It’s been just short of a decade since the first BioShock game hit shelves in 2007. Since then, there’s been one sequel and a spiritual successor, finishing the franchise and Irrational Games as a studio despite strong sales and critical acclaim.
When talk of video games being adapted into movies gets started, BioShock is routinely upped to the top of many lists. And for good reason. It has a tight, compact visual style complemented by some of the best, artful writing and storytelling of any medium in the last decade. It’s beloved for that and many other reasons.
But plans to turn the BioShock games into movies quickly became a non-starter a few years ago, when Ken Levine killed the project due to creative differences with 2K Games and Universal (which we’ll get into later). For some fans, that’s a relief considering the terrible record of video game movie adaptations built up over the years, including 2016’s Warcraft and Ratchet and Clank, which were both disappointments.
Others, though, still want to see a film studio bring the magic of BioShock to an even bigger audience that the games couldn’t reach, especially since we’ll most likely never get a BioShock game from its original makers ever again. And as BioShock Collection drops today, here are some reasons why you should consider rooting for these games to finally get the big screen treatment they desperately deserve.
#10 The timing is finally right.
When composing this list, I started with the reasons not to do a BioShock movie, and the first was simple. Part of the reason the original project got dumped was because the studios couldn’t agree on an “R” rating for an undeveloped IP. And to be fair, that was a valid concern in 2013, when BioShock Infinite was yet to be released.
From Universal’s perspective, this was a reasonable move. Not that long before the project was canceled, Watchmen failed to draw a sizable audience despite its popular source material. Naturally, the blame went to both its running time and “R” rating, which would be similar problems for any BioShock film that wants to recreate the severity and grotesque sci-fi of Rapture or the political shock factors of Columbia.
But things are different in 2016. There are new precedents to consider, like Deadpool, an “R” rated comic book movie that broke records thanks to its feverish fanbase, good word of mouth, and ubiquitous marketing. Last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service is another long (over 2 hours) “R” film that isn’t even based on something as popular as BioShock, yet went on to be a pretty big hit on a relatively low budget.
Even a small film like last year’s Snowpiercer, probably the only movie in the last five years that even begins to mimic the style of BioShock (though it’s based on an older source material), has found success in untraditional ways because it’s just that good. And over the last few years, BioShock has only grown in popularity as a masterpiece game series (the second one done by a different studio notwithstanding). The stars are certainly aligned for this franchise to get the green light.
#9 The games are dense enough for new directions.
Let’s be honest. A game featuring the silent, linear exploits of Jack from the first BioShock would be a pretty awkward movie. You’d have to tweak so much of the game’s original offering that it would sour the nostalgia of seeing Rapture and its nightmares in live-action .
Fortunately, Rapture is a big, ugly, beautiful place that has all kinds of stories waiting to be told. The benefit of adapting BioShock is recognizing what made that game so great in the first place. It wasn’t because Jack or Atlas were amazing, profound characters. It was because the atmosphere of the game was mesmerizing, the gameplay was absurdly thrilling, and the narrative was a surprising commentary on deep, philosophical ideas. By design, you don’t need Jack, or even Andrew Ryan, to tell this story.
This doesn’t fully apply to BioShock Infinite, which could certainly get away with being a more faithful movie adaptation. Unlike the games based in Rapture, Infinite is full of characters routinely playing off of each other, as well as natural set pieces that contribute better to more compact storytelling.
That said, Infinite could easily be its own trilogy or one-off. But because Rapture and Columbia are so well-connected, you could conceivably rework the first two BioShock movies to lead naturally into Infinite, the final installment. Perhaps Booker and Elizabeth could be the common thread between all three movies, similar to how Burial Sea wraps things up. Or, the films could do something completely different altogether.
No matter what the studios decide, though, the point is that there is ample room for creative movement when it comes to BioShock.
#8 We need a new, yet familiar, event franchise.
For the time being, comic-book movies are doing quite fine at the box office, drawing in huge crowds with ever-expanding movies and inter-connected stories.
But the bubble is bound to burst eventually. I doubt comic-book movies will go away completely (even westerns are still kicking around), but they will see diminishing returns sooner rather than later. And when that happens, a new kind of blockbuster should be ready to take its place.
