After years of waiting, Rockstar Games has officially released Grand Theft Auto 5 to video game fans around the world – marking one of the biggest entertainment launches in history. Which has us wondering: how long will it be until Hollywood announces a movie set in the Grand Theft Auto world? Nearly three years back, Rockstar’s VP of creative, Dan Houser, stated that any reason to take GTA from the small screen to the big screen would have to be “more than financial” – and weeks ago he reaffirmed this position.
However, several video game publishers are preparing film adaptations from their biggest franchises (Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell, among others), retaining creative control to ensure that the next generation of interactive gameplay-turned-fixed big screen viewing overcomes the stigma of less-uninspired attempts that came before. For that reason, it might not be too long before Rockstar Games sees a clearer path for adapting a Grand Theft Auto story – or telling an entirely new misadventure full of the same debauchery, violence, and social commentary that has made GTA one of the most popular brands in gaming.
As a result, we’re taking a look back at the various anti-heroes from Grand Theft Auto‘s past (limited to primary console protagonists) in order to present actors that we’d love see go from rags to riches (and cause mass pandemonium) in a live-action Grand Theft Auto movie. Of course the list is not all-inclusive, so once you’ve had a chance to read our picks, share your ideas in the comments.
Character appearances: Grand Theft Auto 3 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Actor seen in: Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Jack Reacher, and A Good Day to Die Hard.
When Grand Theft Auto made the jump to open-world sandbox mayhem (from its top-down roots), players landed in the blue sneakers of Claude “Speed” – a silent protagonist, recently double-crossed by his lover, and left for dead. A feature film based on Grand Theft Auto 3 would, undoubtedly, require Claude to have a voice this round – though the character’s brutal fisticuffs and expert weapons training would still do a lot of the talking. A Good Day to Die Hard was, ultimately, bogged down in too much father-and-son drama to make it a satisfying Die Hard franchise entry, but it’s hard to blame Jai Courtney – who still delivered some of the film’s most exciting (and humorous) moments. That said, Courtney’s role as ruthless assassin Charlie in Jack Reacher (also a man of few words) provides the best reason to think the actor could offer a believable but savage take on Claude – a mysterious man capable of racking-up a 5-star wanted level only to escape in a heart-pounding car chase.
Character appearances: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (off-hand reference)
Actor seen in: The Walking Dead, Snitch, and The Wolf of Wall Street.
Known best for his role as the duplicitous Shane Walsh on The Walking Dead, Bernthal would be no stranger to the brutality and violence depicted in a Grand Theft Auto property. Unlike the silent Claude, Vercetti was brought to life by foul-mouthed dialogue along with an (at times) abrasive personality – making him one of the least empathetic Grand Theft Auto protagonists. However, Bernthals’s supporting part in Snitch serves as a good example of how casting the actor as Tommy Vercetti in a big screen Vice City adaptation could help ground the gangster caricature in a relatable story (capable of appealing to a broad moviegoing audience) – since the success of the Snitch character, Daniel James, managed to navigate a very fine line between violent actions and an empathetic human arc. Playing up the events behind Vercetti’s betrayal would allow Bernthal plenty of room to be a one-man killing machine – couched motivations that audiences could get behind.
Character appearances: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Actor seen in: Friday Night Lights, Chronicle, and Fruitvale Station.
Considering that Carl “CJ” Johnson is the most customizable Grand Theft Auto character to date, as players were given the ability to alter his physique by working out along with other elements of his physical appearance through tattoos and clothing options, it’s possible that actor Michael B. Jordan might not be the mirror image of each individual CJ version. However, the actor has proven himself in a number of strong performances – meaning that Jordan shouldn’t have a problem making CJ’s complicated personality, a hardened but comparatively reserved (by GTA standards) protagonist, believable and even empathetic in a feature film. Portraying CJ who, despite his good intentions is still a capable killer, would definitely demand that Jordan be more of an aggressor (and outright violent) than many of his past roles but, as a veteran of The Wire, the actor is no stranger to gritty stories of inner-city violence, drug dealers, turf wars, crooked cops, as well as personal tragedy, and retaliation.
Character appearances: Grand Theft Auto 4
Actor seen in: The Transporter, Crank, and The Expendables.
