Gaming has suffered through some pretty horrific screen adaptations in the past (looking at you, Super Mario Bros), but it seems like it is finally getting its proper due up on the big screen. The past few weeks in entertainment news have been abuzz with all sorts of big casting announcements for major video game adaptations in TV and film.
The biggest buzz is about the most pined after The Last of Us (TLoU) adaptation, as HBO looks to be assembling a major project for their TV series version of the cinematic apocalypse thriller. Having already brought in writer Craig Mazin (of Chernobyl creator fame) to assist Naughty Dog’s own creative director Neil Druckmann, HBO have further bolstered their cards with the mega announcement of the Mandalorian himself, Pedro Pascal, stepping in to lead as Joel while Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones) will be depicting his moody sidekick teen, Ellie. Pascal has been on a huge upwards trajectory over the last six years since his rise to prominence with Netflix’s Narcos and his brutal death as Oberyn Martell in Game of Thrones, having now starred in Wonder Woman 1984 and, of course, performing brilliantly as the man behind the helmet for The Mandalorian. It’s fair to say this is quite the get for the TLoU adaptation and further drums up excitement for what is shaping up to be an exceptional series that will bring the bold cinematic world of The Last of Us to a whole new audience.
The other huge sign of gaming’s growing importance to Hollywood and film and TV media lies in the ever-growing crazy cast list for Lionsgate’s Borderlands film. With Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever) set to direct and Craig Mazin once again reported to have written the last screenplay draft, Borderlands, like The Last of Us,looks to be setting up a huge A-list product. Latest casting news sees renowned comedy star and game fan Jack Black stepping in to play Claptrap, Borderlands’ most iconic character and fan love/hate favorite. He now joins a star-studded cast of Cate Blanchett, Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Hart.
These two high-profile projects striving to be far bigger and more credible than most video game adaptations are usually afforded is indicative of a steep growing resurgence of video game movies as viable and successful products once again. Prepare yourself, gamers; our favorite polygonal characters are hitting up the bright sunsets of Hollywood again, and this time they’re hoping to stay a little while longer.
The Growing Market of Video Game Adaptations
The last few years have seen a new host of video game characters reaching for the sunny heights of Hollywood and the movie box office, and their success at holding on has only been getting stronger.
2020’s film of the year, Sonic the Hedgehog, ended up being bigger and better than it had any right to be. More importantly, it made a hell of a lot more money than anyone expected. The chili-dog-eating blue hedgehog flossed his way to a whopping $319.7 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing video game movie ever in the US market while also claiming the sixth spot on 2020’s highest-grossing film list. It was a bizarre year for movie releases, however, with Sonic pushing just behind Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, Paramount is more than excited to be bringing the lightning-quick hedgehog back again together with some more of his iconic woodland-dwelling gang for Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
Sonic held the advantage of holding a card of well-known names for its main cast to bolster its credibility as a big franchise starter. Most notable was Jim Carrey, who made a welcome return to form, having languished in the dark for a while. His Doctor Robotnik proved to be one of the most fun and compelling aspects of the film, worthy of the plentiful amount of praise thrown at the 1990s comedy goliath. Then you have the buddy cop duo of James Marsden (X-Men, 27 Dresses) together with Ben Schwartz (Parks and Rec, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) voiced Sonic filling out a solid main cast of comedic and seasoned actors, which helped hold the film together well.
Despite its bizarre production story and messy marketing—with the entire Internet collectively coming down on Sonic’s horrifying original human-like design—in the end, Sonic proved to be a fun romp and a welcome entry to the better end of video game adaptations that are so often woefully executed.
Sonic is not a mere fluke, however. A year prior, Detective Pikachu won over all of our hearts to earn a global box office return of $433 million, the second highest of any video game adaptation worldwide just behind Warcraft. Pikachu walked first so that Sonic could run. Its adaptation of Nintendo’s most iconic Pokémoncharacters proved to be a similarly nice surprise amongst a litany of poor video game movies. Once again, the star power of Detective Pikachu came to the fore to prove that video game movies can be credible. With A-list star Ryan Reynolds voicing the titular Pikachu—and even making a cameo appearance himself at the end—alongside solid industry veterans like Bill Nighy and Ken Watanabe, Detective Pikachu was a well-packaged hit that warranted its announced sequels and has helped push game adaptations to a new level of popularity.
