Ken Levine Explains Why the ‘BioShock’ Movie Was Canceled

Published 2 years ago by

Kevin Lavine BioShock Ken Levine Explains Why the BioShock Movie Was Canceled

It’s been a long and arduous road for the film adaptation of BioShock, one of the most critically-acclaimed video games of all time. The story began back in May 2008, when Universal announced that they’d made a deal with games publisher Take-Two Interactive to produce the adaptation, with Gore Verbinski directing from a script written by John Logan.

After several years of battling for a film that would maintain the edginess and maturity of the game’s story, the project was eventually euthanized.

The video game is a first-person shooter set in the 1960s, which begins with the protagonist swimming from the burning wreckage of a plane crash, finding a submersible in an apparently abandoned lighthouse and descending to find himself in an underwater city. Rapture is a once-grand civilization that has since fallen into ruin and become populated by mutants, homicidal drug addicts, crazed geniuses and a boatload of grisly corpses. The player must make their way through Rapture in order to locate and aid their only ally: Atlas, a working-class revolutionary who led the downtrodden citizens of the city into civil war with their wealthy masters. A direct sequel – BioShock 2 – was released in 2010, and a spiritual successor called BioShock Infinite will be out later this month.

The BioShock film was originally consigned to development hell in 2011, when Verbinski finally abandoned the project after a drawn-out struggle to obtain the budget required for the underwater dieselpunk fantasy, and to keep the R-rating that he believed was required to do justice to the game’s story. Ken Levine, the game’s creator, has since expressed a continued interest in seeing a good adaptation of the game, but has also said, “there’s no burning [desire] to have a movie made just to get it made.”

Bioshock movie big daddy Ken Levine Explains Why the BioShock Movie Was Canceled

The death of Universal’s BioShock movie has been apparent for a while now, but an autopsy report has just been filed in the form of a recent Eurogamer interview with Levine. In between discussions of what to expect from Bioshock Infinite, Levine confirmed that he personally decided to kill the Bioshock movie after being given the option by 2K Games, and explained why he made the choice.

There was a deal in place, and it was in production at Universal – Gore Verbinski was directing it. My theory is that Gore wanted to make a hard R film – which is like a 17/18 plus, where you can have blood and naked girls. Well, I don’t think he wanted naked girls. But he wanted a lot of blood.

Then Watchmen came out, and it didn’t do well for whatever reason. The studio then got cold feet about making an R rated $200 million film, and they said what if it was a $80 million film – and Gore didn’t want to make a $80 million film.

They brought another director in, and I didn’t really see the match there – and 2K’s one of these companies that puts a lot of creative trust in people. So they said if you want to kill it, kill it. And I killed it.

It was weird, as having been a screenwriter, begging to do anything, and then killing a movie on something you’d worked on so much. It was saying I don’t need to compromise – how many times in life do you not need to compromise? It comes along so rarely, but I had the world, the world existed and I didn’t want to see it done in a way that I didn’t think was right.

Does this mean the end of all hope for a BioShock movie? Not necessarily, according to Levine, who says he’d be happy to reconsider another adaptation if the right director and the right budget came along. “It may happen one day, who knows,” he said, whilst also reiterating that he would only allow the film to go ahead if “the right combination of people” were interested in making it.

bioshock movie1 Ken Levine Explains Why the BioShock Movie Was Canceled

More than a few fans will no doubt be grateful to Levine for his refusal to compromise BioShock‘s integrity. The number of decent video game movies can currently be counted on the fingers of one hand, and BioShock has a reputation that would be difficult to match. Without going into details, one of the most powerful moments and famous moments in BioShock is a profound meta-commentary specific to the nature of gaming and the player’s interaction with the story. Reproduced in the context of a film, the scene would almost inevitably lose a great deal of its impact. Moreover, the scale and grandeur of Rapture would be a difficult set to pull off on a limited budget, and it would have been a little disappointing to see the mature and often brutal content of the story tamed to fit within PG-13 constraints.

Is it worth waiting for the perfect combination of factors, or should Verbinski and Levine have agreed to a smaller budget and lower rating for the sake of delivering the Bioshock story to theaters?

We’ll keep you up to date if Levine ever signs-off on a new BioShock film attempt.

