Four intriguing 'lost' video game movies
It’s always fun to imagine movies that might have been (and maybe still could be).
Everyone enjoys a great “what if?” and no industry seems to produce more tantalizing almost-were’s than the movies. As Joshua Hull puts it in the introduction to his book Underexposed! The 50 Greatest Movies Never Made, “The process of filmmaking doesn’t show prejudice; it doesn’t care what your budget level is. There are always countless mountains to climb whether you have $200 million or $200.”
Sadly, creating a great, pop culture-influencing video game experience doesn’t make the road any smoother, either.
Never say never, of course. But for now, here are some of the most intriguing video game-based movies we almost got to see.
One of the classics of the coin-op era, 1983’s Spy Hunter (with its unforgettable Peter Gunn score) was part racing game, part James Bond adventure—which sounds like a no-brainer movie already, right? When Midway Games gave it a thorough PlayStation upgrade in 2001, rumors kicked into high gear about a possible movie adaptation. A year later, The Scorpion King launched WWE wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to movie stardom. By 2003 Universal Pictures seemed to be all in on a Spy Hunter espionage thriller with The Rock in the driver’s seat. But as anyone who’s played the original game knows, if you gun the throttle too hard you’re gonna crash—and that may have been the case here.
Funny enough, the tie-in video game for the movie was made and released in 2006 (Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run) with Johnson on the cover.
Even funnier enough, in 2009 Midway Games began developing a project called Wheelman, which was intended to be a game and film produced in tandem, both starring Vin Diesel. In this case, too, the game was released but the movie was not.
Luckily, Vin and Dwayne eventually got to scratch their vehicular carnage itch together.
Oh yes, the movie rights to the plotless human being simulator were purchased by 20th Century Fox in 2007, and an adaptation was set in motion under producer John Davis.
In 2008, Davis explained that the story would revolve around two teens who discover a “Sims Infinity Pack” that allows them to transfer a version of their real world into the game, then, explained Davis at the time, “all of a sudden [they’re] realizing what they are playing in the game is having an effect on the real world. So in effect, through the game, they are able to control their world. It’s wish fulfillment, and obviously it turns against them.” The Sims never got passed the initial idea phase, so no casting was even considered.
Considering that the “real world vs. game world” and “play world vs. real world” ideas have been the basis for recent hits like Free Guy and Barbie, it’s likely The Sims just missed its window to break new ground.
If you feel like you’ve been hearing about a BioShock movie forever, it’s because you kinda have. The planned adaptation of the 2007 game was first announced in 2009, with director Gore Verbinski (still riding high from his epic Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy) at the helm. Unfortunately, his plans for a sprawling, $200 million R-rated epic that didn’t skimp on brutal violence didn’t seem to go over well (at least from his perspective) and the project stalled. A year later, Verbinski stepped into a producer role, and handed the directing duties over to 28 Weeks Later director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. He didn’t get the project much further to completion, despite all involved agreeing that this was a rare game with a truly compelling storyline.
But wait! It rises! In 2022, Netflix stepped in and revived plans for a BioShock adaptation with Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence. It’s apparently still in the works, but no official updates yet. If it comes to pass, it would join Halo and The Last of Us as projects that were originally feature films turned into streaming series (for Paramount+ and Max, respectively).
John Woo’s Metroid? It almost happened. The popular Nintendo space adventure from the ‘80s was in development as a live action feature film by the director of Hard Boiled and Face/Off in 2004 when it apparently hit a snag.
According to producer Brad Foxhoven, Woo’s desire to dig into lead character Samus Aran’s backstory was met with some resistance from Nintendo, who hadn’t fully fleshed it out on their end and were reluctant to make up things just to serve the movie that maybe didn’t mesh with their future plans for the games.
No casting was announced, but in 2018 a pre-Captain Marvel (and avid gamer) Brie Larson dressed as Samus for Halloween and jokingly/not jokingly claimed she would play the character in a heartbeat. Maybe she has enough juice now to revive Metroid for real?
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