It’s a Hollywood adage: Video game adaptations don’t work. Prince of Persia, Warcraft, Hitman, Doom, Max Payne—all flops. But in the last few years, the industry seems to have finally cracked the code on bringing video games to the big screen. Sonic the Hedgehog and Uncharted were pandemic hits. Super Mario Bros. is tracking as the biggest movie opening of 2023. And on television, The Witcher and The Last of Us have done blockbuster numbers.
But don’t heap too much praise on Hollywood. The reality is that video games have become so cinematic in their scope, storytelling, and visuals that they’ve superseded some films in terms of their ambition and emotional resonance. HBO’s The Last of Us stayed close to its source material exactly because the original game was designed, essentially, as interactive cinema with all the twists and heartbreaks one might expect from a prestige project.
The Last of Us is certainly one of the best video game stories ever created but it’s not unique. Other adventure games such as God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Bioshock explore philosophical themes and test the player’s ethical boundaries.
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Whatever the reason for the success of video game adaptations, studios are now jockeying for the next Last of Us level hit. It’s an obvious place for expansion, considering video games have now overtaken films in the market. Across the world, people spent $184.4 billion on gaming in 2022, dwarfing the total global revenue of $26 billion at the box office last year. The major gaming studios are now even bigger than movie studios.
Amazon and Netflix have invested especially heavily in future video game adaptations, snapping up the rights to just about every popular game that’s been released in the last decade—be they AAA productions or indies. Big names including Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (Westworld), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), and Chad Stahelski (John Wick 4) have all been recruited to figure out how to transform game stories into a more passive medium. Here are 18 video games currently being adapted for film and TV.
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Gran Turismo in theaters (Aug. 11, 2023)
One of the few adaptations on this list that actually has a release date, Gran Turismo is based on a racing game of the same name. The movie will center on a gamer who is so good at the Gran Turismo video game that he wins the chance to become a professional race car driver. The film stars Orlando Bloom and David Harbour.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 in theaters (Dec. 20, 2024)
One of the few video game adaptations on this list actually aimed at children, Sonic the Hedgehog is getting a third installment with James Marsden, Idris Elba, and Ben Schwartz all returning to the franchise.
The Last of Us Part II on HBO (TBA)
The zombie apocalypse is not over yet. The Last of Us adaptation achieved Game of Thrones-level viewership numbers for HBO, so it’s no surprise that creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann are hard at work turning the game’s sequel, The Last of Us Part II, into two more seasons of television. Without spoiling the show for those who have yet to play the video game, it’s safe to say that the second season will jump a few years forward in time and reckon with the consequences of Joel’s decision at the end of season one on his and Ellie’s relationship.
God of War on Amazon Prime (TBA)
A beloved video game series about a Spartan warrior named Kratos who challenges first the Greek and then the Nordic gods, God of War took its narrative to the next level in the fourth installment. Nicknamed “Dad of War,” the game gave Kratos a vulnerable son named Atreus. The story centered on their tenuous relationship after the death of Atrues’ mother Faye and the journey they take together to spread her ashes from the highest peak in the Nine Realms. The fifth game, God of War: Ragnarok, became the fastest-selling game in PlayStation’s history. Those new Amazon series will be adapted from those two entries in the franchise.
Horizon Zero Dawn on Netflix (TBA)
One of the best adventure games to emerge in the last decade, Horizon Zero Dawn focuses on a chosen-one type character named Aloy living in a post-apocalyptic world where animal-like mechanical beasts roam free. Parentless and banned from her tribe as a child, Aloy unwinds the mysteries of the past and her planet while contending with a mysterious, all-knowing figure named Sylens (voiced by the late, great Lance Reddick). Netflix has announced that Steve Blackman, showrunner of The Umbrella Academy, will helm the Horizon Zero Dawn series.
Read More: The 10 Best Video Games of 2022
Fallout on Amazon Prime (TBA)
Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan of Westworld fame are writing an original story set in the world of Fallout. The long-running video game series, set in a dieselpunk wasteland decimated by a nuclear bomb, has hopped around to different time periods and locations across America in its decades-long run, and it’s unclear where and when Joy and Nolan have chosen to set their series. But we will definitely see ghouls, humans whose exposure to nuclear radiation has melted their flesh but given them inhuman longevity. The cast includes Walton Goggins of Justified, Kyle MacLachlan of Twin Peaks, and Ella Purnell of Yellowjackets.
Tomb Raider on Amazon Prime (TBA)
Fleabag writer and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge has signed on to reboot the Tomb Raider franchise—again. Angelina Jolie starred as the British aristrocrat-turned-treasure hunter back in 2001, and Alicia Vikander took over the role in 2018. None of the Lara Croft films have exactly gone down in history as masterpieces of cinema. But she’s a complex character. While arguably the first female video game character to break out into the mainstream, she originally she existed largely to be ogled. Lara thankfully got a makeover in the games in the 2010s: She now has a more realistic body as well as a complex backstory. Waller-Bridge may bring her wry sense of humor to the tale and send up the character’s complex history.