Source: Eurogamer [via ComingSoon]

Follow H. Shaw-Williams on Twitter @HSW3K
TAGS: Bioshock
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  1. he did the right thing. there’s enough of dull content out there already.

  2. I think bioshock would not be that good in film format it’s one of those games that should stick to being a game, it’s a great game dont get me wrong it’s awesome but I don’t think a movie would be all that great.

  3. if resident evil can have 5 movies make a ton of money at the box office then so could bioshock.

    • Yes, but all the RE movies suck and are about as alien to the original games as possible.

      • good point…

  4. I’m really glad they scrapped it, if he didn’t think it was going to be up to scratch. I’d agree it could be a success just like the resi films. The film could be so strong, in both story and horror which is why bioshock is so renowned.

  5. Should be pg-13 and not “bloody”

  6. I’m not sure it needs to be rated R but still interesting.

  7. I would really like to see a property come along that could carry a duel rating in the theaters. So many multiplexes these days have so many theaters it doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal but I guess it’s a pipe dream because of all the people that would get confused what movie they were seeing. No doubt some people would end up in the wrong theater and blame the studio for confusing the marketplace…

    • Not likely. It’s been nice on some rare occaisions when a movie s released for purchase in a new, unrated or R rated edit. This doesnt happen much and is usually just a gimmicky cash in. There was talk of the extended LOTR trilogy having to be R, but that never happened. The long version of Daredevil got bummed up to R for good reason, and the movie improved. On the other hand PG 13 is way more profitable. “The King’s Speech” got an unwanted R for a scene of cursing, then relreleased without the “offensive” but relevant scene to earn a more marketable rating.

      • Ah but there’s the rub, you can’t get the money on the table that the director deems workable without a rating compromise! So what’s the answer, make the tepid PG-13 version or make the R rated version cut the intense scenes to PG-13 then put them back in for an unrated DVD release? How does that serve those that want an I-Max 3-D experience? It’s not nearly as immersive on common home theaters unless you really have the cash for that and as you say its “usually just a gimmicky cash in.” Living within your limitations means it doesn’t get made period. Unless one side gets desperate, which as we see is unlikely. That’s why casting around for an unconventional answer has any appeal.

        I realize it’s a rare occurrence and seems “gimmicky” but I would love to see someone try it just once if for no other reason than to see if it makes any sense to a purchasing public. Sometimes it’s frustrating that the public doesn’t get a choice. We’re served up one thing, one way, and if you don’t like it, tough! That just rubs me the wrong way. surely some property can be made both ways and still keep entertainment value no matter which way you would choose to view it. We should get a choice once in awhile…

        • I tend to agree, and dispise the artistic compromises that weaken many great stories, films and games. Sadly I don’t see a simple solution. As good as LOTR was, the bloodless brutal warfare and kid-friendly Orc slaughter, complete with embarrassing score count for the kiddies, really undermines the gravity of the content at every turn. An R rated home version would be sweet. One plausible prospect might be to allow a limited release adult version of such a film, and only sell that version in specific places and on the net. Advertise the differences clearly, separate the adult movies behind the counter, or whatever, and avoid having kids grab the wrong version. At the very least, an Internet order only version could work if people knew about it. I would absolutely order the darker movies rather than browse the light wieght ones at a store. This really could work, but has to start with a bold experiment that is widely publicized, much the way the extended cuts worked out financially. If they did multiple versions of a huge film then it would suddenly seem like an interesting investment. We don’t even get many directors cuts these days…

          Of course if Disney released an R rated star wars then they’d get backlash for creating a movie that kids will obviously see regardless of its content. That sort of corporate thinking has cost us with many compromises. On the other hand, all that hatred and severing of limbs seems heavy already for the kids. Maybe they should try harder to make PG or R instead of the weak middle ground of PG 13 and it’s bizarre mix of brutal violence and antiseptic presentation.

          If episode 7 is PG and Boba Fett’s Big Adventure is a hard R, I will be pretty satisfied with that. KOTOR should be R too,( with no R2.)

