It was recently announced that one of Tom Holland’s next projects was a film adaptation of the popular "Uncharted" video game franchise. A prequel story to the popular tale of adventurer Nate Drake, the film is tentatively scheduled to hit theaters summer 2021, with Mark Wahlberg as Sully, the franchise mentor to Nathan Drake. This decision is part of a larger initiative regarding the stories of Playstation games, with Sony’s newest production unit focusing on adapting games for film and television production.
While many are presumably ecstatic about Tom Holland taking on the role of a well–known video game character, the "Uncharted" film doesn’t excite me. Although two big names are filling the main roles, this could still end up being a film that tarnishes Holland’s so far stellar career and blemishes Wahlberg’s extensive filmography.
Why? Because film adaptations of video games are never good. Among the various films that have been adapted from popular video games over the years, very few end up offering a quality film experience. From animation to live–action, video game films don’t seem to work, and no one seems to have figured out how to break the code yet. Currently, Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019) serves as the highest–rated video game film with a 68% on Rotten Tomatoes.
In Hollywood, they say you’re only as good as your last film, and it’s unfortunate when that last film happens to be based on a video game—which is why I'm concerned about Tom Holland's career. For instance, Aaron Paul was one of the hottest stars in Hollywood after his Emmy–Award winning run as Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad. After six years in the role, many studios deemed Paul ready for the silver screen, with Need for Speed (2014)—the film adaptation of the racing video game franchise—as his feature film debut. Michael Keaton was cast alongside Paul as the film's antagonist. Unfortunately, the film flopped terribly, and Aaron Paul has struggled to find notable feature film roles since. These video game films often cast Hollywood A–Listers, such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Mark Wahlberg, or Angelina Jolie, as the lead role, but their movies still tend to underperform both on critical and commercial fronts.
The level of depth within the source material is very important for these films. In a film like Need for Speed, there isn’t much room for creativity because the source material is already so simple. A video game franchise about racing and literally nothing else offers very little room for creative potential, especially when trying to stay within the canonical boundaries of the video game. On the other hand, trying to stuff hundreds of hours of playable content into a feature length film is equally hard to accomplish. Warcraft (2016), the film adaptation of the popular online game “World of Warcraft,” had way too much material to work with in a two–hour timeframe. While the film was deeply committed to fan service and the lore within the game, the film ultimately failed because of its lack of narrative focus.
So what should happen with the video games that have deep plots and a suitable amount of depth for a live–action adaptation? Nothing. Possibly the most important thing to consider with video game films is this: the best stories within gaming don’t need to be adapted into films. Video games are becoming increasingly immersive and advanced in both their technology and narrative devices. Naughty Dog, the developer that made the "Uncharted" and "The Last of Us" franchises, spends millions on screenwriters, actors, and other aspects of game production to deliver the highest–quality storytelling for players. The Last of Us is regarded as one of the best video games of all time, and fans are deeply attached to the two protagonists of the story. Recasting these two characters for a live–action adaptation just won’t add much to the franchise. Deep and complex game narratives are also usually complemented by player customization, something that cannot be recreated in a movie through a director’s creative vision.
The level of storytelling within gaming is already huge, and there’s no need to tarnish these stories by adapting games into films. Regardless of who is attached to the project, these films are uncreative and too heavily dependent on the source material. For those looking for the most immersive video game stories, stop looking for them on the big screen.