The premiere of Blizzard’s (pretty universally panned) Warcraft film and the history of hit-or-miss video game movie adaptations has me thinking wistfully about movies I’d like to see done successfully. A good video game does not necessarily translate to a good movie: half of the appeal is player choice and immersion, and a cinematic version removes that aspect and usually involves a huge distillation of plot.
Still, it’s entirely possible to make an engaging film that diehard fans and newbies will both like. Here are the top seven adaptations I’d like to see, as well as some thoughts on ways to avoid pitfalls.
The Last of Us
The first on my list (well, last, given its numeric ranking) is stuck in development hell. This will become a recurring theme with many of the titles, and in some cases that might be for the best. In this one, though, all signs have looked promising: the script is by the game’s writer, Neil Druckmann, and cult favorite writer-director-actor-everything-er, Sam Raimi, is set to produce.
Notable for its teen female lead, Ellie, The Last of Us is a post-apocalyptic journey with a ton of locations and zombie-esque monsters. I’m not the biggest fan of post-apocalyptic settings, but this one is done well, and the teen protagonist heightens the stakes—and not in the vein of some of the interchangeable young adult protagonists in movies so popular of late. While Ellie is young, most of the other characters aren’t, and the content is decidedly dark. I doubt The Last of Us could squeak by with anything less than an R rating.
I hope the movie finds it feet. With the creatives involved, I don’t think I’d be disappointed in the final product.
There’s already a decent anime based on Persona 4, but that’s not what I’m after. I’d love a live-action adaptation of any of the Persona games, or just something heavily influenced by that universe. It’s made for a new adult and young adult audience in particular, given that each game has a cast of teenager characters.
While the CGI required to bring most of the Personas to life would be extensive (and has the potential to go terribly wrong, as does any CGI of fantasy characters), the end result could be spectacular. I’d love to see the gods and monsters rendered in their full glory.
Honestly, I’m just a big fan of teenagers taking matters into their own hands and having agency when adults don’t or can’t. That their agency is embodied by supernatural beings that kick ass in battle for them is just a bonus.
Red Dead Redemption
The Read Dead series is ready-made for the big screen. They’re highly stylized, character-rich westerns that could easily be given a Tarantino-esque treatment. My favorite is Red Dead Redemption, not least because 2004’s Red Dead Revolver is a second-gen console game and the graphics make my 2016 sensibilities wince. The writing in Redemption is better overall, too. The main character, former outlaw John Marston, has a redemption arc but with a sprinkling of Rockstar Games’ typical over-the-top crassness and violence. His struggle to go back to his life as a family man involves apprehending or killing former members of his gang, and it’s a bloody Wild West spectacle.
Another one of my favorite elements is the semi-fictionalized setting. While the game is immediately identifiable as a western, the US counties and Mexican state, like West Elizabeth and Nuevo Paraiso, are a little Alternate Earth. It gives the game something extra and lets the audience know they’re not in for a classic frontier experience.
And in my shallow and complete layperson’s opinion, Karl Urban would make a great Marsden.
Silent Hill 3
Don’t look at me like that. I know that technically Silent Hill 3 was adapted into Silent Hill: Revelation 3D. But if you were one of its unlucky audience—like me, who saw it in the theater and contemplated walking out several times—you know it was an incomprehensible butchery of a great game. Revelation has a score of just 5% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yikes.
After the first Silent Hill movie saw decent success with critics and fans alike, hopes were high when a sequel was announced. With iconic settings like a sinister amusement park, and with a believable and snappy female teenager for a lead, the translation from console to cinema seemed like a no brainer. But instead of the gory creep of the game, we had jump scares and cheesy visuals. I had no huge qualms with the cast (although Kit Harington made for a strange Vincent, and I couldn’t quite shake the idea that I was watching Jon Snow’s eyebrows sadly emote their way around Silent Hill), but even their talent couldn’t elevate such a hammy script.
Perhaps most egregious of all, the writers poorly retconned both the first film and much of the game’s canon: Alessa was actually a sacrifice for the purpose of carrying a god baby; the Order and the Brethren are the same thing; characters who died pivotal deaths in the game are alive in the movie, and vice versa; and Heather’s motive for heading to Silent Hill is contrived instead of deeply personal.
Honestly, the most enjoyable scenes featured Pyramid Head as Heather’s protector. Even that was an odd choice, given Pyramid Head’s decidedly un-protector-like role in the game series. I love Pyramid Head to a somewhat unsettling degree, and would happily watch a whole movie of him wandering down hallways, but even I looked askance at his role in Revelation.
So here’s what I want: I want a second attempt made at adapting Silent Hill 3, but the story should closely mirror that of the game’s. No confusing, contradictory cult. No puppy-eyed Vincent as Heather’s boyfriend. Less hammy, exposition-heavy dialog. An editor with a better grasp on pacing for horror movies. Full-tilt creepiness that doesn’t sacrifice its mounting tension for jump scare after jump scare. And most of all, Heather retains her teenage snark.
Also, I never want to see that awful CGI mannequin fusion thing again.
I have four words for you: LittleBigPlanet done Pixar style.
