Will Video Game Movies Be The Next Big Thing?

Published 12 months ago by , Updated May 15th, 2014 at 8:46 am,

Assassins Creed altair Will Video Game Movies Be The Next Big Thing?

Comic book movies currently make up an impressive portion of each year’s blockbuster releases, but it wasn’t always that way. Before the 21st century started delivering hit after hit, the genre of superhero movies was something of a jokey niche that wasn’t taken seriously by critics and didn’t make much impact at the box office. Outside of the heavy hitters like Tim Burton’s Batman movies and Richard Donner’s Superman, comic book movies had much smaller budgets and far more limited audiences than they do today.

The genre of video game movie adaptations is currently even worse off than the comic book movie genre was pre-2000. It doesn’t have a Batman or Superman equivalent in terms of box office takings (the highest-grossing video game movie is Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time with a worldwide gross of $336 million, which is still considered a box office flop due to its $200 million production budget), and outside of the few that scraped their way into being labelled “mediocre,” video game movies have been thoroughly panned by critics.

It’s hard to pin down exactly why video game movies have struggled so much – it can’t be entirely Uwe Boll’s fault, after all. Even after so many disappointments, many gamers still dream of seeing their favorite titles given a decent big-screen treatment, and some have predicted that a turnaround is on the horizon. Marvel movie producer Avi Arad has said that all the video game genre needs is one really great movie that “goes through the roof,” and then studios will be falling over themselves to throw funding into the genre. It’s something we’ve said as well over the last five years on the site, as video game property after video game property gets picked up by Hollywood producers – including Arad himself.

The video game movie genre has been quiet of late, with the exception of Need for Speed and the moderate yet steady success of the Resident Evil series. Many projects, like the proposed BioShock movie, are stuck in the mires of development hell and may never get out. The release schedule for the next few years looks quite a bit more busy, however, and there’s one big change about to be made to the ways in which they’re produced.

Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us Will Video Game Movies Be The Next Big Thing?

Joel and Ellie in ‘The Last of Us’

As a rule, video game movies are not made by the same people who made the video game. In a lot of cases it seems like the writers and directors of these movies haven’t even played the games. In 2011, Ubisoft set out to change this by founding Ubisoft Motion Pictures, a film production branch that will collaborate with partners like New Regency to produce movies based on some of Ubisoft’s best-known video game franchises, starting with Assassin’s Creed in 2015. By creating their own studio, and fronting the development costs, Ubisoft scared most studios by how much creative control they were gunning for. They were close with Sony but they pulled out as well, opening the door for a partnership with New Regency.

More: ‘Assassin’s Creed’ Movie Deal Alarms Industry But Might Be For The Best

Comparisons to Marvel Studios seem very apt, and all eyes are on next year’s release of Assassin’s Creed to see if it can become UMP’s Iron Man. There is a lot riding on the success or failure of this movie, and other studios may also believe that getting the original game creators involved could be the key to success; Sony Pictures’ upcoming adaptation of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, for example, will be scripted by the game’s director, Neil Druckmann.

The Last of Us isn’t the only Naughty Dog game that Sony is developing for the screen. The studio is also planning a Shadow of the Colossus film directed by Josh Trank and is still making an Uncharted movie, based on the Indiana Jones-esque adventures of fortune hunter Nathan Drake, and development is currently running relatively smoothly with Seth Gordon (The King of Kong) already attached to direct. This of course, is after Neil Burger left the project, and after Sony dropped director David O. Russell and star Mark Wahlberg after insurmountable criticisms for attempting to make an Uncharted film that had little to do with the game.

Meanwhile, Blizzard Entertainment and Legendary Pictures’ World of Warcraft adaptation Warcraft just completed filming with a release date set for 2016, and the Hitman franchise is getting another movie tie-in, Agent 47, which has already begun production.


Do video game movies really stand a chance?

The Joker in Batman Arkham Origins Will Video Game Movies Be The Next Big Thing?

