Quick, name a bad movie based on a video game.
Something just popped into your head along the lines of Super Mario Bros., Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia, Resident Evil, Hitman, or countless others. (And that doesn’t even include the ghastly oeuvre of Uwe Boll.) Now, name a really good movie based on a video game. Can’t do it, can you? Hollywood’s history with film adaptations of video games is a long, sad affair filled with one disaster after another.
Yet Hollywood has had plenty of successes with adapting the likes of stage plays, novels, TV shows, and comic books. As video games have matured and become more complex, its characters and storytelling are reaching new depths of sophistication. There’s no reason the big screen can’t be home to a truly great movie that’s based on a video game.
A number of promising adaptations — Halo, BioShock, Uncharted, et.al. — have been foolishly cast aside. But success only has to happen once, and any one of these twelve video game movies that are still officially “on” has the potential to turn things around.
Here are 12 Upcoming Video Game Movies That Could Actually Work
12. Ratchet & Clank
When was the last time you saw a video game-based movie that looked exactly like the game it was based on? Such is the case with Ratchet & Clank, the popular Insomniac Games series that’s become a big-screen animated adventure. It uses art assets from the games, as well as the original actors who voice the title characters (a positively unheard of choice for Hollywood). A movie with this much reverence for its source material sounds like a can’t-lose scenario, right?
Movies have to assume that audiences know little to nothing about their source material, so the Ratchet & Clank movie takes viewers back to the very beginning, depicting the titular duo’s origins. As fans already know, the adventurous pair have to save the “Solona” galaxy from destruction by a supervillain known as “Chairman Drek” and his minions, the “Blarg.” Yeah, it sounds silly to the uninitiated, but gamers know this is half the fun. It’s all in the execution, after all.
It doesn’t hurt that an impressive cast of additional voices is helping to elevate the material, including Paul Giamatti, John Goodman, Sylvester Stallone, Rosario Dawson, and more. The only worry we have is that Focus Features hasn’t been advertising it very hard. How can audiences be expected to invest in these characters if they have no idea what the movie is, or that it’s even out?
There may be no video game franchise that has a more beloved mythology than Warcraft. To the faithful, it rivals Middle Earth, and gamers have long believed that it was a world perfect for the theater. The trailers look enticing, showing some incredible world-building in the form of Azeroth, the fantasy planet where most of Warcraft takes place, and some cutting-edge visual effects work in bringing the gigantic orc characters to life. The story, set decades before the events of the games, finds this lush world invaded by monstrous orcs via a portal from another world. But they’re not all bad; the orcs’ homeworld is dying, and some of them are just searching for a new home.
You can count on one hand the number of live-action fantasy franchises that have broken through to mainstream audiences. They include Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones. Many others have tried and failed, such as The Golden Compass, Eragon, and Hollywood’s near-annual adaptation of Peter Pan. So getting audiences to accept a new fantasy world is always a challenge.
Warcraft has an even bigger hill to climb, especially if it wants to become a series: pull off the one-two punch of engaging mainstream audiences in a new fantasy franchise, and break the “bad video game movie” curse. Vikings star Travis Fimmel looks right at home in Warcraft‘s high-fantasy setting, and director Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) has the chops to pull off a story of nuance and passion, though we’ve yet to see anything that sophisticated in the trailers.
But we want to believe.
10. Assassin’s Creed
For years, video game fans have thrilled to the adventures of the secret Assassins society and their eternal struggle against the power-hungry Templars. Always cinematic in scope, visuals, and storytelling, Assassin’s Creed seemed like a perfect fit for a big-screen movie from day one. A number of false starts over the years finally came to fruition when one of Hollywood’s current “it” guy jumped on board as its star: Michael Fassbender.
Assassin’s Creed has a big mythology to build upon, and game studio Ubisoft built its own movie production house to turn their own games into movies — starting with this one. (No pressure.) Wisely, the movie draws from the themes of the Desmond Miles/Ezio Auditore saga, a fan favorite, but repackages it with a new hero unconnected to any of the games. Fassbender’s Callum Lynch, like Miles, finds himself experiencing the “genetic memories” of his own ancestor, an Assassin named Aguilar. Just like the games, the movie incorporates a modern-day component centered around Abstergo, a front company for the Templars, and their search for powerful artifacts from the distant past.
Some of the games have been more engrossing than others, story-wise, so hopefully Ubisoft has taken to heart the bits that fans are most drawn to. If the studio can craft a compelling, emotional story to go with all of the stylized action and conspiracy hijinks, a new powerhouse franchise will be born. Not only that, but you can bet that every other video game movie waiting in the wings will be closely scrutinizing the box office receipts for both Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed. If one or both of them does well, others will quickly be resurrected from development hell.
9. The Last of Us
If ever there was a game tailor-made for a powerful, unforgettable, cinematic experience, it’s The Last of Us. Naughty Dog’s magnum opus was a storytelling force to be reckoned with, managing to check off both the “action game” and “incredible story” boxes in a single experience. It’s about a smuggler, Joel, who’s hired to escort a young girl named Ellie across a post-apocalyptic United States after most of the population has succumbed to a fungal infection that turns its victims into zombie-like, mindless monsters.
