Activision recently detailed plans to move ahead on a series of films running in the Call of Duty franchise. The series would be established as a cinematic universe of their own, being the first video game property to do so. While game-to-movie adaptations have been done before (with varying quality), few have had sequels and none have attempted a far-reaching universe before. However, would GTA be ideal source material for such a setup?
First of all, let's look at what a cinematic universe really is. It's not just a string of movies sharing characters, settings, themes, and plots since that's just a regular franchise, but rather an umbrella of characters, settings, and plotlines which have separate, individual origins but interweave at various points, take place in the same fictional realm and possess standalone flicks as well as ensemble films.
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Cinematic universes have kind of become a new trend in Hollywood following the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. DC comics kicked off their own, King Kong and Godzilla inhabit another and a series of films from Universal, starting with the Mummy reboot, will comprise a "monsterverse". In fact, the big budget movie industry's enfatuation with cinematic universes is somewhat detrimental, as it will push smaller studios to follow suite to remain competitive, but not be successful enough to sustain this method of movie making.
The issues of the prevalence of cinematic universes aside, how well would GTA make the transition? We think quite well, actually. The franchise already has pretty much everything it needs to pull off a project of this magnitude, both in terms of story elements and a business case.
Aside from the the 2D era, canonically all GTA titles take place in the same fictional universe, even though there are some inconsistencies (such as the size and layout of the cities). Nonetheless, the games take place in different eras of a shared world. What's more, the Manhunt and Red Dead franchises inhabit the same fictional universe as the GTA franchise.
Crossovers have already happened in GTA games, with various 3D era characters appearing across games. Most notably, Claude from GTA 3 and CJ from San Andreas meet during the overarching storyline. These kinds of minor crossovers are precisely cinematic universe material, except we never got the major ensemble story CUs usually build towards.
And then we have GTA 5 with its multiple protagonists that feels like such an ensemble installment sans the build-up stories. Between all the GTA games and their characters, and the other two franchises which make up the shared universe, there would be more than enough material to work with.
Naturally, with GTA 5 being the most popular of the franchise, its storyline could be taken as a baseline. Following cinematic universe procedure, we'd first get three movies, each focusing on one of the three protagonists. Cinematic universes usually diverge from the source material in major or minor ways, which would also be necessary in this context.
A common theme in the three character based films would be that, beyond being origin stories, the plot element of a haul of, say, gold bars is brought up (maybe even in post-credits scenes) which draw their attention. A spin-off Manhunt movie would introduce a fourth main character, thus offering the first major difference from the game's storyline.
A Red Dead film, unrelated to the games, could be set as a prequel which tells the origin story of the gold bars instead of yet another character. As the pieces fall into place, an ensemble movie would top things off with a major heist of said gold bars.
Now, this is just one example among many of how to tie together there franchises into a cinematic universe - looser connections have been used in the past. However, for a cinematic universe to work, you need capital and popularity.
Really, the only way to put together a successful cinematic universe without pre-existing immense mainstream popularity and a whole lot of luck are to make the connections marginal, so you can really blanket any handful of movies as a CU. Older CUs exist as well, but most lack an ensemble movie to tie things together. Examples include the Tarantino-verse and the Clerks universe.
Luckily, Rockstar has both in droves. The GTA franchise is one of the best-known gaming IPs ever, with GTA 5 alone selling almost 80 million copies at the time of writing. Red Dead has also gained traction with the hype around RDR2 mounting in anticipation of the release. Manhunt isn't well known outside of gaming circles, but these days anything with a Rockstar logo is bound to sell well.
Movies generally have a better profit ratio than games do, due to being infinitely more accessible. While the average AAA game costs $60, requires an expensive piece of hardware to run and the investment of countless hours to fully enjoy, movies are cheap, one and a half to two-hour endeavors that you can just hop into with your mates. Movies also don't have the kind of stigma attached to them that video games still do (how this is possible in 2017 is beyond me, but there you have it), so the potential audience is wider.
Granted, Hollywood productions these days have immense budgets, but even so, GTA 5's $265 million budget overshoots most of them - and then there was Destiny, which allegedly cost $500 million to make. For comparison, the most expensive movie ever made was The Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which cost $378.5 million to make.
Considering that Take-Two's CEO recently confirmed that the company has already licensed a number of its IP to studios for film adaptations, however we have no word on which franchises were part of these deals. We do know, however, that it won't be Take-Two's money on the line, but that of the studios involved.
We'd be genuinely surprised if GTA wasn't among those franchises licensed since it is arguably the largest and most popular IP under not only Rockstar's but Take-Two's umbrella as well. The most recent installment did, after all, bring in insane amounts of money, and Online continues to be one of the biggest financial pillars of the company on its own.
We've recently put together a list of actors we'd like to see star in a movie adaptation of GTA 5 provided the voice actors themselves are not available, and there is plenty of talent out there who would jump at a chance to be signed on for a multi-movie deal running under one of the most recognizable media IP of our time.
Video game movies haven't fared well in the past to say the least, a curse that not even the recent Assassin's Creed adaptation managed to break (even though I liked it myself). GTA 5 already reigns supreme in the field of video games, so it might as well be the first to nab the crown of video game movies too.
Some game movies trip up on attempting to translate to the big screen concepts that only really work in games. Luckily GTA's themes and typical storyline aren't that specialized and generic enough to be molded into a non-interactive linear narrative successfully. Movies like GTA have been done before after all, with the most notable example being the Fast and Furious franchise, which also involves a lot of cars and criminal activity, and as of recently, guns.
Rockstar is in a rather unique position, holding the keys to what might potentially turn into the first full-blown cinematic universe based on a video game property, provided they and Take-Two decide to take the plunge. Unfortunately, only time will tell.