The Joker in ‘Batman: Arkham Origins’

It’s easy to get excited about the possibility of video game movies finally making it big, but there’s no guarantee that the success of comic book movies foreshadows the success of another geek niche genre. For starters, when we talk about the success of comic book movies, what we really mean is the success of PG-13 superhero movies based on comic books. Stray outside of that specific definition and box office success becomes a lot less guaranteed.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, despite positive reviews and a passionate fanbase, gathered a mere $47 million at the worldwide box office, a significant loss based on its $60 million production budget. Kick-Ass‘ R-rated subversion of traditional superheroes grossed only $96 million. Meanwhile, New Line Cinema’s adaptation of Y: The Last Man was stuck in limbo for a decade until, this year, the rights finally expired.

Video games do not have a unifying idea like “superhero” to cling to. There are superhero games, certainly: the inFAMOUS series stands out as one of the great originals, and there are a multitude of excellent comic book-based games like Batman: Arkham Asylum and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. As a medium however, video games have no equivalent to the comic book superhero. Shooting people in the face, maybe? It seems to be a popular theme.

Delsin Rowe in inFAMOUS Second Son Will Video Game Movies Be The Next Big Thing?

Delsin Rowe in ‘inFAMOUS Second Son’

One advantage that video games do have over comic books when it comes to finding an audience for tie-in movies is their consumer base. According to Comichron, Diamond Comic Distributors reported total North American comic book sales in 2013 added up to $516.77 million. By contrast, the industry-tracking NPD Group reports that the US alone spent $15.39 billion on video games in the same year. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 51% of US households own at least one dedicated games console. Last year’s biggest video game success, Grand Theft Auto V, made a staggering $800 million within 24 hours of its release. It’s clear that video games are big business. Call of Duty proves it annually with some of the largest entertainment launches in the world.

Even given how successful the video game industry is as a whole, however, movies based on individual franchises and games can’t just rely on their existing fanbase. The main titles in the Assassin’s Creed franchise usually sell between 7 and 10 million copies within their first year, which means that even if every single one of those players went to see the upcoming Assassin’s Creed movie, UMP would still need to appeal to a much broader audience in order for it to succeed at the box office.


Is Ubisoft already building a shared universe?

Watch Dogs Assassins Creed easter egg 570x303 Will Video Game Movies Be The Next Big Thing?

One of the keys to Marvel Studios’ success – and something that other studios are now moving towards emulating – is the creation of a shared universe that spans several franchises. When properties are tied together in this way, it encourages audiences to become attached to the universe as well as the individual characters, and to want to see more of that universe. The real test for how successful this model will prove is Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie about characters who will (literally) be alien to the average moviegoer, but will nonetheless be accessible due to their place in Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Here’s where things get really interesting: since Ubisoft Motion Pictures was founded, Ubisoft has inserted Easter eggs into Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, island adventure Far Cry 3 and upcoming hacker game Watch Dogs that indicate all three franchises potentially exist within a shared universe. All three of these games have movie tie-ins on UMP’s development slate.

In the Far Cry 3 downloadable expansion Lost Expeditions, protagonist Jason Brody explored a compound and finds a folder with the Abstergo logo on it (Abstergo being the modern-day face of the Templars in the Assassin’s Creed franchise). Many more folders like this can be found in the compound, and the player can also find a letter that references the Pieces of Eden, critical plot elements in Assassin’s Creed, and gives an access code for the elevator: 122112. The number is a clear reference to the 21st December, 2012, a date that is predicted to bring the end of the world in the Assassin’s Creed games.

Watch Dogs, which releases this spring, is set in an alternate version of Chicago where everything electrical and digital is controlled by a central operating system called CtOS. In Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the player can hack into Abstergo Entertainment’s computers and find an e-mail from the Blume Corporation, the creator of the CtOS technology in Watch Dogs, encouraging Abstergo to install a localized system at its Montreal facility. Walking around the offices, the player can also listen in on Abstergo employees discussing Blume and even talking about going to work there.