The heart of the story is the protective father/daughter bond that develops between Joel and Ellie, and nailing that relationship is what makes the story work. The U.S. they travel across sports the “reclaimed by nature” look, but everywhere they go, much like on The Walking Dead, they find the remnants of humanity to often be more dangerous than the monsters.
The movie seemed to be on a fast-track at Sony Pictures for a while, with Sam Raimi on board to direct and Game of Thrones‘ Maisie Williams eyed for Ellie. But game creator Neil Druckmann, who wrote the initial screenplay for the film, recently told IGN that the movie may have fallen into development hell, because activity on it has waned of late. But he also noted that the script had been revised and was in strong shape. And if the game’s creator likes it, then it must be good. So as soon as Sony decides to run with it, it’s almost guaranteed to be brilliant. What are they waiting for?
8. Tomb Raider reboot
When Crystal Dynamics rebooted Lara Croft as a much more realistic survivalist in its triumphant 2013 game, a film adaptation was announced almost immediately. Angelina Jolie famously played Lara in a couple of ridiculous movies that in no way resembled the games they were based on. Not necessarily a bad thing, since the early Tomb Raider games focused more on the increasing bust size of the main character than anything resembling a story. But the movies were just a hot mess that neither embraced Lara’s pinup sex symbol status nor tried to make her anything interesting.
The rebooted game was a breakthrough masterpiece, finally taking Lara seriously as a relatable, flesh-and-blood human being. She struck just the right balance between tough heroine and realistic young woman, and players found that guiding her growth into a hardened survivor to be a highly gratifying experience. Like other games on this list, transitioning this already movie-like experience into an actual film seems like a no-brainer.
Warner Bros. and MGM are partnering on the production, with Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug expected to direct. Their development was quiet for a while, but resurged recently with reports that its producers wanted Star Wars: The Force Awakens star Daisy Ridley for the title role. Whether Ridley is in it or not — though she seems like a perfect choice — we have very high hopes for a gritty, gripping adventure.
7. Mass Effect
Work has seemingly slowed on Legendary Pictures’ Mass Effect adaptation, despite the fervent dreams of its legions of fans. BioWare’s acclaimed RPG/shooter mashup was presented inside a complex, fully-rendered universe that begged for realization on the silver screen. It was also filled with colorful, diverse characters, fascinating alien cultures, and a brewing war with an ancient, overwhelming power that was bent on bringing the universe to an end. Sounds like perfect popcorn movie fodder, doesn’t it?
Well, it is — except for one thing that happens to be the biggest stumbling block standing in the movie’s way. The Mass Effect trilogy was built from the ground-up on player choice, on giving gamers total control of critical decisions that affected every part of how the story unfolded and even its resolution (more or less). How do you bring a universe built on player interaction and choice into the realm of a straightforward narrative?
Apparently, the powers that be are having real trouble figuring that out, too, which is why there hasn’t been a ton of movement on the Mass Effect movie in a while. Spider-Man producer Avi Arad is reportedly involved in bringing this one to life, and he recently told Gamespot that the movie is still two to three years away, at least. But Legendary needs to find a way to make this work. The material is just too good not to.
6. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Square Enix was on a roll in 2012. Before successfully rebooting Tomb Raider, the publisher won accolades and fans for Eidos Montreal’s work on bringing Deus Ex back to relevance. (It’s based on an old PC game by the legendary Warren Spector from 2000.) Honoring its roots while updating the series for a new generation, Human Revolution rewound the clock to tell a prequel about the earliest days of “augmentation” — the alteration of human beings with robotic or computer-based body parts, which forms the story’s foundation.
Human Revolution and its upcoming sequel, Mankind Divided, star new protagonist Adam Jensen, a security officer who’s heavily augmented (against his will, though he deals with it pretty well) after a devastating attack leaves him near death. The notion of humanity evolving into cyborg-like beings raises all sorts of questions about how much you can change and still retain selfhood, and the fact that most of mankind is against augmentation makes perfect sense, creating fertile soil for some fascinating storytelling.
Prime Universe Films has the license to bring this one to life, and CEO Adrian Askarieh told Screen Rant less than a year ago that it’s still a top priority for him. When we spoke to him, he indicated that he was looking for a new production/distribution partner after CBS Films couldn’t work out the financial end of things. (Prime Universe, incidentally, also has the film rights to Kane & Lynch and Just Cause. The studio’s most recent release was the underwhelming Hitman: Agent 47.) But with the hype machine greasing its wheels to prepare for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the timing is just about perfect for news regarding a big-screen movie.
Borderlands is a “role-playing shooter” that embraces its status as a video game first and foremost, fully recognizing that games are supposed to be fun. Yeah, there’s a story, and it’s not a bad one. It’s about a treasure hunt on the wild, lawless world of Pandora, which is filled with dangerous creatures, escaped convicts, and hunters seeking an ancient alien vault full of advanced technology (spoiler: the vault is holding something much, much worse than alien tech). But the experience of Borderlands is really about the atmosphere and attitude that the game engenders while playing it — a point of view best summed up by the “Psycho” character on the game box’s cover art. And if that story isn’t up to snuff, there’s always Telltale Games’ serialized Tales From the Borderlands to draw from.
