Video game movies do not have a good track record, and that's putting it kindly. Out of around 40 theatrical releases based on video games, only two have grossed more than $100 million dollars in the U.S., and one of those was based on a game about firing birds at pigs with a slingshot.
Shawn Levy, who is signed on to direct an Uncharted film with Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming) as its young star, knows and acknowledges that.
"For one thing, as I think we’ve all seen as fans, straight adaptations of games, I don’t know that any have ever worked. They’re either bad, or decent but still unsuccessful," Levy told Nerdist in an interview mostly about Stranger Things Season 2.
That directly led to the desire to not adapt any of the Uncharted games' stories, and instead tell a new one: the definitive origin of Nathan Drake. That's why they cast such a young actor in Holland - who has a good grasp of what they're looking to do, as well.
"The game is awesome, the spirit of the game with its action set pieces, it’s settings, and above all the rogue swagger of Nathan Drake can make a good movie," Levy said. And it was Holland that made him see the approach they had to take. "For me, the big ah-ha moment was, I met with Tom Holland, and and he put it really succinctly: if we do the origin of Drake, that is something we haven’t seen as the plot of game 1, 2, 3, 4. We’ve seen a snippet of an origin of Sully and Drake meeting in the past. Here’s an opportunity to do a treasure-hunting action movie with attitude with a chapter of the protagonist’s life that you can’t get for free at home by playing the game. So we’re trying to take the spirit, and the tone, and the attitude of the game, and the crazy visual spectacle of it, but apply it to this Drake chapter that you haven’t seen told."
It's a noble goal, and one Uncharted fans will be cheering for. While Disney is due to continue the Indiana Jones franchise, which clearly influenced Naughty Dog in the development of the Uncharted games, Levy knows they can reach fans of the games, and of Tom Holland, who may have never seen those films at all.
“Hopefully, if we get that right, you’re doing right by Uncharted, and you’re also giving an Indiana Jones type franchise to an audience that didn’t grow up on Indiana Jones.”
It's also interesting to hear him use the word "franchise" so openly; while it may be obvious that they want this to be multiple films if the first is successful, it's still refreshing transparency. Aside from the story, Levy knows the other things he wants to pull from the games, and what needs to be different.
"I don’t want to just do a live-action version of action sequences we’ve seen in the games, I want them to be equal in audacity, but different from what we’ve seen. I also think as a film director, the onus is on me to take a deeper, more nuanced dive into the characters."
Uncharted is in pre-production now, for an as-yet-undetermined release.