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The Last of Us will arrive on the small screen at HBO in just a few weeks, and already ranks as one of our most anticipated genre storytelling experiences of 2023. But there was a time when the live-action adaptation of the acclaimed video game could have arrived much earlier, and in a much different format.
Back in 2014, Screen Gems (the studio behind the Resident Evil film series) was developing The Last of Us as a feature film, and brought in no less a horror legend that Sam Raimi to direct the project. Everything eventually fell through, in part because The Last of Us creator Neil Druckmann was never very enthused by where Screen Gems wanted to take things. Speaking to The New Yorker about the long road to getting The Last of Us to its current form as a prestige HBO series, Druckmann explained why the big-screen version didn't work, and how it ultimately led to the series.
According to Druckmann, while he was certainly heartened by Raimi's involvement, the major disagreements over The Last of Us movie had more to do with Screen Gems and their desire to make the whole thing "sexier" and grander, a setpiece-laden adventure similar to Resident Evil or another recent zombie blockbuster, World War Z (which certainly launched plenty of departures from its source material). Druckmann, who'd designed The Last of Us as a more intimate, character-driven experience, was determined to avoid that, and even started to suspect that a film adaptation would never work for his story, which stretches for more than a dozen hours in the game.
So he held out, Screen Gems eventually dropped the rights, and Druckmann ended up resisting other offers from Playstation to find someone who could really nail a Last of Us movie. Things finally fell into place when Druckmann learned that Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin was out there pitching the same idea that was in his head: The Last of Us would work better as a series.
When Druckmann found that Mazin could "talk circles around" even other video game nerds, and therefore thought about games in a way that other Hollywood executives simply didn't, he realized he had the right creative partner. The result -- a much-hyped series starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in the leading roles -- will hit HBO next month. Just like his original game, Druckmann is now convinced that he and Mazin have made something worth embracing with the series, even if the general public doesn't necessarily follow them into this dark world.
“If everybody else hates it, I don’t care—because I love it," Druckmann said.
The Last of Us arrives Jan. 15 on HBO.
Looking for more scary TV in the meantime? Stream SYFY's Chucky on Peacock, along with Peacock originals like The Girl in the Woods and Wolf Like Me, right now.