightly ripped to shreds by critics. The first glimpse of success for adaptations of videogames for the big screen came in the early 2000s, with Lara Croft (played by Angelina Jolie), the first of the Resident Evil film series (with Milla Jovovich) and the animated film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Although far from being great masterpieces, these were entertaining films which were able to stand out somewhat from the attempts of the 90s. At the same time, the game-to-screen adaptations of the noughties were also characterized by German director Uwe Boll, who pounced on one videogame license after the other and produced colossal trash. Nevertheless, for people who love trashy films, Boll’s films acquired their very own cult status. All in all, the quality of the adaptations of videogame material for the cinema did not improve all that much compared to the 90s. However, given that videogames themselves have started focusing more on storytelling and have become increasingly similar to films in recent years, perhaps they now provide a better basis for producing good cinema material. Upcoming films such as the Warcraft film, the Assassin’s Creed film, the screen adaptation of The Last of Us, as well as the planned Uncharted film offer some hope at last.

Details About the Warcraft Film

A whole ten years passed between the announcement of the Warcraft film by Blizzard and Legendary Pictures and its eventual release. Even in the early concept phase, the film was postponed several times, numerous scripts were discarded and a suitable director desperately sought. Initially, Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead/Spiderman) was supposed to take the director’s chair, but was replaced in 2013 by Duncan Jones (Moon)—incidentally, Uwe Boll’s application was vehemently rejected. The Californian development studio was closely involved in the film production of their Warcraft universe from the very start. The plot of the 160 million US-dollar fantasy film is closely based on the Warcraft story and the conflict between humans and orcs, which arose after the orcs entered the world of Azeroth—home to humans, elves and dwarves—through a dark portal.

Details About the Assassin's Creed Film

Publishing company Ubisoft were closely involved in the screen adaptation of Assassin’s Creed from the word go. The company even founded its own department for game-to-screen adaptations, Ubisoft Motion Pictures, in 2011. Among others, Ubisoft and Regency Enterprises invested around 150 to 200 million US dollars in the Assassin’s Creed film. It will finally be ready in December 2016, when the long-awaited film is due to make its cinema debut. The leading role will be played by Hollywood star Michael Fassbender, who will also be appearing on-screen as Magneto in X Men: Apocalypse this year. The action film’s plot is based on the game series. The Animus, which allows memories of his ancestors to be relived first-hand, will also play a central role. In the machine, Fassbender’s character Callum Lynch experiences the story of his ancestor, 15th century Spanish assassin Aguilar de Nerha.

The Last of us Film and More—Future Game Adaptations for Cinema

Along with the Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed films, there are plenty of other cinema adaptations of major games on the horizon. Most noteworthy are an Uncharted film and a screen adaptation of The Last of Us, both based on the games of the same name from Sony and developer studio Naughty Dog. The stories are already dear to players’ hearts, as the authors have excelled themselves in creating games that are practically cinema-ready. Alas, both the Uncharted screen adaptation and The Last of Us film are taking their time. According to Neil Druckmann (author of the game), The Last of Us film is currently in development limbo and is still stuck in the planning phase, which is incidentally making very slow progress. We can look forward to finding out whether the post-apocalyptic adventure will be based on the plot of the game, or if completely different characters will appear on-screen. Just as much of a mystery is the status of the planned Uncharted film which is supposedly arriving in cinemas on 30th June 2017, but about which very little is known—except for a brief summary of the storyline. According to this, the story will revolve around the search for El Dorado—exactly as in the first Uncharted game for PS3.

Additional projects which have already been mentioned and are floating around Hollywood in the planning phase are the screen adaptations of Watch Dogs (Ubisoft), God of War (Sony), Tomb Raider (Square Enix), Halo (Microsoft), Splinter Cell (Ubisoft) and many more—but other than the odd whisper or rumor, little is known about them. What’s more, Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima recently told Japanese newspaper “Asahi” that films featuring the beloved Nintendo figures are in planning for the next two to three years. However, as to whether these will be cinema adaptations, animation films or even anime cartoons, the company director did not say. We can only hope that it is more successful this time around than the 1993 Super Mario Bros. and the massive flop of the first videogame screen adaptation.