Watch Dogs hasn’t been released yet, but even the marketing for the game has featured references to the other two Ubisoft franchises. Screenshots of the protagonist, Aiden Pearce, using his smartphone show an upside-down version of the Assassin’s Creed symbol among his apps, and a recent trailer showed a character with copies of Assassin’s Creed II and Far Cry 3 on his shelves.

Jason Brody in Far Cry 31 Will Video Game Movies Be The Next Big Thing?

Easter eggs are common in video games, but these seem to go beyond the usual nudges and winks and instead attempt to seriously establish connections between the three different game worlds. Perhaps it’s just Ubisoft’s love of conspiracy stories becoming contagious, but it’s possible that UMP has similar plans for its Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs and Far Cry movies, and that the games are actually laying the groundwork for a shared universe. That would certainly be a clever way to attract fans of the movies to play the video games upon which they’re based.

Before any of that can happen, however, UMP still needs that one big hit to blow the roof off. Assassin’s Creed will star Michael Fassbender in the lead role, and Justin Kurzel (who directed Fassbender in a recent adaptation of Macbeth) was recently reported to be in final talks to direct. The screenplay was originally penned by playwright Michael Lesslie, but has since undergone rewrites by Scott Frank (Minority Report), and writing duo Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (Tower Heist). UMP has boldly staked out a summer release date for 2015, which means that the studio considers Assassin’s Creed to be a potential blockbuster.

Will Assassin’s Creed kick off the video game movie revolution? It’s still too early to tell, but at least it’s not too early to hope.

Follow H. Shaw-Williams on Twitter @HSW3K
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  1. I have yet to see an actual good video game movie. There’s been some I enjoyed as guilty pleasures, but none I would actually call a good quality film. Maybe World of Warcraft will change that.

    • Doesnt Halo 4 forward onto dawn count? I mean it was first released as a web series and it achieved awesome things for it’s tiny budget. It also proves what ive been saying over and over and over again. In order for a Movie based on a video game to be great. It needs to do it’s own thing. At the same time it needs to be 100% true to the lore and not discount the storys the video games already told us.

      • Never saw that.

        All I’m gonna add is the bbest video game movie was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and it was based off a comic.

        • You should watch forward onto dawn. all 4 parts are on machinima and you can watch the whole thing put together on dvd blu ray and netflix. It’s not “THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER” But it’s still pretty dang good even more so the small budget it had.

          • I recently watched Forward Unto Dawn, and was utterly blown away by almost every aspect of it. And I’m not a gamer, just a sci-fi film enthusiast. One of the best films of its type that I’ve seen, better than most theatrical similar films.

            I would highly recommend it.

        • Scott Pilgrim is infused with a lot of video game humor and imagery but its still a comic book movie. It’s one of my favorites :D

      • Is that the one that takes place on an academy?

        if so i gotta say it was really well done and a testament to what what can be achieved if you keep it out of hollywood’s hands and or at least limit their input drastically

        despite having a 360 since almost launch i never had any interest in halo until that movie,it was very well done and could stand on it’s own

        • Yes it is.

    • Technically Pokemon the movie counts as a video game movie.

      • If it was based off the video game lore instead of the anime lore. If Pokemon the first movie was based off a pokemon red. Mew would of given birth to mewtwo, he wouldn’t be able to talk and the climax would be in a cave.

  2. History says ‘No.’

  3. When was this written? Didn’t Warcraft just finish filming and they are starting post (which will be 2 years!!)

    I know I saw a picture of director Duncan Jones looking at a couple of screens during filming.

    • Thanks, article has been corrected.

  4. I suppose any Nintendo property is out of the question, eh? StarFox under the DreamWorks banner would be perfect.

    • Actually, if Disney/Pixar worked with Nintendo, that would make loads of sense. A Wreck It Ralph sequel could plug right into an animated Mario, Zelda or other Big N movie.

      • … Wait, I do believe I just suggested a Disney-Nintendo shared universe.

        Mother of God…

      • Wreck-it Ralph wasn’t a Pixar movie. It was Disney.

        • Mmm-hmm, yes. And?

    • I’m not a huge Nintendo gamer, but I do think a Legend of Zelda game could be done well. Either Wind Waker or Twilight Princess (the only two games I played,) would make pretty good films, If I say so myself.

      Maybe some other games too. Four Swords looked like fun, people still talk about Majoras Mask and Ocarina of Time.

      I also think Sonic the Hedgehog could be made into a fun film, done right. Dreamworks would probably be who I go to with it.

      • After LEGO Movie, Nintendo movies seem a lot more plausible. The style of that movie would fit perfectly.

        That said, Disney and Nintendo have a very long history together. Indeed, after WW2, the Japanese maker of playing cards licensed Disney characters for their products.

        The great thing about Zelda would be that a film could be its own adventure, not entirely based on any one game, and still fit in the history of Hyrule.

        A Mario movie could fit as a spinoff of Wreck-It Ralph, and even feature some Mariokart action! Who doesn’t want to see that?

  5. i hope assasins creed does well so that hopefully uncharted comes soon after

    • Eh, If I wanted to watch an “Uncharted” film I’d just watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.

  6. I’d watch a movie based off Red Dead Redemption. We seriously need some good westerns.

    Dead Space got the cartoon treatment, but I think it would be a very good live action horror/sci fi movie.

    Those are a couple off my head I wouldn’t mind seeing.

    • Yeah, Red Dead Redemption would make a pretty good movie. One of my favorite games to play still.

  7. Absolutely beep-in not! LOL. Gamers don’t care to watch movies based on games…they want to play games. Non-gamers couldn’t care less.

    Assassin’s Creed is going to be one of the biggest bombs of 2015. Fassbender is not a star (just ask Counselor…and X men First Class which couldn’t even outgross unadjusted X Men from over a decade before) nor he has knack for movies that require B acting.

    • Fassenbender was the best thing out of X-Men First Class.

      • That’s not a big compliment soncidering he was in the movie with plank of wood January Jones. And the movie was the lowest grossing X Men movie by a landslide, despite inflation. No wonder Fox brought back Jackman and focused marketing on him and white-hot Lawrence. DOPF will open big thanks to those real stars. Don’t think that they would make a “reunion” X Men so soon if Fassy and McAvoy attracted audience. As it is, even X Men fanboys didn’t come back in droves for First Class. Fact.

        he’s a small, prestige movie player, not an epic blockbuster lead. Assassin’s creed will learn the hard way. Just wait and see.

        • Fassenbender’s rendition of Magneto was the best thing about First Class. Other than that the movie was ok. I’m a huge x-men fan and I found the movie lacking, but Fassenbender definitely wasn’t the worst thing from that movie. I don’t even find myself excited over DoFP with that bloated cast.

          • We aren’t talking about the same thing. Fassbender has ZERO boxoffice pull and that has nothing to do with the quality of the performence (I prefer McKellen cause he’s fun in that role…Fassbender thinks he’s in an Oscah bait). Which is why First Class is the lowest grossing X Men movie, and FOX had to bring back Jackman. Jackman is a star, Fassbender is not and never will be because he isn’t likeable.

            AC is screwed if Fassbender is the only “name” attached to the project.

            • maybe he was unknown a few years ago when first class came out but now that he’s been in a couple of good movies and especially after DOFP, assuming its as good as predicted,he will be a big draw to many people.

    • LOL. Comic book readers don’t care to watch movies based on comics…they want to read comics. Non-comic book readers couldn’t care less.

  8. i’m hoping for a Monster Hunter movie since there is no specific story line, the producers and writers can play with the plot/story of the protagonist.

  9. Whats good about making games into movies is that the story is already there. They just gotta put it all together on screen.

    I just wish they would start making some Castlevania movies

  10. I’d prefer to see video game-based TV shows.

    How about an HBO or STARZ-produced BioShock miniseries?

