Electronic Arts (ERTS) has an agent, movie project and deals with Steven Spielberg and Zack Snyder. MTV Games is tied up with Jerry Bruckheimer. James Cameron is working with Ubisoft (OTCPK:UBSFY). Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) now has Sam Raimi, well, sort of. Activision announced Wednesday the Spiderman director signed on to produce and direct a film based on the company’s hugely popular World of Warcraft online fantasy games.
Raimi’s deal is not a game development deal like some of the other Hollywood heavies have, it’s a traditional movie contract. Still, the agreement is another demonstration of the increasingly frequent crossover between film and interactive games.
The combined team should improve the film’s odds of success. Movies based on games aren’t sure hits (click chart on right to enlarge), they’re not even sure to be made. The cutting room floor is littered with script pages for adaptations that never get out of the pre-production gate (See sidebar below).
Blizzard (then not part of Activision) reportedly had a deal with Legendary Pictures as far back as 2006. Nothing came of that. So it’s now trial number two.
Ultimately, it takes a deft hand to craft a movie that’s complimentary and not repetitive to ground covered in a game. It is also tricky to produce a film capable of attracting (and not alienating) passionate core fans while at the same time, luring mass-market newcomers.
Activision Blizzard thinks Raimi’s the guy to do that. "From our first conversation with Sam, we could tell he was the perfect choice. Sam knows how to simultaneously satisfy the enthusiasts and the mainstream audience that might be experiencing that content for the first time. We’re looking forward to working with him to achieve that here," said Paul Sams, chief operating officer of Blizzard Entertainment.
Warner Brothers will be involved under a co-production and co-financing deal with Legendary Pictures.
Raimi isn’t likely to dig deeply into the Warcraft project until after he finishes Spider-man 4 (due in 2011).
Sidebar: Games Stalled in Hollywood
Despite big brands, and even sometimes the association of A-list directors, more than a few game adaptations have struggled to make it (so far), to “Lights,Camera, Action.” A few notables:
Halo is probably the biggest example. As far back as 2005, 20th Century Fox was developing a film adaption of the popular Xbox game. Peter Jackson, then riding high after the Lord of the Rings trilogy, was signed up as an executive producer and buzz for the film was big. By late 2007, however, the project was stalled and even declared “dead.” Some are still holding out hope, but there’s nothing concrete in the works.
Update: Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) said Thursday, it will work with Warner Brothers and partners to create a series of animated short films called “Halo Legends” with plans for a direct to video release. The news isn’t exactly the blockbuster live action film fans have been hoping for.
Another project facing similar fate is a movie based on Konami’s (NYSE:KNM) vampire-centric series Castlevania. Rights for a film version were acquired in 2005 by Crystal Sky Pictures and frequent game adapter Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil) was attached to write and direct. Dimension Films signed up to handle North American distribution. All looked set. Within a year, Dimension was out and Rogue Pictures in. Another year later and Anderson was out and Sylvain White in. As of May of this year, the film was dead. Now new stories suggest it is being resurrected with a third candidate, James Wan (Saw), in the director’s chair and Anderson producing [updated].
Take Two’s (NASDAQ:TTWO) Bioshock may or may not be a third candidate for the sidebar. Greenlighted as a hot project after the game’s huge success, the movie hit a budget roadblock this spring. As the story goes, the preproduction budget rose to as high as $160m and that didn’t fly. According to reports in Variety, Universal shelved the project – supposedly “temporarily” – to get the budget it order.
Director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) told the LA Times that he might have to back out. “The bottom line is it has to shoot out of the States for budget reasons and my schedule may be prohibitive," said Verbinski. "There’s a great script and a really interesting cast. It really comes down to the financial model now. Big movies are just not being shot in the States. I’m weighing whether I can physically go the U.K. or Australia or one of those other places with a tax rebate for a year-and-a-half."
The fate of the movie remains in question.