Even the supposed messes and failures of the recent video game adaptation boom end up being mega money spinners overseas, particularly in Asian and Eastern countries. The aforementioned Warcraft directed by Duncan Jones was poorly received by western audiences and critics alike, but its prevalence as a game brand overseas still saw the action fantasy film pull in a global gross of $439 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing video game film ever made. With its huge budget and excessive marketing costs, however, Warcraft is reported to have posted a loss, making it somewhat of a cautionary tale for other studios to pick their properties and budgets carefully.
Where Warcraft has failed, others are still finding success and growing the viability of the modern video game adaptation for TV and film. The Witcher Netflix series came out to acclaim and has held onto its A-list star Henry Cavill to begin production for a second season. Castlevania too has had the Netflix treatment with its now three-season run of its animated adaptation, with a fourth expected soon.
The adventure heroine Lara Croft has also made her first return to the big screen since Angeline Jolie’s mid-2000s flicks—a weird time for the video game adaptation and us all. Alicia Vikander’s take on Tomb Raider was a middling success, but even its distinctly average performance has not dissuaded MGM and Warner from bringing in Misha Green (creator of the acclaimed Lovecraft Country series) to head up a sequel as writer-director.
Hell, even cinema master Steven Spielberg has thrown his hat into the video game movie ring as he brought together many gaming icons and elements for his 2018 Ready Player One. Though not strictly a game adaptation, Ready Player One saw the likes of Halo’s Master Chief, Mass Effect’s Shepard, Minecraft and many more video game characters reach the big screen. Plus, there is the long-rumored Spielberg Haloseries, still supposedly going into production/releasing soon.
Video game adaptations are at an all time high, my friends, and it is only going further from here.
More to Come for Gaming’s Most Iconic Characters
With a renewed sense of urgency, video game adaptations are now coming thicker and faster than ever. Capitalizing on the current video game buzz, we already have another Mortal Kombat film due to release later this year (a trailer was just released earlier this month). Monster Hunter was released at the end of 2020 in international markets and has been pushed to streaming for western countries. Resident Evil is also due for a reboot too, banking off the renewed interest in RE 2’s plot and characters as well as a Netflix animated show.
Five Nights at Freddy’s is also taking its jump scares to the big screen as horror production house Blumhouse is reported to be in early development of the feverish Chuck-E-Cheese nightmare adaptation. Their rumored longstanding script problems, however , have seen Blumhouse’s efforts pipped by Willy’s Wonderland, a Five Nights at Freddy’s carbon copy in all but name starring Nicolas Cage.
The most cinematic of gaming directors is also having his franchise opus taken to film, as Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid is supposedly getting an adaptation with A-lister Oscar Isaac to star. With such a complex narrative spread between multiple games, it will be extremely interesting to see how Snake and co. translate to the big screen.
The biggest video game blockbuster of all looks set to be Uncharted as the long-troubled film development of Naughty Dog’s Indiana Jones clone has finally wrapped filming. With Marvel sensation Tom Holland playing lead Nathan Drake and Mark Wahlberg as his mentor and sidekick Sully, Uncharted is finally scheduled to release in the winter of 2022.
And finally, with the success of their Witcher series, Netflix is going all in on game adaptations. Despite the abject failure of its 2016 film attempt, Assassin’s Creed is supposedly getting a Netflix series in conjunction with Ubisoft, who are also partnering with Netflix again for both a Splinter Cell animated series and a film adaptation of The Division.
Netflix are also returning to their partners on The Witcher, CD Projekt Red, for the development of an anime based off their newest title, Cyberpunk 2077. And again, the blue hedgehog is taking over screens with a 3D animated Sonic the Hedgehog children’s show to air on the streaming giant’s platform.
All this to say, we’ve clearly hit a nexus for video game adaptations as audiences awake to the hundreds of brilliant narratives and characters already existing in games. As the games industry matures and turns out more engaging and emotionally engaging narratives with greater cinematic potential, then the film and TV industries are only going to keep taking further notice and push more game adaptations.
And once Sonic undoubtedly claims his Oscar award this year for best picture, the floodgates will really open.