    • I’m absolutely with you there. I was thinking about Mass Effect in the style of BSG. I’d love that immediately.

  11. Quite strange, as lately I’ve been thinking about how VG movies aren’t taken serious and/or not given good treatment, just as CBM in the pre-2000 era. One day I think we can get some decent film adaptions, but Nintendo is really the most recognizable even for the casual audience. Everyone knows Mario and donkey kong from waaaay back.

    However, Avi has his hands on a number of VG movie projects and I dont think they’ll be handled well. MGS, ugh!!!

    Thing is, we need people who actually know the game stories and are passionate about seeing something they love be adapted properly and sensibly. And um…there’s no way Avi has really played and understands all the games that he’s set to produce for film adaptions.

    We get people like Uwe working on stuff constantly but they always make changes and the final product looks wack. Why can’t they just stick with Kyo and Iori’s look from the games? Why is the Tekken story changed into something that’s been done before in 80s movies, essentially shooting itself in the foot as a direct to DVD title?

    I kinda like the resident evil films, though I haven’t put any money into them past seeing the first one in theaters. Everything else, I’ve caught on cable.

    • Looks like I didn’t finish commenting on the RE movies, lol. What I meant to say was that, while they are entertaining, they are not well polished. The cgi never seems to improve and most of the designs are laughable (looking at you, Nemesis). I’m one of those people who loves ALL of the RE games, even the odd spinoffs and critically panned newer editions, but I don’t mind them butchering the source material the way they have in the movies.

      Of course they could’ve made it better by using the mansion, raccoon city and such as backdrops while also using the same story and characters, but Alice is okay, though an interchangeable protagonist. The animated movies have been better at delivering action and scares, I must say.

      • So would you say Resident Evil is the X-men franchise of video game movies?

  12. Only Disney should be allowed to create video game movies. I’d take a sequel to Wreck-it Ralph over a half baked attempt at Assassin’s Creed any day.

  13. I think the main issue they have is a good, story driven game can take 20-30 hours to complete? There’s no way that’s going to translate well into a 2 hour film. Try and fit that into a 10-12 episode TV show though, and then you’re onto something.

    • How about just turn it into a two-part sequel. If part one is good, part two should just be better.

  14. Good. I hope they have plans to relaunch a new and better version of prince of persia. The whole trilogy and no political disney B.S.!

  15. I would love a Castlevania movie or Altered Beast.

    • Few years back there was talk for a castlevania movie. That would be an awesome movie.

  16. I would love to see a Gears of War, Halo, or Metal Gear solid movie. Those would be at the top of my list.

  17. I agree with Avi Arad that video game movies need one movie that “goes thru the roof” in order to draw attention and convince audiences that they don’t suck anymore. Kind of like Spider-Man (2002) that was just HUGE and led to increased attention for X2, and Hulk and Daredevil getting green-lit. Sure Daredevil and Hulk weren’t runaway successes but they were additional stepping stones that led us to Iron Man and Avengers further down the road.

  18. I don’t see why not. Ever since Final Fantasy 7, the big thing for games to do was have great cinematic sequences. Nowadays, a lot of games are essentially interactive movies so it stands to reason that they’d make the jump from the home screen to the big screen.

  19. I think the main difference between comic books and video games is that comic books are driven by stories and characters. That is not necessarily true about video games.

    Take for example GTA V. Why is it so successful? Because of its intense, thought-provoking story? No. Nobody really cares about the story. What people care about is the open world, infinity of activities and literally hundreds of hours of gameplay, not to mention hundreds more with modifications and multiplayer. Or look at Skyrim. WoW. LoL. Dragon Age. It’s true some of them have good story lines, but that is not the main reason why people play them. It’s because you can create a custom characters, change his/her appearance, abilities, profession, specialization. In games like DA and Mass Effect, player’s actions and decisions during the game affect story and world. Nowadays there are games that have different endings and so on.

    You can’t recreate these things in the movies. For example, for me Shepard from Mass Effect is and always was a woman (I choose female sex mostly because of the always great Jennifer Hale) and if they made Mass Effect movie, they would probably choose a male Shepard, which for me is just unthinkable.