I’m betting on the cuteness and quirkiness of the game series to carry a movie, but I think it could be done. Though the Sackboys don’t speak and aren’t very dimensional, there are characters in the series who do have speaking roles and could be fleshed out into starring roles pretty easily. Plus there’s talent like Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie already attached to the series. There’s built-in villains, established landscapes to explore, and endearing figures with different abilities who could work together to navigate obstacles. With a skillful combination of elements and a broader narrative, LittleBigPlanet: The Movie could be the next Toy Story or even Wreck-It Ralph.
Plus there’s three games (well, four, but I’m not sure a racing game would translate well) to mine for material, world-building, and plot. I want to see the adorable sackbots being herded around to safety; the peril and excitement of grappling; and the international influence from levels like The Savannah (Africa), and The Temple (Japan), and The Wedding (the Dia de los Muertos-themed level is my favorite). The characters could ostensibly circumvent the globe, which is great for cultural representation and courting a wide demographic. In case any studios are reading this—think of the merch potential alone!
Despite some internet chatter and enthusiasm, there’s been no announcement made as to a movie version.
This might be one of the toughest translations to the big-screen. Portal is a puzzle game, albeit one with a kick-ass narrative, and its protagonist, Chell, is never heard and never really seen, except for the rare glimpse of her suspended between portals.
But here’s the thing. I really want GLaDOS, in her maniacal glory, to ascend to the ranks of famous villains beyond the scope of video games. I want her up there with HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. No, I want her up there with Moriarty and Hannibal Lecter and the Joker. Non-gamers need to have her melodic and hateful commentary in their ear.
I think a Portal movie could work well if it focused on physics rather than puzzle solving. I almost thought a first-person POV might work, a la Hardcore Henry or Doom, but Portal isn’t combat-based. A concession might be amping up the action and peril. Tricky jumps, lasers, and GLaDOS’ scheming might be tense for gamers, but it could wear thin on screen. Combining those elements with the use of portals for defense and offense in a chase scenario could be really effective. I know, because it’s been done:
Portal: No Escape is a short fan film (although it feels odd to call it that, given Dan Trachtenberg’s status as an accomplished mainstream director), and it’s awesome. It demonstrates how portals can be used in escape and combat situations. If a feature-length movie looked like this, I’d have no complaints.
I’m tentatively excited because a Portal movie is in development. Announced in 2013 by J.J. Abrams, the game will be co-produced by Valve’s Gabe Newell. In 2016, Abrams reaffirmed that the project is still underway, although there’s no news as to when it will enter production.
A Mass Effect movie is in dev, and potentially in dev hell: though there’s a script underway and producers attached, no director or cast has been announced, and it’s bounced between distributors. I’m psyched, as Mass Effect is probably my favorite game series of all time, but I admit I’m not without concerns.
I think a Mass Effect film could be wonderful. The world-building is exquisite, the characters are iconic, and audiences love a high-stakes space opera. On the other hand, I’m painfully aware of how frequently aspects of game don’t translate to cinema.
As much as I love asari, we wouldn’t be able to spend as much time exploring their culture and history, contextualizing as the game did. They could very easily be reduced to sexy blue aliens with tentacle hair. Godspeed to the actresses stuck in that makeup chair, or overtaken with uncanny CGI.
How would krogans look, at that rate? How would the birdlike turians, or salarians? The game’s animation isn’t meant to be photorealistic, and gamers have a suspension of disbelief that is inherent to the medium. I don’t think movie audiences would be so forgiving when aliens are projected onto massive screens.
I’m also aware that a huge draw to Mass Effect is its customization. Every player experiences a different version of the game, be it because of their preference for Renegade over Paragon, the gender of their Commander Shepard, who they romance—if they do at all!—or their preferred specialization. I’m a mele-happy Vanguard, whereas my roommate prefers sniping as an Infiltrator, and our games are different even down to how we spec out and who we take into battle with us. A Shepard-fronted movie could end up being hugely dissatisfying to players who would never romance that character, or who would never throw a punch in that situation. There’s also the added difficulty of casting actors to match the default Shepards—and do we dub them with the game’s voice actors or not?
This is why I think the best choice for a Mass Effect movie is to remove the spectre (get it?) of Shepard altogether. Focusing on a relatively small-scale setting, like one system, or planet, or space station, and an ensemble that in no way involves the great Commander, would make for a tightly paced and interesting movie. It would be a slice of the universe rather than an attempt to condense a vast canon into two hours. You could include easter eggs and even cameos if you played your cards right, but the overall movie wouldn’t run the risk of tainting people’s fondness for the games.
Think of the upcoming Star Wars spinoff, Rogue One. It’s both a standalone and a deeper exploration of the existing universe. It seems like it will compliment canon rather than rewrite it, and it features notable side characters from the original trilogy but none of the main cast. I think this is the right tack for a Mass Effect movie, and tonally I think it’s on the mark, too. If you’ve seen the trailer for Rogue One, it seems to be a tense, maybe even gritty, space opera rather than a lighthearted romp.
It seems as though the movie will feature a male Commander Shepard. Hopefully the writers will reconsider this choice given how passionate about and attached to gamers are to their individual Sheps.