Bioshock was a massive shot in the arm for first person shooter games back in 2007. At a time when the genre was focused largely on realistic, military themes, along came the world of Rapture with one of the most innovative FPS experiences in recent memory featuring arguably the most richly designed world in video game history. Bioshock was also incredibly cinematic and as such, it was hardly surprising when talk of a movie adaptation began to circulate.
Eventually, that talk became serious and renowned director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Ring) was tasked with the monumental job of bringing Rapture and its citizens to life on the big screen. After a number of years in development hell, the project was abruptly cancelled shortly before beginning shooting, with Universal Studios seemingly not on the same page as Verbinski and franchise creator Ken Levine, with regards to the film's direction.
At the time, many reasons were cited as being behind the cancellation, from budget concerns to clashes with the director's other commitments. During a recent Reddit AMA (ask me anything) session, Verbinski has clarified his position on what happened to the Bioshock movie and what the chances are of it being revived, stating:
"It’s an R rated movie. I wanted to keep it R rated, I felt like that would be appropriate, and it’s an expensive movie. It’s a massive world we’re creating and it’s not a world we can simply go to locations to shoot... We’d be building an entire underworld universe. So I think the combination of the price tag and the rating, Universal just didn’t feel comfortable ultimately. At that time also there were some R rated, expensive R rated movies that were not working."
With regards to a big-screen Bioshock adaptation being given another chance in the wake of more successful R-rated movies such as Deadpool, the director claims:
"I think things have changed and maybe there will be another chance, but it’s very difficult when you’re eight weeks away from shooting a movie you really can see in your head and you’ve almost filmed the entire thing, so emotionally you’re right at that transition from architect to becoming a contractor and that will be a difficult place to get back to."
The comments fit in with claims that have been made previously by both the director and Levine with regards to budget constraints and certification disagreements and the 'expensive R rated movies' Verbinski refers to likely include Watchmen which Levine has previously cited as giving the studio doubts over Bioshock. Although Verbinski makes it clear his return to the world of Rapture is unlikely, he doesn't completely close the door on the idea and clearly still believes that - if done right - Bioshock could be a great movie.
Of course, given the current form of cinematic video game adaptations, some would certainly argue that both Gore Verbinski and the Bioshock franchise dodged a bullet when the planned movie was cancelled. No matter how good or well-liked a video game series is, the movie versions continue to struggle on the big screen, most recently demonstrated by the lack of success achieved by Assassin's Creed which performed badly despite a loyal video game following and big name stars.
With that said, if any video game franchise is going to break that pattern, Bioshock is surely the one. The game's visuals, lore and story are incredibly detailed and playing the game truly feels like being inside a movie. With interesting characters such as Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine to play with, Bioshock - at least on paper - has all the ingredients needed to be a successful movie. Still, given what happened with the first attempt at an adaptation, it seems unlikely Universal will want to take another shot at it.