Are video game adaptations the next big trend in Hollywood?

Published: Monday, March 11 2013 2:20 p.m. MDT

"Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood," part of the M-rated franchise that is being adapted to film. (Deseret News archives) "Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood," part of the M-rated franchise that is being adapted to film. (Deseret News archives)

Superheroes, action figures, board games and even self-help books — everything is fit for adaptation in Hollywood.

Now, it looks like filmmakers might have found another well of ideas: video games. Some of Hollywood's biggest stars are lining up to turn popular video game series like "Splinter Cell" and "Assassin's Creed" into the next blockbuster franchises, hoping to prove once and for all that video games do translate to the big screen.

But with many of the titles currently being developed for film having received an M rating — the gaming equivalent to the R — could Hollywood be looking for mainstream hits in the wrong places?

"District 9" was what became of a film project originally based on the video game "Halo." (TriStar Pictures) "District 9" was what became of a film project originally based on the video game "Halo." (TriStar Pictures)

Back in November, it was announced that Tom Hardy — the physically imposing actor who portrayed Bane in this summer’s “The Dark Knight Rises” — had signed on to play superspy Sam Fisher in a movie version of Ubisoft’s long-running “Splinter Cell” series.

Since the original “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell” debuted in 2002 on the Xbox, the franchise has sold more than 23 million units. A sixth installment, “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist,” is set for release this spring on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U and PC.

Given how cinematic video games like “Splinter Cell” have already become thanks to the rapidly advancing technology of recent years, Hollywood blockbusters seem like a natural next step.

Of course, this isn't the first time Hollywood has flirted with video game movies — far from it.

Even though studios have tried dozens of times over the last two decades to crack the video game movie code (ever since the abominable "Super Mario Bros." movie in 1993), it’s debatable whether they have ever been successful. As pointed out by entertainment site IGN, to date, not a single film adapted from a game has earned more than a 50 percent "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

That includes Ubisoft’s own “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” which scored a weak 35 percent.

However, Ubisoft is hoping to change all of that. The French game developer that is also behind brands like “Rayman” and “Far Cry” recently established its own film division, Ubisoft Motion Pictures, in order to further capitalize on some of its massively popular IPs without relinquishing creative control — something that has, in the past, been a major problem for games making the jump to film.

Although the “Splinter Cell” movie has reportedly been in development for a while now, Hardy’s involvement marks a significant step for the fledgling production company.

Last July, Ubisoft also scored another big name when it signed Michael Fassbender (“X-Men: First Class,” “Prometheus”) to star in an adaptation of its century-hopping “Assassin’s Creed” series.

However, even with critically acclaimed actors like Hardy and Fassbender lined up, it might prove difficult for fans burned by previous video game movies to get overly excited just yet.

Recent efforts to get major video game adaptations off the ground — including a Peter Jackson-produced, Neill Blomkamp-directed “Halo” movie (which eventually resulted in “District 9”) and Gore Verbinski’s R-rated “BioShock” — have all fallen through.

Sometimes, as in the case of Oscar-nominated director David O. Russell’s attempt at adapting Naughty Dog and Sony's “Uncharted” series, fans are more than happy to see projects fall apart if it seems like filmmakers are ignoring the core appeal of the games.

Without an estimated release date, only time will tell if this round of video game movies could be different from past efforts. With any luck, Ubisoft’s aggressive involvement in developing its own IPs for the big screen could set a new model for game companies — and maybe even result in genuinely good films.

However, parents concerned with the content of the games their children play might take issue with Hollywood’s choice of material, particularly considering the numerous attempts to regulate how M-rated games are marketed and sold to minors

A surprising number of the titles currently in development for the big screen are rated M for Mature. This ESRB rating denotes content suitable for ages 17 and older. That includes the most recent “Splinter Cell” games as well as the “Assassin’s Creed” series.

Other games currently in active development for the big screen include an adaptation of the "Need for Speed" series starring Aaron Paul (TV’s “Breaking Bad”), Dominic Cooper (“The Devil’s Double”) and Imogen Poots (“Fright Night”), as well as a recently announced "Deus Ex" film under the direction of Scott Derrickson (“Sinister”).

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, chief executive of Ubisoft Motion Pictures Jean-Julien Baronnet recently let slip that another Tom Clancy video game series, "Ghost Recon," is being developed as a movie.

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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