YA adaptations have fizzled out (Divergent is being relegated to television before its final movie). Nostalgia retreads are failing more than they’re succeeding (see the terrible box office numbers for Independence Day: Resurgence, Ghostbusters, and even Jason Bourne). And sci-fi movies are currently being dominated by Star Wars, to the point where even a well-received Star Trek movie is somehow underperforming.
BioShock offers something fresh and different to the landscape of event movies. It’s not quite sci-fi or pulp. Horror is too limiting a term, but so is adventure. If anything, these are smart, atmospheric action stories more akin to The Matrix and Inception, somehow coupled with fantasy and terror, as well.
That alone is enough to excite audiences thirsting for something new, but it helps that BioShock is established enough as an IP to also be familiar. Moviegoers aren’t risking their money on an unproven concept or obscure property. The games have collectively sold over 25 million copies, many of these from the most previous game. And it’s probably safe to say that the Big Daddies and Little Sisters are recognizable enough at this point to turn most heads, even if they’ve never heard of the games.
Yes, video game movies are rifled with doubt as a “genre.” But that’s the sort of weakness that can be used as an opportunity for the film studio. And “video game” movies like Wreck-It Ralph and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World are proof of how good these ideas can be executed when in the right hands. Speaking of which…
#7 Ken Levine will only do it if it’s right.
The last thing any BioShock fan wants is a terrible adaptation of the game they love. It drastically worsens the chances that something better will ever be attempted again, and it’s just flat out disappointing to see a good idea go to waste.
That’s why it’s assuring to know that when this almost happened in 2013, Ken Levine (creative director and co-founder of Irrational Games) killed the project in order to stop a movie being made that would conflict with what makes the games so good. In this case, it was because the studio wouldn’t let them get away with a lot of blood or have a large budget to accommodate the necessary sets and visual effects, as well as big name talent.
These are the types of drawbacks that would have led to a classically bad video game movie, and Levine essentially saved us all from it. He’s quite responsible for a lot of what makes the BioShock games so endearing and addicting to replay. It’s his focused, uncompromising vision that would ensure a true and worthwhile attempt to repurpose these games into something worth watching.
That said, Levine himself is the perfect candidate to write the movie. He’s reportedly been working on a remake of Logan’s Run for years, but that film is still in development and has an unlikely future. More recently, he’s been working on developing an interactive “Twilight Zone” movie. After that, who knows?
#6 The books already paved the way.
We already know that BioShock translates well to other mediums, simply because the books have been great sellers and pretty good in their own right. BioShock: Rapture and BioShock Infinite: Mind in Revolt have been out for years, and the former is certainly the more successful of the two.
The reason for their success ties into the earlier point about how dense these games are. Going further, it has a lot to do with how well-conceived the universe and pathos of BioShock is, thanks in no small part to Levine and his team, who spent years working to make these settings and characters come alive.
If you’re worried about BioShock jumping to film, at least consider whether or not the project has a craftsman like Levine behind it who understands and appreciates what makes the games so compelling. The books weren’t written by Levine, but they capture the spirit of BioShock and try something new in order to expand the scope of the games, and that’s just one reason why they work.
#5 Films can lovingly widen the BioShock legacy.
It’s almost a sad thing to know that many people who would love and obsess over these games never will because they just don’t like games. I’ve met too many people unwilling to stomach the first 20 minutes of gameplay of the original, simply because it’s either too scary or dated for them to keep at it.
Hopefully, the remastered version will do some work to remedy that, but the problem remains that some people simply aren’t gamers, but they could be huge fans of everything else BioShock represents.
They’re more than video games with good dialogue. They’re art. They’re important. And a film franchise that brazenly takes on the challenge of evangelizing that message could do wonders for making sure more people get the chance to be inspired by a fantastic series of games.
#4 A constrained budget is no longer a deal breaker.
It’s getting cheaper and cheaper to make expensive-looking movies. It’s also getting easier for studios to find ways to spend less money, not that this necessarily means all movies are exploiting that fact. And indeed, a lot of movies are still incredibly expensive to make, anyway.
The point is that effects work is getting more efficient, and the right studio behind a film like BioShock could do more with $100-$150 million than they could a few years ago. Of course, the budget Ken Levine rejected was actually $80 million, but that’s still above the budget of Deadpool, which only cost $58 million to make.
