A few years ago, the idea of making big-budget theatrical movies based on products like board games, toys and cellphone apps might have seemed laughable, Michael Bay’s multibillion-dollar Transformers movies notwithstanding. Those, after all, have had decades' worth of plotlines to draw from — multiple TV series, movies, comic books, etc. — and included recognizable characters like Optimus Prime and Megatron.
Unlike, say, “Battleship.” Remember that one? Universal’s 2012 board game movie with its made-from-scratch plot about an alien invasion in the Pacific wound up being one of the year’s biggest flops, earning back just $65 million domestically on a $209 million budget, according to Box Office Mojo.
But then “The Lego Movie” happened. Now, suddenly, what The New York Times call “non-narrative IPs” (a fancy term for intellectual properties, like many board games, that don’t have built-in stories) have become, once again, a viable option for movie studios drawn by the promise of familiar brands minus all the pesky stuff like pre-existing plotlines and beloved characters that can make the adaptation process tricky. (Just ask DC.)
In other words, what non-narrative IPs offer is all the benefits of more traditional source material like books and comics but with a much greater degree of freedom to craft the movie according to the studio’s demands.
And if “The Lego Movie” looked like a fluke three years ago when it first hit theaters, its two spinoffs — “The Lego Batman Movie” and “The Lego Ninjago Movie” — prove otherwise.
In the meantime, other releases based on non-narrative IPs, including two Ouija movies, “The Angry Birds Movie” and this summer’s “The Emoji Movie” have all had some degree of success, and now, following on the heels of “The Lego Ninjago Movie” last month, this week will see another toy adaptation, “My Little Pony: The Movie,” land in theaters.
This is all just the start of what may be the next major trend in Hollywood — a trend where story unequivocally takes second place to brand familiarity. With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the other toys, board games and apps being developed into movies right now and just how likely they are to happen.
Mattel’s popular line of dolls has spawned countless straight-to-video animated movies as well as video games, books and other forms of media over the years. Barbie and Ken have also appeared as characters in Pixar’s Toy Story series, so they’re not strangers to Hollywood. Now, though, the unrealistically proportioned blonde is set to feature in her very own live-action movie.
Originally developed with Amy Schumer (“Trainwreck”) set to star, the story is said to offer a “contemporary spin on beauty, feminism and identity,” according to The Hollywood Reporter, following a resident of Barbieland who is kicked out for not being perfect like everyone else. She then winds up in the real world and learns to celebrate her differences.
Current status: In May, Variety reported that Schumer had dropped out of the project due to scheduling conflicts. Two months later, it was reported that Oscar winner Anne Hathaway was in talks to take over and that rising-star filmmaker Alethea Jones (“Fun Mom Dinner”) was being eyed to direct. The only hang-up preventing Hathaway from signing on officially is, like Schumer, possible scheduling conflicts.
Verdict: The production seems dead-set on hitting a June 29, 2018, release date — enough so that producers might let not one, but two bankable actresses walk away from the project. In other words, with or without Hathaway, this one looks like it’s going to happen.
Initially described as a “very human” story about people getting sucked into a board game, somewhere along the way, it took a turn for the bizarre. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in 2011, writer Glenn Berger (“Kung Fu Panda”) called the project “‘Lord of the Rings,’ but set in a world of candy.” He went on to say, “We don’t see it as a movie based on a board game, although it has characters from that world and takes the idea of people finding themselves in a world that happens to be made entirely of candy where there are huge battles going on. We are going for real comedy, real action and real emotions at stake.”
In 2012, however, “Candy Land” jumped studios from Universal to Columbia, and Adam Sandler’s production company Happy Madison began developing a fresh take on the concept as a starring vehicle for the SNL alum.
Current status: No new developments have been announced since 2014 when Hasbro was hit with a lawsuit alleging that the rights to specific characters from the Candy Land game belonged to another company, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Verdict: If this one does end up happening, Sandler may or may not still be involved
There’s already been one live-action film adaptation of this Parker Bros. board game, a 1985 comedy starring the inimitable Tim Curry and written by John Landis (“An American Werewolf in London”). Although that movie received mixed reviews when it was first released and flopped at the box office, over the last 30-plus years, it has developed a strong cult following.
A new version to be produced by Fox and Hasbro,which now owns Parker Bros., was announced just last year.
Current status: The most recent information about this project came last year as well when The Tracking Board broke the news on some big changes Fox had in mind for its reboot, including ditching the board game’s iconic mansion setting in favor of a “worldwide mystery with action-adventure elements” with plans to set up a franchise with international appeal. So, think Clue meets one of the later Fast and the Furious movies.
Verdict: As basically an Agatha Christie-style whodunit in board game form, Clue should be one of the more doable properties on this list. It also has characters (in the loosest sense of the word, anyway). Whether it happens, though — or at least the form it takes when it does happen — might hinge on reactions to Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel “Murder on the Orient Express,” which comes out in November.