    Movies (and also comics) are driven mostly by story and characters. Or visuals (style over substance), but games are much more than that. Of course, in some games like Assassin’s Creed the story plays a huge part, and that’s why I think that games like that have the highest chance of success.

  20. Wreck-It Ralph.

  21. This was an interesting read. Seems like the Tomb Raider movies did fairly decent in the box office and if it could have been released in 3D imagine how much it would have grossed. At the very least it helped Angelina Jolie’s career. I’m game for more game based films.

  22. Of course video adaptions are the future. they are another untapped well with tons of great characters and stories. Really comes on to this: is it an exciting and interesting story that the general audience will enjoy and who develops/executes the film.

    People said for years that CBM movies wouldn’t work…They clearly did. Then you had people saying you have to ground them in realism and can’t have them too crazy…Welp, the Avengers banked over a billion dollars, we’re getting a Bats vs. Supes movie, and countless other examples.

    Bring on the games. Only problem with all these high-budget properties is that smaller movies will be pushed aside or sent right to VOD.

    • +1

      I concur. Very well said.

  23. I don’t think it should be the next big thing but being that its money there, its going to be chased. One of the things that make the stories in video games so good is that they are long and drawn out, and you can’t just sit and play it in a couple hours. Take Batman Arkham series. If you just take the cinematic scenes from that, its going to be up to 2 and a half hours long a piece.
    If people try to cram a good story under 2hrs, they will be taking so much away from why people like the games to begin with.

  24. Until I actually see a Video Game movie that does good I’m going to look at all adaptations of Video Games to movies as a bad idea. I mean the two just don’t function well. Granted there have been a FEW good movies that have been able to make the transition from Movie to game(IE Godleneye,Chronicles of Riddick) But most of them suck. Same goes for Games to movies. Unfortunately they’re currently batting a %100 a failure.

  25. now’a days, video games are their own movie premise. I could understand in the past that they did the “game-to-movie” deal, because films were more advanced than games back then, so detail & story were limited, and films had more to work with.
    now games are more advanced, they can tell their own Very detailed and in depth story, AND in a cinematic view.
    really the games not only don’t need a movie adaptation, but would be insultingly reduced because of it.
    if you really wanted to see a movie rendition of a modern game, just record the cinematics and in-game-transitions with a little game-play here and there to better bind the story. And in most of today’s games you can. you can hide all the HUD’s to show nothing but the character & scenery.
    granted that in many of today’s games you can’t yet do that, but that still does not diminish the rendition.
    bottom line; games are now advanced enough to tell their own in-depth and detailed story. film adaptations will only limit and hinder the worth of them.
    heck, I’ll even give you a reference;
    would you A.] go to netflix and watch the film adaptation, Silent Hill; Revelations?
    or would you B.] hit up Youtube, and watch a feature length of the movie rendition to the game, Silent Hill 3, original story, characters and all?
    same with Assassins Creed (all of them), same with The Last Of Us, and if it’s on Youtube, same for FarCry 3.
    go see the movie adaptation? or hit up youtube and see the feature length film rendition of the original game (story, characters, scripts, etc)?

    • I liked the Silent Hill movies a lot actually, they get the tone of the games down really well.

  26. I hope to God not. Unless they make sense, like the Warcraft movie. But Assassin’s Creed doesn’t need a film.

  27. Videogames then Anime.

    • I can’t wait for the all white cast of Naruto. Yes even Killer Bee!

  28. To answer the title, no. Because a movie is a movie and a video game is a video game.

    • Same thing with comics. Because a movie is a movie and a comic is a comic.

  29. The Warcraft trilogy will be terrific IMO. 2016 can’t come any faster.
    Also I would watch a Mass Effect franchise movie (if done correctly)

    • Mass Effect should be a TV series on HBO or Showtime…those three games have enough material and side items to make a show last at least 6 seasons.