While Niko Bellic was punctuated by a number of goofy and over-the-top traits in his GTA installment, but any big screen version of the character would need to be slightly more grounded – albeit still with a healthy dose of humor and hijinks. Jason Statham might not be Eastern European but the actor has played non-British characters in the past – characters who successfully balance ruthless killing with tongue-in-cheek banter. There’s no doubt that Statham can be a convincing one-man-army, capable of clearing out an entire warehouse full of entrenched thugs, but roles like Chev Chelios in Crank along with Lee Christmas in The Expendables show the actor can also serve up social satire and off-the-wall comedy beats that would be necessary in translating the world of Grand Theft Auto to movies. Most importantly, Statham is well-adept at conquering the biggest hurdle facing any film set in the violent and crude world of GTA – making the audience root for (and maybe even care about) a savage and cold-hearted assassin.
Character appearances: Grand Theft Auto 5
Actor seen in: Goodfellas, Killing them Softly, and Cop Land.
Ray Liotta is already a Grand Theft Auto veteran, voicing Tommy Vercetti in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. However, in the live-action world, Liotta is a better fit for the first of the three Grand Theft Auto 5 protagonists, Michael De Santa. The senior member of the GTAV anti-hero team, Michael is a former bank robber now living a suburban life with his wife and children. However, in order to maintain his accustomed quality of life, he returns to a life of crime. After Goodfellas put Liotta in the spotlight, the actor has become a staple among gangster movie fantasy casters and for good reason: Liotta captures the delicate balance between charm and malevolence that makes for a memorable mobster. Still, his work in comedy, specifically films like Date Night, should help him capture the duality of Michael – a man that is ruthless, cunning, but still a doormat for his wife and kids. Of course, Liotta wouldn’t be alone in a GTA5-inspired movie, and it’d be especially fun to watch the veteran actor interact with younger and crazier partners in crime.
Character appearances: Grand Theft Auto 5
Actor seen in: Fright Night, Seven Psychopaths, and Horrible Bosses.
Possibly the zaniest main character in Grand Theft Auto franchise history, Trevor Philips is the instigator of several over-the-top sequences in the latest Rockstar Games title. As a result, Hollywood would need to find an actor that could “play crazy” convincingly – without resorting to parody or caricature. Fortunately, Colin Farrell has a filmography full of madcap but believable performances – and the Irish-born actor has managed to bring something new to each sociopath in his collection. Moviegoers will, no doubt, remember the actor’s performances as Jerry (Fright Night) and Bullseye (Daredevil) but it is actually his 2011 turn as one of the Horrible Bosses, Bobby Pellitt, that got us thinking about how much fun it would be to see Farrell running around the world of GTA in the role of Trevor. Additionally, Farrell is no stranger to starring opposite other idiosyncratic personalities – meaning he’d likely heighten the performances of his Michael and Franklin co-stars as well as any demented antagonists the GTA 5 trio would undoubtedly face.
Character appearances: Grand Theft Auto 5
Actor seen in: Pain and Gain, Gangster Squad, and 8 Mile.
Set to make his comic book movie debut as Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Anthony Mackie has been acting on the big screen for over a decade – racking up a solid resume of powerful performances (including more than a few morally ambiguous types with charming but deadly personalities). The actor was a stand-out in Michael Bay’s dark comedy, Pain and Gain, delivering some of the film’s most engaging scenes. Still, Mackie’s ability to slip into an ensemble and play-off other quirky performers (such as Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson) make him an especially smart choice for Franklin – who is one-third of the core Grand Theft Auto protagonist team. Mackie has the talent to help ground the cooky antics of the GTA world with compelling character moments both sincere and felonious – be it the father-son-like relationship depicted between Franklin and Michael or over-the-top antics with his other partner-in-crime, the wacky Trevor.
As mentioned, we only cover the main GTA console protagonists in our list of Actors We Want to Star in a Grand Theft Auto Movie but there were two character/actor pairings that we couldn’t help but mention – both from Grand Theft Auto 4. Check out our honorable mentions below (along with a quick matchup image on the left):
Ray Winstone as Roman Bellic: Winstone is an inspired fit for the world of Grand Theft Auto – even if the majority of his screen time would simply be spent bowling with Jason Statham.
Bruce Willis as Brucie Kibbutz: Willis is definitely older than Brucie but who wouldn’t want to see the veteran action star spout-off lines like “Stay Alpha, bro!“?
Given Rockstar Games’ fear of diluting the integrity of their fan-favorite video game series, it could be a very long time before we see an actual Grand Theft Auto film adaptation. Still, with quality video game films becoming an increasing focus for studio executives, it’s easy to get excited about the possibilities. In the meantime, we’ll keep you updated on any potential Grand Theft Auto movies here at Screen Rant – and make sure to check out our Grand Theft Auto 5 coverage over at Game Rant.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future updates on Grand Theft Auto as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.