In the meantime, a Clue comic book series launched in June. Fans of the 1985 movie will appreciate the fact that, like the movie, it features three different endings.
With more than a billion downloads, it was only a matter of time before Halfbrick Studios’ cellphone app about a fruit-slicing practitioner of ninjutsu would get the big screen treatment a la “Angry Birds.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, that time could be very soon, it turns out.
Current status: A July New York Times article titled “How to Make a Movie Out of Anything — Even a Mindless Phone Game” detailed the process that led to “Fruit Ninja” being acquired last year by New Line Cinema. This included a peek at several proposed stories, including the one that, with any luck, will make it to theaters: a meteor-induced zombie virus infects fruit that go in search of human hosts. The only thing that can stop them? A secret society of ninjas whose recruits are chosen based on its mastery of the “Fruit Ninja” cellphone game.
According to Halfbrick’s founder Shainiel Deo, speaking to Brisbane’s The Courier Mail just last week, the “Fruit Ninja” movie is still “in the draft stage at the moment; once that’s all approved it will move to the next stage of production.”
Verdict: “The Angry Birds Movie” raked in just shy of $350 million worldwide last year, so making a movie out of “Fruit Ninja” just seems like good business at this point.
Dungeons & Dragons
Just like with "Clue," a new version of "Dungeons & Dragons" currently in development at Warner Bros. won’t be the first version of the property to make it to the big screen. The tabletop role-playing sensation originally created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974 was previously adapted in 2000. Unlike “Clue,” however, audience opinions have not softened toward that movie since its original release. In 2010, Empire named it the 39th worst movie ever made.
The new version will, hopefully, avoid some of the mistakes the previous film made.
Current status: In June of last year, it was announced that “Divergent” and “Baby Driver” star Ansel Elgort was in negotiations to star with Rob Letterman (“Goosebumps”) directing and a script by David Leslie Johnson (“Wrath of the Titans”).
More recently still, a new pair of writers hopped onboard the project: Lindsey Beer, who also wrote the “Barbie” script, and Geneva Dworet-Robertson, whose filmography so far features mostly upcoming tentpoles like “Tomb Raider” and “Captain Marvel.”
If none of them are able to crack it, though, actor/serious D&D enthusiast Joe Manganiello (“Magic Mike”) has apparently written his own script that he is actively trying to get made.
Verdict: A year ago, it seemed like a safe bet that by now there would be a full creative team, a cast and a release date in place for this movie — some legal hiccups notwithstanding. But that hasn’t happened. Sooner or later, though, it’s a pretty safe bet that “Dungeons & Dragons” will come together, especially as the game has found renewed popularity thanks to Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” Maybe Warner Bros. is just waiting for “Game of Thrones” to end so it can take over as the only big-budget fantasy racket in town. Who knows?
A Hot Wheels movie has been in the works since 2003, although so far it hasn’t made it very far in the development process. “Charlie’s Angels” director McG was initially tapped to direct but dropped out a few years later.
In 2013, longtime stunt coordinator/second unit director Simon Crane took over, this time with a script by, of all people, two-time Oscar nominee Paul Attanasio (“Quiz Show,” “Donnie Brasco”).
Then, last year, a third director came onboard when Justin Lin, who, along with “Star Trek Beyond,” directed four of the Fast and the Furious movies, signed on.
Current status: No new details have emerged since last year. In fact, as of right now, it’s not even known if Lin’s take on "Hot Wheels" would be live action or animation. But Lin did offer a small update on the project during the Television Critics Association press tour in August, telling IGN, “I now have an 8-year-old who plays with Hot Wheels all the time. To me, it's amazing the therapeutic and also the healing properties of imagination. Those are the themes I really want to explore through that because I have my own relationship with Hot Wheels when I was a kid and now I'm seeing it with my kid."
Verdict: Lin has his plate full with another of other projects, both as director and producer, including the long-awaited “Space Jam” sequel with LeBron James. Without any real movement on “Hot Wheels” in the last year — not even a new script treatment — don’t expect this one in theaters anytime soon, if ever.
Hungry Hungry Hippos
When “Battleship” was released back in 2012, the world responded in the best way possible by releasing a bunch of fake movie trailers and posters for other board games, including several for Hasbro’s Hungry Hungry Hippos.
It turns out, though, that Hungry Hungry Hippos was actually in development, according to Vulture. Even after Hasbro’s deal with Universal fell apart, it was announced that production company Emmett/Furla had snatched up the rights to the tabletop game with plans to turn it into an animated kid's movie (not a “Jaws”-style horror movie or a gangster movie like some of the joke trailers promised).
Current status: Since 2012, no new information has surfaced.
Verdict: For now, anyway, this adaptation looks like it’s dead in the water.