Assassin’s Creed on Netflix (TBA)
A 2016 Assassin’s Creed film starring Michael Fassbender faltered at the box office. But now Netflix is hoping it can wring several different series out of the franchise, making both live-action and anime adaptations. The plot of the Assassin’s Creed games gets complicated quickly and involves a millennia-long struggle between a group called the Order of Assassins and the Knights Templar. The important part to remember is each game is set in a different place and time period—Renaissance Italy, the American Revolution, Ancient Egypt—and begs a for a historically-minded globe-trotting show massive in its size and scale.
Bioshock on Netflix (TBA)
An adaptation of the sci-fi-horror franchise Bioshock has been in development hell for years. Set across multiple post-apocalyptic landscapes, including an underwater city and a floating one, Bioshock is at its heart a critique of American exceptionalism, which has warped the world of Bioshock into a hellscape. At one point, Pirates of the Carribean director Gore Verbinski was attached to the project. But now Netflix has hired a dream team of Hunger Games director Franchis Lawrence Blade Runner 2049 writer Michael Green to finally bring the film to the big screen.
Disco Elysium on Amazon Prime (TBA)
This indie gem follows a detective trying to solve a case while struggling with drug-induced amnesia in politically volatile city. The game depends heavily on the choices you make for your character: You can choose to be a fascist, a communist, a moralist, or an ultraliberal; a drug addict or a recovering addict; a thinker or a brawler. Your interactions with people in the game change depending on your decisions, but whatever you choose you’re bound to have fascinating and sometimes disturbing philosophical debates. It will certainly be a challenge for a showrunner will figure out how to adapt the fungible yet consistently despicable character to the television format.
Read More: The 10 Best Video Games of the 2010s
Ghost of Tsushima in theaters (TBA)
John Wick 4 director Chad Stahelski is adapting Ghost of Tsushima into a feature film. Set in 1274, the game centers around Jin Sakai, a samurai tasked with protecting the island of Tsushima during the first Mongol invasion of Japan. In order to contend with the threat, Jin Sakai has to choose between the honorable samurai teachings and violating his ethical bounds in order to save his homeland. Stahelski is sure to bring the incredible stunt choreography and camerawork he’s deployed on the Wick movies to the world of 13th century Japan.
Sifu in theaters (TBA)
Another adaptation from the John Wick team: Derek Kolstad, who wrote the original John Wick movie, has signed on to adapt Sifu. In the game, the player plays a kung-fu master on a mission of revenge. Every time the player dies in the game, the character returns having aged but also learned a new level of skills. The player moves through the game, at first as a young student and eventually grows into an old master. It’s a concept that will certainly be challenging to capture onscreen, whether it involves CGI-aging a single actor or casting multiple actors to plain the main character.
Life Is Strange on Amazon Prime (TBA)
A lot of the video game adaptations are genre works that will require effects-heavy productions. But Life Is Strange is set in our world, though the main character in the first game Max Caulfield discovers she has the ability to rewind time. The game explores the butterfly effect of Max’s actions, allowing the player to move back in time and change the narrative. Released in an episodic format and with a focus on character development, the series seems tail0r-made for episodic television.
It Takes Two on Amazon Prime (TBA)
Dwayne Johnson is producing (and was in talks to star in) the adaptation of It Takes Two the cooperative video game about a divorcing couple who find themselves trapped in the bodies of their daughter’s dolls and must work together to get back to their bodies. Sonic the Hedgehog writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller are adapting the couple’s fantastical journey into the movie.
Metal Gear Solid in theaters (TBA)
Oscar Isaac is attached to play Solid Snake, the star of the Metal Gear Solid action series. Hideo Kojima’s massive, convoluted series revolves around a special ops soldier (Solid Snake) who goes on various anti-terrorist missions. The story spans decades and involves secret organizations, the Kennedy assassination, and revenge plots. Isaac said in 2022 that the producers are still trying to crack the plot to the Metal Gear Solid film.
Borderlands in theaters (TBA)
This production has some big names attached. Cate Blanchett, straight off her Tár awards campaign, stars alongside Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Craig Mazen, who co-wrote The Last of Us, adapted this video game about an outlaw named Lilith (Blanchett) who returns to her home planet Pandora to search for a missing girl.
Gears of War on Netflix (TBA)
Jon Spaihts, who worked on the scripts for Dune and Doctor Strange, is adapting Gears of War into a live action film. Set on a planet called Sera, the sci-fi games center on a battle between humans and reptilian hominids called the Locust Horde. Dave Bautista has previously tweeted about his desire to star in a Gears of War adaptation, though no one has been cast as yet.
Pac-Man in theaters (TBA)
Justin Baldoni (Jane the Virgin) co-founded a production company that’s currently working on a live-action Pac-Man movie. What, exactly, a live-action movie about a giant smiley that eats ghosts will look like is unclear.
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