Globally, the video game industry makes over $41 billion each year, so it’s no surprise when Hollywood attempts to tap into that built-in market. Arguably, Hollywood has yet to find the proper formula for a critically successful video game movie, while financial success has been spotty at best. Even after 35 video game movie adaptation, the only true franchise to emerge is the Resident Evil series, which has grossed $915 million worldwide to date.
Not all video games that are racing-centric feature only exotic European super cars like Need for Speed, so not every movie based on a racing has to feature cars. There are dozens of interesting racing games featuring various vehicles, environments and stories just waiting to blow off the starting line if Hollywood would just give them a chance. Since most racing games don’t rely on any particular narrative to move the player through the game (most are just racing in circles or against the clock), choosing games that have unique and distinctive gameplay to draw inspiration from is a must.
To that end, we’ve put together a list of 11 Racing Video Games that Would Make Good Movies - each of our selections could provide a unique storyline (based on interesting gameplay experiences) that would make for exciting big screen action and visuals.
1. Cruis’n USA
At first, this popular 1990s arcade racing game might appear to be another generic racer – until you look at the cars players had to choose from. Sure, there were cool cars like the Ferrari Testarossa 512 TR and the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette, but there were also fun vehicles like a fire truck, school bus, and mini van. Not to mention, with a double tap on the gas, any vehicle could perform a gravity-defying forward flip off a jump.
With the unique set of cars available in Cruis’n USA, if done correctly, the movie could easily be the next Cannonball Run. Not since the canceled TV show Drive has a cross-country race-themed movie or show been attempted, and we think the time could be right for an action/comedy film based on Cruis’n USA.
2. Night Driver
Introduced in 1976, Night Driver is considered to be one of the first ever coin-operated racing video games on the market. Like most early video games, the object was simple – drive your car at high speeds at night, while avoiding obstacles and the side of the road.
Having no real story to draw from, the movie version of this game would have to draw inspiration from the unique, night-time driving gameplay. It could possibly center around a Transporter-like anti-hero character who drives only at night to avoid law enforcement and other potential bad guys.
3. Out Run
Any male teenager in the mid-1980s will remember dumping oodles of quarters into this Ferrari Testarossa racing game – and with good reason. Out Run remains a very popular game (it’s been ported to 19 different home consoles) and it was one of the first games to have players race against time, extend gameplay by hitting various checkpoints, and allow drivers to choose the difficulty of their next race.
A movie adaptation of this game could be along the lines of Die Hard 3 meets 12 Rounds with a dash of Speed tossed in for good measure – having the lead character and his girlfriend reach various checkpoints around a city in order to rescue a loved one from a devious villain.
4. Hydro Thunder
This early-2000s racing game makes it onto our list for being one-part boat racing game and two-parts awesome. Players would race around various water courses, including a flooded New York City, the Arctic Circle and Greek Isles in a slew of interesting boats: Midway, Banshee, Cutthroat, and our personal favorite, a tugboat named Chumdinger.
A movie based on Hydro Thunder could easily take place in a post-apocalyptic, flooded New York City or on a distant planet completely covered in water – hopefully without Kevin Costner wearing tights and sporting gills. Except for the cigarette boat in Miami Vice and Baywatch, audiences haven’t experienced many high-speed boat chases, and this could be the opportunity to change that.
5. Smuggler’s Run
Even though the responses to this Playstation 2 game from 2000 were mixed, the unique badlands gameplay and objectives give it a place on our list. Not only did Smuggler’s Run give players 34 fun missions to accomplish, it also gave them the ability to freely roam the game’s universe in “Joyriding” mode. By using dune buggies and rally cars, drivers had to smuggle contraband through the desert while avoiding US Border Patrol Agents, as well as rival smugglers.
Because this game has no lead character, it would be easy to write it off, but audiences always enjoy a good story about bootleggers and smugglers – and this could be the video game movie to provide that story. Smuggling from the US to Mexico has been done ad nauseam, so studios might want to change the setting.