Lionsgate hasn’t said exactly how it plans to translate this unique world to the silver screen, only that it’ll have an “in-your-face” personality. It won’t be easy to believably turn the cel-shaded graphics of the game into a live-action flick. But Lionsgate and producer Avi Arad seemed pretty confident back in 2015, when they were hoping Borderlands would be the studio’s next mega-franchise following The Hunger Games. It’s definitely one of the more challenging adaptations in development, but if they can pull it off, it could be just the ticket for movie-goers looking for the next irreverent, Deadpool-like fix.
According to Gearbox Software’s CEO, Randy Pitchford, the story is still being figured out, but it’s a priority for Lionsgate, so we shouldn’t be waiting for news much longer.
4. Call of Duty
If you’ve never heard of Call of Duty, crawl out from under your rock. It’s one of the biggest first-person shooter franchises in the world, known for its highly cinematic production values and an obsessive attention to detail. From its weapons to its locations, everything is hyper-realistic. But where other games of its caliber present wide open worlds for gamers to explore, Call of Duty games always maintain a razor-sharp focus on the breakneck pace of guiding your elite soldier from one action setpiece to another.
In November of 2015, Activision announced that it was going the Ubisoft route of opening its own film production arm, called Activision Blizzard Studios. Its top priority: developing Call of Duty for the big screen. But the studio isn’t content to kick things off with a single flick; Activision is dead set on building a connected cinematic universe comprised of multiple Call of Duty films. Given that the games have been set across multiple time periods — from World War II to well into the future — we’ve heard worse ideas.
Nothing has been revealed yet about the status of the first CoD movie, but the studio is so new, it could still be installing office furniture.
3. Five Nights at Freddy’s
Animatronic creations are already kind of creepy due to their not-quite-real nature, so developer Scott Cawthon caught lightning in a bottle when he exploited that and made his animatronic characters genuinely wicked. Cawthon’s Five Nights at Freddy’s titles brought unique mechanics to PC (and later, touchscreen) gaming, while managing to appeal to kids and adults alike with genuine frights. And all this from a relatively simple horror game set in a kiddie-themed restaurant.
Warner Bros. decided that if they were going to make a movie out of its Chuck E. Cheese-meets-Blair Witch premise, then they should put together a dream team of creatives to make it happen. First of all, Cawthon himself is deeply involved in fleshing out the universe he created, which should please fans. Second, the movie is being co-written and directed by Gil Kenan, who’s best known for the animated fright-fest Monster House. Lastly, the live-action animatronic characters are being created by — and how perfect is this? — Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.
Warners is staying mum on when we might expect the movie to arrive, but Kenan’s Twitter account is full of not-so-veiled references to the movie. Does this mean production could be ramping up soon? It sure looks that way.
2. Metal Gear Solid
The world of Metal Gear Solid is a truly singular one. It resembles ours in many ways, yet it stars a cast of bizarre characters who engage in soap-operatic plot twists while expecting players to accept it with utmost seriousness. And for the most part, we do, because the gameplay is just so darn… well, solid.
The Metal Gear Solid movie has been in development hell since it was first announced by Hideo Kojima himself, a full decade ago. Sony has had the rights from the outset, but a revolving door of writers, directors, and producers — including Avi Arad (yes, again), Michael De Luca, and Paul W.S. Anderson — have been attached, only to suddenly part ways with the project. It was seemingly canceled outright in 2010, but was back on track again two years later.
At last report, Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt-Roberts was being considered to helm Metal Gear, while Jay Basu was writing the screenplay. The movie’s current status is unknown, but it hasn’t been officially canceled, so we’re still clinging to hope with our chilly, barely-alive fingers. Then again, Kojima’s recent contentious split from development studio Konami, which still holds the rights to all things Metal Gear, could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
1. The Witcher
The rich, lush fantasy world of Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels has been thrilling gamers for years. The Witcher, aka Geralt of Rivia, is a monster hunter who’s part warrior, part wizard. The game’s complicated characters and moral quandaries take place in a mythologically dense setting. Remind you of anything?
A movie adaptation of The Witcher was made in Poland in 2001, but very few people saw it and even less remember it. Thankfully, Hollywood is ramping up to make a proper film based on the novels — and the games, of course — with the Sean Daniel Company co-producing. One of the coolest twists of this story is that the company that created the well-received opening cinematic and one of the pre-rendered teaser trailers for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Platige Films, is the owner of the rights to bring the property to the big screen. When was the last time you heard of something like that happening?
Oscar-nominated animator Tomasz Baginski will direct from a script by Thania St. John, who’s worked on TV’s Grimm and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A vague release date of “2017” was given with the movie’s initial announcement last year, but we’re guessing that’s been delayed a bit since there hasn’t been any news about it in a while. If they get this thing made, it would be the first noteworthy “adult” fantasy story to grab our attention since Game of Thrones. But that’s a TV show. Will a similar formula work at the cineplex?
Release Date: supposedly 2017, but don’t hold your breath.
Any other upcoming video game movies that got your hopes up? Let us know in the comments!