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There seems to be an unwritten rule that no film adaptation of a video game can ever be good. In over fifteen years, we have yet to see one video game movie get past even 50% critical approval on Rotten Tomatoes.
But you know what really doesn’t help? Picking the wrong games. Gears of War is a punchline in video game storytelling and art design. It exists entirely for its gameplay – largely multiplayer. So the fact that there’s a Gears of War movie in the works is as ridiculous as casting a white American as the Prince of Persia!

Rather than looking at story, adaptability or just the substance of the games themselves, video game movies seem to get greenlighted based on other criteria:

  • Is it popular/Is it marketable? (Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, Prince of Persia)
  • Does it have tits? (Dead or Alive, Tomb Raider, Bloodrayne)
  • If you’re Uwe Boll it’s just “can i maek movie with this name? i will also put tits in it” (Oh, there’s one or two)

In spite of this process and the unwritten rule, here are five games that could hypothetically make a good basis for a film adaptation:

5. Broken Sword

I've probably mentioned how much pre-rendered backgrounds kick bum.

After an explosion in a Parisian café, American George Stobbart gets embroiled in a globe-trotting adventure of Templar conspiracy. He teams up with French journalist Nicole Collard, he crosses paths with a Syrian assassin and he travels from France, to Ireland, to Syria, to Spain and to Scotland.

The first Broken Sword game (subtitled Circle of Blood or Shadow of the Templars depending on where you are) was a solidly made PC adventure game – recently remade for the Nintendo DS – that told a charming story. The game’s structure and length mean it would be extremely simple to adapt it straightforwardly to the big screen. All you’d have to do is make some general cuts, have Nico travel alongside George and maybe tweak the ending.

Besides, with lines like:
“Woah! Don’t shoot! I’m innocent! I’m  an American!”
“Can’t make up your mind, eh?”

How can you go wrong?

The closest we got: The Da Vinci Code

Tom Hanks is above this.

Annoyingly, this is the reason Broken Sword is last on the list. It’s about an American in Paris, who teams up with a French brunette, with a mysterious assassin following them as they travel to uncover a Templar-related mystery solving puzzles along the way. And that’s just the major similarities. So a Broken Sword movie based on this game would be accused of ripping off the Da Vinci Code, right?

Well, the Da Vinci Code novel was released in 2003, while Broken Sword was released seven years earlier in 1996. Coincidence? Or maybe…OMIGOD IT WAS JESUS ALL ALONG!

4. Resident Evil (1)

Look, I can quit pre-rendered backgrounds any time I want!

To investigate mysterious murders in the woods and mountains near Raccoon City, the Police Department sends in Bravo team from their Special Tactics And Rescue Service. When Bravo Team goes missing, Alpha Team are sent in. Attacked in the woods at night, and left without a helicopter, the survivors of Alpha Team escape into a strange mansion in the middle of nowhere. Soon they discover they are not alone…

Jill and the suspicious Barry working together, while Chris teams up with Bravo Team survivor Rebecca. Both pairs trapped with all kinds of zombies and monsters (including zombie sharks!) in the the labyrinthine mansion, its neighbouring lodge and the surrounding woods. They learn bits and pieces about the people that lived there and what happened to them. Eventually they discover starkly cold, sterile laboratory complexes under the ground and the truth about this incident.

Forget Milla Jovovich drop-kicking zombie dogs through windows Matrix-style. Forget bad amnesia subplots. Forget evil AIs. Forget the total lack of monsters like Hunters and Tyrants. Those films were never Resident Evil.

An actual movie literally couldn't be worse than the live action footage from the original game. (click to watch)

The original Resident Evil (or preferably the Gamecube remake) should have always been the basis for a faithful movie adaptation. The mystery would be engaging and the detailed locations all dripping with atmosphere would be terrific on film.
Fans never needed something ‘new’. The whole point of a film adaptation is to bring the best non-interactive parts of the game to a bigger audience while leaving out the negative (“master of lockpicking”) qualities. The fans would want to see it whether or not they know that Wesker turns out to be the traitor.

But it is safe to cut the puzzles out – viewers probably don’t need to see the endless fetching of crank handles and emblems.

The closest we got: George A. Romero’s rejected Resident Evil screenplay

Image from Romero's Resident Evil 2 advert/commercial. (click to watch)

Okay, this is kind of cheating. But George A. Romero (you know – the Night of the Living/Dawn of the/Day of the/Land of the Dead guy who inspired Resident Evil) was slated to write and direct the film adaptation. He wrote a script based on the mansion incident featuring Chris and Jill and co., with a few extra bits and characters. Capcom execs didn’t like it and went with…Sigh…Paul W. S. Anderson’s script and direction instead. That’s how we ended up with…Well..You know.

Romero’s screenplay was leaked on the internet and can probably still be found with some Googling. It looks like it would’ve made a pretty decent film. Not amazing, but good. More importantly it would’ve actually been Resident Evil.

3. Monkey Island

doo doo doodoodoodoodoo doo doodoodoo doo doo doooooo (to tune of the Monkey Island OST)

The hilarious misadventures of wannabe pirate Guybrush Thriftweed…Sorry, Sheepgood. Creepwood? Peepwood? Gorbush Threekwood? Oh, Guybrush Threepwood!