6. Road Rash
In the early ’90s, Electronic Arts introduced the world to the illegal world of underground motorcycle racing. Though it wasn’t the first motorcycle racing game on the market (Sega’s Hang On did that in 1985), it WAS the first to include brawling with clubs, cattle prods and nun-chucks between riders. The rest of the game was pretty much the standard fare of racing against the computer and other players to finish first through fourth in order to advance to the next level.
There have been plenty of car racing movies and movies where the car is the main focus, but other than the underwhelming movies like Supercross and Torque, there aren’t many movies about motorcycle racing – Road Rash could fill that void nicely. With all the recent heightened interest in motorcycles and motorcycle clubs like Sons of Anarchy, plugging into this virtually untapped market could prove to be very profitable for some studio brave enough to attempt it.
In 1990, Nintendo dominated the video game market, and releasing this futuristic-racing game for Super Nintendo only helped solidify that dominance. The game would receive multiple sequels between 1990 and 2004, but has been quiet the last ten years – so the built-in audience might not be there anymore.
Like most racing games, F-Zero has little back-story (later games would expand the mythos), but its unique gameplay and environment help it earn a spot on our list. However, based solely on the description from the game’s instruction booklet - “Rich merchants from cities in the clouds or asteroids with almost uninhabitable environments invested their wealth in the construction of racing circuits” - this game could be pretty interesting on the big screen. And no, the pod races from Episode I do NOT count.
When wipE’out (pronounced wipeout) was originally released in 1995, the soundtrack to the game was so important that developer Psygnosis held release parties in nightclubs with the consoles running the game and branded “club wear” being given away. The game draws obvious parallels to other racing games like F-Zero (which is set in futuristic space, while wipE’out” is set on futuristic Earth) and Super Mario Kart (where vehicle weapons disable instead of destroy opponents.)
Being set in 2052, Earth is really the only thing that sets wipE’out” apart from other futuristic racers, so if something like F-Zero gets a movie adaptation first, then there’s really no reason to turn this property into a movie as well – but we still like it enough to put it on our list. It helps that 1.5 million copies of the game have been sold since its release.
Activision has been producing video games since 1979 – some hit and some miss. Blur was unfortunately one of those misses. So much so, that it only sold 31,000 copies in the first five days and the company eventually shut down the developer of the game, Bizarre Creations, a mere 6 months after it released. Single-player game mode was considered to be only so-so, but the multiplayer mode was where the game truly shined. It was also one of the first (if only) racing games to feature “boss” levels.
To make Blur a successful movie adaptation, a studio would absolutely need to focus on presenting multiple leading characters and push the boss aspect of the game hard. The chances of this becoming a movie reality are slimmer than a bee surviving smashing into a windshield at high speeds, but we’d still love to see it happen.
In Activision’s eyes, Split/Second is the reason why Blur didn’t take off in the US – both games were released in May 2010 – and that’s probably true. The Black Rock Studio game had the interesting storyline of drivers being part of a racing reality game competing for money and vehicle upgrades.
Reality TV in movies isn’t new to Hollywood (see Running Man and Death Race), but a movie based on high-end cars racing for a fictitious reality TV show is. If someone ran with that idea and really put some thought into it, it wouldn’t be hard to envision a Split/Second-esque movie turning out well, with some satirical bite to go along with the racing action.
11. Mario Kart
No racing video game list would be complete without the inclusion of one of Nintendo’s most popular game franchises – Mario Kart. It was first released in 1992, while Mario Kart 8 will release for the Wii U in May 2014 – that’s over 22 years of racing high jinks. It incorporates a myriad of popular Nintendo characters, such as Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong, and King Bowser. Players race around several maps while picking up bananas and turtle shells that slow down and incapacitate opponents.
Because of its cartoon-like atmosphere, a movie version of Mario Kart would have to either invest heavily on CG or be very tongue-in-cheek in style. That shouldn’t stop Nintendo from trying to find a good studio to attempt to bring this console game to life – or should it?
It could turn out that none of these great racing games will ever make it beyond your console, but we’ve at least proven that there are good ideas for racing video games beyond just having fast cars in them. What other racing games do you think could make ideal movies on the big screen?
Follow me on Twitter @MoviePaul.