          • Very interesting thoughts. You know in the past Disney has used the Touchstone Pictures imprint to get around the R rated release issues. I wouldn’t see it as unusual that something like that could happen again. A few years back Dreamworks had moved away from Universal for distribution and went over to Touchstone for the same service. I don’t know how their current contracts work or whether their future capacity is being used up by Dreamworks future products but I would think if Disney really wanted to produce something rated R and get it out they’d use the Touchstone avenue to do it.

            • I didn’t know about Touchstone, unless I forgot, but I do know about Miramax. That company is how brutal violence like Kill Bill can be funded by Disney without having the Disney name. On the other hand, if there was an R rated Star Wars from them now, everyone would just see through the haze since its common knowledge who owns that property now. The extra companies can only expect to disguise more obscure stuff. I have been concerned about keeping the quality or Xmen in the adult-oriented range now that Disney owns Marvel, but it seems like they have no intention of watering it down for kids, at least on the big screen, for now… But a shift in tone to darker material for one of the most famous franchises of all time, after the well publicized sale, seems unlikely. I don’t think years from now peope will be saying “remember when Disney bought Star Wars and it got all gritty and brutal and R rated? That was awesome!”. Not that R content equates to good films at all, but I’d love to see some good R rated Star Wars.

  8. Hopefully he made a great call, but I wish it sounded like he was enthused about doing it right rather than just potentially willing to take interest again someday. This could be a great film franchise, and there is no reason at the end of the day that it can’t be, but it’s a relief to hear that it won’t be done a disservice soon by rushing an inferior product. Like Halo, the potential to grow the brand, serve the fans, do justice to a tremendously creative world and create a top quality film seems irresistible. While I am glad nobody has blown the attempt yet, I am baffled by the time being wasted when there is a creative spark in the air and a pile of money on the table.

    Pg13 might be sufficient, but I dislike artistic restrictions. I’d hate to settle for a watered down version of the story, wherein a Big Daddy can’t even impale somebody with a drill!

    • I completely agree. Bioshocks story shouldn’t become a watered down pg-13 movie. The game was rated M for Mature and it was full of violence and disturbing imagery. Only an R rated film would have the freedom to take the story where it needed to go in order to do it justice. So I’m glad he scrapped it. Although I am slightly disappointed. I would’ve loved to see this particular game on the big screen.

      • Me too. I wonder if that smaller budget would suffice… Money sure wasn’t the reason the last two pirate movies were so bad, unless you consider the focus on expensive spectacle over all else. I’d rather have a smaller R rated film than a huge family film. If they stayed close to the game it wouldnt be that expensive, but I can see why that would be underwhelming. The film should show Rapture at its best, even briefly, and show us the scale and vastness in ways the game couldn’t. Incorporating parts of both games, and literally starting with the lighthouse and ending with the death bed visitors of the sequel’s “good” ending. Throw in some underwater scenery and a properly realized Big Daddy and the cash starts to pile up, but I still thnk it’s very doable. Maybe they should hire people who work on small budgets for a living and still turn out great work? It’s not like the most expensive films tend to be the best after all! I’d love to hear this project take off again. Maybe Infinite will help!

  9. That is probably for the best. The first Bioshock was so awesome because of the twist and turns the story put you through. The “Would you kindly” revelation was probably my favorite moment in this gaming generation. Completely made me question all of my progress in the game. A movie just doesn’t have that level of interactivity to keep up with that.

  10. He mentioned that Watchmen ddn’t do well, for whatever reason. It wasn’t a commercial or critical failure by any stretch of the imagination so I think he’s just grasping at straws with that.

  11. someone should forward this page to tarrantino…. Bioshock is perfect to be tarrantino’d!!

    • How about no.
      But in all seriousness this is a movieI just can’t see Tarrantino wanting to do. Nor should he. The eorld of Bioshock is like nothing hes ever touched.

  12. He did the right thing, I figure with only $80 million to play with that would take care of the sets. But with $200 million, now you got a picture!! I have tried to play Bioshock, and even though I can’t handle first person games, I’d still like to see this one done right.

  13. Didn’t that Veronica Mars show just get a movie from a kick starter project? Why not make a kick starter to make the R rated, 17/18 plus, where you can have blood and naked girls $200 million film he wanted!?

  14. A lot of people might not like this but i think It would be a good tv show

  15. Dont explain, Make IT!