The first game in the Monkey Island adventure game series – the classic Secret of Monkey Island is another one ripe for straightforward adaptation – although there’s plenty of wiggle room to bring in the best parts of the other games in the series or go for an overall retooled story. But Guybrush’s quest to become a pirate, win Elaine’s heart and defeat the ghost/zombie/demon/pirate Lechuck is classic storytelling.

Insult Sword Fighting™ would be the best thing to happen to movies since...Cameras.

Provided they could get the humour right – the insult sword fights have already been written; it would be immensely enjoyable in gorgeous live action. Plus, it would a chance for Lucasfilm to make their first good film since the ’80s!

Speaking of epic swashbuckling adventures in the caribbean…

The closest we got: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Not pictured: Gubernatorial love interest, voodoo lady, cannibals, monkeys and...Pirates in the Caribbean.

There’s an interesting story behind this one. To summarise – allegedly one of the screenwriters on all three Pirates of the Caribbean film was slated to write a Monkey Island film and when that didn’t work out, he likely adapted his ideas to the series.

But even in the first Pirates film, you can see Jack Sparrow’s trickster solutions to problems (or puzzles) and the “Do you think he plans it all out, or just makes it up as he goes along?” in Guybrush, down to the pocketing of other people’s things. Not to mention all the connections between curly-bearded, sound-alike, undead skeleton, pirate Captains Barbossa and LeChuck.

2. Uncharted

Uncharted 2 was ground-breaking in how it blended cutscenes and gameplay.

Does this even need explanation?

Anyone who has played the games could tell you the Uncharted franchise has all the potential to be one of those great summer popcorn flicks that perfectly balances action, comedy and plot, with a cast of memorable characters. (see Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Serenity, Due South, etc.)

Like Broken Sword, Uncharted is an intercontinental adventure set in the modern day. But unlike Broken Sword and Resident Evil, a direct adaptation would be a bad idea. Telling an original tale for lovable rogue Nathan Drake would be much better. Maybe even a prequel showing him and Chloe meeting. There’s a lot of possibilities.

An Uncharted movie is actually in pre-production, and you can’t help but notice that Joss Whedon would be ideal to make this movie. The tone and script of the games is often compared his works and it would be an opportunity for him to work with composer Greg Edmonson (re: Firefly) again as well.

The closest we got: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Remember this trilogy? What? No, there's no fourth movie. I'm pretty sure.

Indiana Jones is the most obvious inspiration for Uncharted, but the lighter feel and modern setting make it slightly more comparable to something like National Treasure. But better to compare with Indy for quality purposes.

1. Mass Effect

dingdingding ding dingding (to the tune of the Mass Effect opening)

No direct adaptation here. No Shepard, no Reapers, no point in telling the story from the games without the interactivity that made it special. Feel free to pack it full of references to the games, but use the universe and tell an untold tale from the detailed back-story instead.

Here’s a suggestion: Open the movie on colonised Mars in the year 2148 with the discovery of the Prothean cache of advanced alien technology. It points huamnity to the nearest Mass Relay. The characters on Jon Grissom‘s crew are the first to travel through it. They discover new systems, new planets. They are there for the colonisation of Eden Prime.

This first act would be about the excitement and adventure of discovering evidence of other life and embarking into the unknown.

Years later, the First Contact War between the humans and the newly encountered Turians begins. Space battles and planet skirmishes ensue, with a focus on Shanxi. Complete with an appearance from the grandfather Ashley Williams talked about in the first game – who surrendered to the Turians to save lives and was disgraced for doing so.

This is where most of the standard sci-fi action and more importantly - the human drama would come into play.

The Galactic Council steps in to stop the war. The film ends with the surviving main characters – the pioneers turned soldiers visiting the Citadel to broker peace. They sombrely cease the tragic and pointless war and are welcomed to the galactic stage as one of the Citadel races.

Humanity's first trip to the Citadel would have to be an epic moment.

(Read: Hire me for this, Bioware!)

Closest thing to it: Nothing?

Of course Mass Effect is very Star Trek, and lot of sci-fi has done the war and politics, but has any film actually documented humanity’s first venture outside of the solar system and contact with other life?

Finally

What games do you think have movie adaptation potential? Or like with Gears of War – what games should film makers stay away from?

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6 Comments

  1. For the record, I am kicking myself for not thinking of Policenauts when I wrote this.

    It’s horrible to play, but the sci-crime-fi ‘space doesn’t want us’ plot would be the most adaptable story Hideo Kojima has ever written.
    Complete with inevitable comparison to Lethal Weapon – for the ripped off material they’d have to remove to make it a film.

  2. Mass Effect? More like ASS EFFECT! amirite?

    Seriously though: Your list needs more games that I know/have played. Good write up despite my lack of knowledge of all but the last part.

  3. I must disagree with Mass Effect I feel a movie about it would suck even though I made a thread saying it would rock

    Resident Evil on the other hand

  4. I must disagree with you Tareq, you’re wrong ;D

  5. I think Enterprise which is a prequel to Star Trek (the one with Spock) showed the origins of Enterprise and first encounters with races like Klingons

  6. A Mass Effect movie would be interestiing. The storyline on the planet of Shanxi also is about the Illusive man.


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  1. […] Eve would actually be an ideal candidate for the Top 5 games that COULD make great movies. The characters, the plot, the setpieces, it’s all very adaptable. Maybe just cut the ending […]

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