That said, a decent BioShock movie will need a lot of money to get the sets, practical effects, CGI, and everything else right. It can’t quite make magic with anything less. But they can certainly work in a fantastic production well under $200 million, the asking price in 2013. Not even Guardians of the Galaxy, which was famously over-budget, came close to that number.
#3 Christopher Nolan is available. Seriously.
Nolan is one of the ideal choices to tackle something as complicated, visceral, and different as BioShock. And aside from his upcoming 2017 film, Dunkirk, the director has not publicly signed on to anything else (he even turned down Ready Player One, which was picked up by Spielberg).
He’s reportedly said that he’s not opposed to more superhero films (outside of DC comics projects), which means he’s probably not done with adaptations in general. He’s following up Interstellar, an original screenplay, with Dunkirk, which he wrote as a depiction of the Dunkirk evacuation in World War II.
His flaws in filmmaking aside, Nolan has proven extraordinary at finding unique spins on established properties. He helped refresh a new style and perception of Batman that led to masterful comic book movies. And something that demands a lot of vision, speciality, and creative liberty like a BioShock film is right up his job description.
The only downside? Nolan is notoriously tied to Warner Bros., and Sony currently owns the rights to BioShock. Still, it’s not impossible to suggest that a deal can be made in order to get the right talent.
#2 The games are basically movies, already.
I alluded to this earlier when talking about how the games feature incredible writing that centers around set piece moments. Unlike a game similar to Super Mario Bros., you don’t have to invent types of big moments. The screenwriter can take inspiration and cue from the twists and turns of the actual BioShock games, of which there are many.
Take, for example, the crucial relationship between Booker and Elizabeth (two characters, by the way, I haven’t forgotten the name of years after playing BioShock Infinite). The conflict and budding relationship of the two is grounded in the basics of screenwriting. You don’t have to come up with ways to make the characters more dramatic or interesting. All that’s necessary is a streamlining of certain events, much of which is already filler.
The idea of an outsider entering Rapture is also conducive to good cinematic storytelling. Like the audience, this character is experiencing this setting for the first time, and their motives and goals don’t have to be bogged down by fetch quests and puzzle solving like in the games. What gives the games agency is the desperation and survival of the characters when clashing with the splicers and side characters, which a film can easily retain.
Most importantly, there’s a blueprint for how these video games can be reimagined as simpler tales with a beginning, middle, and end, just as the original conceits were intended. All it takes is the right filmmaking team to get this process started.
#1 Films offer something that the games can’t.
This is key, because otherwise BioShock “the movie” is little more than a cash grab. There has to be something that the movie can actually do to prove its reason for existing, even beyond introducing the IP to a new audience.
And that reason is focus. The movies can have a level of focus simply unachievable for the games.
Now, for some longtime fans of BioShock, that won’t sound very persuasive. The interactivity and exploration of the games are major selling points, and rightly so. I’m not saying that the games shouldn’t have this detail, because otherwise they’d be hollow. But a film can easily be more efficient, and maybe a little more effective.
Gamers have to put in tons of hours and extraneous time into figuring out a lot of the conclusions based around the game’s many themes. That’s part of the fun, but for too many people, it’s a bit exclusive to a relative few willing to replay the game and read comments on forums.
That’s because every BioShock game has you listening to a lot of exposition via recordable audio, and the vast majority of gamers aren’t going to catch everything, especially on the first play through. A movie, on the other hand, has the opportunity to emphasize a clearer, more focused purpose for these settings and characters in a way that will make a bigger impact on everyone. Not just hardcore fans.
This is why twisting the medium from video game to movie is critical. We love BioShock because the makers know what makes video games great and why we enjoy them. If they could do that same trick for a movie…well, why can’t it be made sooner?
There’s no denying the sheer amount of talent, luck, and hard work necessary for a truly great film franchise to come out of such a great series of games. But these are some of the most intriguing and well-written locations and characters that we have in gaming, so for my money, it’s worth the effort.
Will a movie be made eventually? Perhaps. Let’s see how Assassins Creed performs later this year, or if Warcraft will actually get a sequel thanks to overseas box office. You might believe that it would be smarter to wait until video game movies have hit their stride in terms of popularity and quality. In my opinion, I think BioShock could be the franchise to set the standard altogether.