In 2015, Deadline reported that Paul Feig, the director behind female-driven comedies like “Bridesmaids,” “Spy” and Sony’s divisive all-girl “Ghostbusters” reboot, had been approached about doing for the Play-Doh brand what writing-directing duo Chris Miller and Phil Lord (“21 Jump Street”) had done for Lego.
Feig later confirmed his involvement, explaining his interest to Collider: “At first I was like, ‘How do you make a Play-Doh movie?’ and then I was like, ‘Wait, it’s colored clay. It’s Claymation!’”
Feig also called the story he and writer Jason Micallef (TV’s “Heathers” adaptation) were developing as a “big movie, big in scope.”
Current status: Feig took a hit with the public backlash to “Ghostbusters” and its disappointing take at the box office, which effectively put the kibosh on Sony’s plans for a Marvel-style Ghostbusters universe.
Since then, there haven’t been any new developments on the Play-Doh front, and Feig has turned his attention to other projects, namely a sequel to his Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy buddy comedy, “The Heat,” and a murder mystery called “A Simple Favor” with Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively.
Verdict: It’s not looking all that promising — at least, not with Feig still attached.
One of the very first board game-to-movie adaptations that was announced, this one has gone through some head-scratching iterations on its way to being made into a movie, starting with a version that was, at one point, set to be directed by legendary filmmaker Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Gladiator,” “The Martian”). This version would have told an Alice in Wonderland-style story about a regular schmoe getting sucked into the world of the game and having to battle the evil Parker Bros. in a high-stakes Monopoly match. Except instead of the early 20th-century aesthetic of monocles and Rolls Royces fans of the game would have anticipated, the game world in this movie would have been a futuristic sci-fi setting “along the lines of (Scott’s 1982 movie) ‘Blade Runner,’” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Somewhere along the way, though, that concept evolved into what Scott described as an ‘80s-style comedy in the vein of “Trading Places,” according to MTV, focusing on a Donald Trump-esque real estate mogul battling it out with his rivals. Basically, 1987's “Wall Street” as a comedy. “Greed becomes, hopefully, hysterically funny,” Scott put it to MTV, probably unintentionally echoing Michael Douglas’ famous line from “Wall Street.”
Current status: Most recently, “The Truman Show” and “Gattaca” writer Andrew Niccol was announced as the writer on a new script. Despite Niccol’s long list of sci-fi creds, this version would have thankfully avoided the “Blade Runner” comparisons in favor of something that sounded an awful lot like the '80s Amblin classic “The Goonies.”
At the time, it was promised that a cast and director would be announced by February of that year. That was in January of 2015. No announcement was ever made. Since then, things have gone quiet.
Verdict: As recognizable as the Monopoly board game is, a movie seems almost inevitable. But after so long without any new developments, don’t be surprised if it gets completely overhauled (again) before it actually sees the light of day.
(Currently, there is also a film about the not-so-happy backstory to the creation of the board game in the works based on a book titled “The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favourite Board Game,” according to The Guardian. This movie, unsurprisingly, does not have Hasbro's backing.)
Given Playmobil’s long-standing rivalry with Lego, it’s only natural that the German toy line would cross over into feature animation, too, after having already dabbled in straight-to-video releases, TV series and video games.
Announced in 2014, the upcoming animated flick, titled “Playmobil: Robbers, Thieves & Rebels,” is being produced by the team behind Netflix’s “The Little Prince.”
Current status: Last year, the project scored a director in Lino Di Salvo, a former Disney animator who worked as head of animation on “Frozen” as well as animation supervisor on “Tangled” and “Bolt.”
“I am thrilled at the prospect of developing the Playmobil film," he told Variety. "As a father and a filmmaker, to create a film about your son’s favorite toy, what else do you want?”
Verdict: It’s still a ways off with a scheduled release date of Jan. 18, 2019, but every indication is that things are still moving forward.
Taking a page from the “Blade Runner”-inspired Monopoly script, it was announced last year that plans are underway to turn the 1984 video game about falling geometric shapes into a trilogy of futuristic sci-fi thrillers.
Producer Larry Kassanoff told Empire this decision was made due entirely to the demands of the "Tetris" story. “This isn’t us splitting the last one of our eight movies in two to wring blood out of the stone. It’s just a big story.”
What that story will be, though, remains a mystery. “I guarantee you, it’s not what you think,” Kassanoff said, but whatever it is, the movies will be aiming for worldwide appeal with a cast of Chinese and American actors.
Kassanoff also revealed that the planned three-part sci-fi thriller originated with his musings on “the theme of creating order out of chaos.” So a philosophical sci-fi thriller?
Current status: As of last year, the first film in the proposed trilogy had secured an $80 million budget, according to Geek.com.
In other words
Verdict: Although it doesn’t have a cast or director yet, securing financing is a big step, so yes, this might legitimately happen.
(And for anyone curious what it could look like, there’s a fake, fan-made trailer for a sci-fi "Tetris" movie that was made four years before the news became real.)
Jeff Peterson studied humanities and history at Brigham Young University. He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia.