Following ‘The Last of Us’ and ‘God of War,’ here are 10 sweeping, epic games that need live-action franchises
Some of video games’ best stories are headed to the big and small screen over the next handful of years, as Hollywood finally acknowledges the massive potential of the medium.
Video games have been a strangely divisive topic for decades now, despite countless reports of their safety, and even of the health and developmental benefits to enjoying gaming in moderation. Non-gamers, even if they don’t fall into the “video games are dangerous” camp, still tend to view the medium as childish and limited.
The reality is anything but. Video games provide a broad and nearly uninhibited creative opportunity for brilliant designers to tell expansive, impacting stories. This has been reinforced, time after time, by some of the industry’s most popular titles, but stubborn nay-sayers are just coming around to the idea of video games as art.
Several of the industry’s most impacting stories are already being adapted for the big and small screen, and HBO’s The Last of Us should serve as the perfect example of how to pull an adaptation off well. The television series takes the game’s core story and stays true to its most vital themes, while also taking minor liberties in fleshing out and expanding the story. It is a master class in how to adapt a video game, and it presents the tantalizing potential for more blockbuster video game adaptations to eventually succeed.
But only if approached right. Countless video game adaptations have utterly failed in their attempts to bring the source material to live action, and many gamers would rather no adaptation than a horrid one. If they can follow in the footsteps of Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin, however, we have our sights set on several spectacular video game stories that would blow live-action audiences away.
Shadow of the Colossus
It certainly wouldn’t be easy to pull off, but this visually stunning title would make for an absolutely breathtaking live-action release.
Shadow of the Colossus was released back in 2005 to high critical acclaim, with many praising its “aesthetic presentation” and “riveting emotional power.” The game follows Wander in his quest to return his lost love’s soul to her body, accomplished through the slaying of 16 towering colossi. There’s no point in spoiling the entire plot here — go play the game for yourself, you won’t regret it — but Shadow of the Colossus presents a visually astounding, emotionally charged story that would translate beautifully to live-action — if only adapting the idols’ physical incarnations wasn’t such a colossal task.
The narrative approach taken in Heavy Rain — and many games that followed — isn’t as popular as the first-person shooters and action-packed RPGs many gamers dedicate their time to, but its story is one of the best in video games.
The innovative interactive game presents a captivating mystery for players to solve, with an emotional and tense underlying story that will wring tears from the hardest of hearts. Four protagonists push the story onward, as each works to track down the Origami Killer — a serial murderer who drowns their victims during periods of heavy rainfall — and locate a kidnapped child before time runs out. It’s already practically a 10-hour-long movie, so why not adapt it to live-action?
Horizon Zero Dawn
Even non-gamers have probably heard some of the hype surrounding Horizon Zero Dawn, and for good reason. The beautifully-realized game takes place in a very different take on the classic apocalyptic setting, presenting a future in which machines — rather than zombies — are the downfall of mankind, and was released in 2017 to a slew of awards and high praise. The game boasts a delightfully intriguing setting, gripping storyline, and has a wonderfully fleshed-out and distinctly human main character in Aloy.
Horizon Zero Dawn presents some challenges of its own when it comes to live-action adaptations, but we suspect audiences would jump at the chance to see a Thunderjaw realized in dazzling live-action form.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Both games in the Red Dead Redemption franchise sport absolutely wonderful stories, but it’s really the second title people would most like to see adapted. The game serves as a prequel to its predecessor and follows the Van der Linde gang — in particular Arthur Morgan — as their attempts to seek fortune instead descend into a vicious spiral that slowly unravels the found family. It is atmospheric and captivating, and each of its characters — good and bad — have a tendency to dig their way under gamers’ skin and refuse to budge.
The open, expressive world in which Red Dead is set would surely appeal to Yellowstone’s massive fanbase, and the gripping story will pull in everyone else. It wouldn’t be easy to adapt the moving, stunningly immersive story for television or film, but with the right handling, Red Dead 2 could be an absolute triumph.
Grand Theft Auto 5
There’s a reason Grand Theft Auto 5 still pops up in conversations nearly a decade past its release. The delightful game, like Red Dead, showcases Rockstar’s clear capability when it comes to a strong story and immersive world. It’s a far cry from some of the more emotional or moving stories on this list, but a genuine adaptation of GTA 5 has the potential to take the world by storm.
Many people who aren’t familiar with video games assume GTA, in particular, is all about beating up prostitutes and gunning down innocents in the streets. While all of these things are technically possible in the games, people flock to the franchise — and GTA 5, in particular — for the fun and addictive gameplay and surprisingly rich stories. GTA 5 tells its story from three separate perspectives, as a pair of former thieves — and utterly terrible people — team up with a far more palatable up-and-comer to pull off a few more jobs.
Life is Strange
For a very different story from either of Rockstar’s most popular offerings, look to Life is Strange. Each entry in the graceful, touching series tells an impacting story all its own, but we’re zeroing in on the very first. The game leans into a rewind mechanic, which allows players to reverse time and redo certain moments to achieve optimal results.
This general concept has cropped up plenty of times in cinema, which makes this particular story one of the easiest to transfer to the screen. It doesn’t require any massive battles or surreal monsters, just a tragic friendship and really, really big storm.
Each of the games in the Dishonored series would make for spectacular television, but it makes the most sense to start at the beginning. Some of the franchise’s accompanying stories could get the Last of Us treatment — nudged into quiet moments in the plot to keep things interesting — but the story of Corvo and Emily can easily stand all on its own.
If approached right, Dishonored could make for some truly inspired viewing. The game’s darker elements, tantalizing story, and intriguing power sets offer up the option of very fun and creative camera work, and Corvo’s quest to find Emily — and later, their joint quest to save the industrial kingdom of Dunwall — would translate wonderfully to the big or small screen.
What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch would inevitably present a major challenge to whoever chose to adapt it, thanks to the game’s explorative nature, but the story contained within its quiet, bittersweet moments feels perfectly poised for television. One can even imagine how the story would play out, allowing each episode to take on the feel of the game, which shifts its style to suit each new perspective.
The rich tale told in What Remains of Edith Finch is all but guaranteed to strike a chord with any viewer, but particularly those who’ve suffered a loss. A quiet, mature story that pulls you in and makes you question its authenticity, Edith Finch is perfect television fodder ripe for the picking.
The story in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is epic and expansive, and so far-reaching as to be a bit intimidating, when you consider its potential for adaptation. The game — which remains near-universally popular, more than a decade following its release — could easily match the might of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, if the right creative team gets their hands on it.
Across the incredibly rich world Bethesda provides in Skyrim, a myriad of stories have the potential to dazzle viewers. The primary character is customizable, which almost always equals out to relatively bare characterization, but their status as Dragonborn, paired with the right writing team, could serve up a medieval Master Chief for audiences to enjoy.
There aren’t many sci-fi stories on this list, and plenty of Halo fans may protest Mass Effect’s presence rather than the Xbox darling, but we’d argue Mass Effect has far better potential as an adaptation. Plus, Halo already got its chance, and we all saw how that turned out.
The story of Mass Effect is sprawling and takes place across several games, but most follow the impressive Commander Shepard as he leads a galactic fight against the Reapers, a race of ancient, hibernating machines that threatens to overrun the Milky Way galaxy. It would certainly be a pricy, and complex, story to bring to the big screen, but the video game’s story has the potential to become the next sci-fi sensation.