The Gears of War video game series was launched by Microsoft for Xbox in 2006, and by 2014 had sold 22 million units and made over $1 billion. By 2007, the series was popular enough that New Line Cinema picked up the movie rights and announced their plans to produce a film adaptation written by Pirates of the Caribbean and Collateral writer Stuart Beattie. In 2008, Underworld director Len Wiseman was tabbed to helm. By 2010, Wiseman had bailed on the project and New Line was significantly reducing their financial commitment to the film.
That seemed to spell the end for the Gears of War movie, until 2016 when it was confirmed that Universal Pictures had picked up the film with Scott Stuber and Dylan Clark producing (Stuber would later leave the studio to work for Netflix). Things continue to go ahead with the production, as Universal has now tabbed someone to take over for Beattie in the task of adapting the video game series into a screenplay.
According to Deadline, Shane Salerno is the man Universal has picked to write the screenplay for Gears of War. Rod Fergusson of Microsoft off-shoot The Coalition has stated that the planned film will not be based on any specific title from the video game series but will have a completely original story set in the games’ universe. The third-person shooter series takes place on the post-apocalyptic planet Sera, where human soldiers battle underground-dwelling creatures called the Locust Horde.
Salerno is no stranger to the kind of militaristic humans-vs.-aliens sci-fi action featured in Gears of War, being heavily involved in writing James Cameron’s planned four Avatar sequels. Salerno is also currently working on the movie adaptation of Don Winslow’s The Cartel, having previously adapted Winslow’s novel Savages for Oliver Stone. Salerno’s list of movie credits also includes Michael Bay’s disaster flick Armageddon, the 2000 remake of Shaft, and both Alien vs. Predator and its sequel Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem.
With video game adaptations such as the one Salerno is tackling, often the issue isn’t realizing the overall world, it’s distilling the sprawling game-play down to something that works as a cohesive narrative without losing touch with the spirit of the original gaming experience. Very seldom throughout the years has anyone managed to find a really satisfying balance between video-game-style immersion and feature film storytelling, as evidenced by the dismal box office returns for video game films as a whole. But that doesn’t stop movie studios from trying.
Perhaps Salerno will be the one who finally cracks the code for crafting a story based on a video game that really works as a film. With his involvement in both Avatar and Alien vs. Predator, he certainly has enough experience in the sci-fi-action genre to have plenty of ideas about what should and should not work for Gears of War the movie.