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Video game giant Activision Blizzard recently announced that they were forming their own studio in order to turn their major game properties into movies and television series. At the top of that plan was the creation of a "cinematic universe" based around their most popular title, Call of Duty. Marvel Studios has created a template for other franchises to follow, but how much of it will really translate over to video games?
It seems Activision has certainly figured out the first part of the Marvel plan pretty well. Form your own studio. By doing so, the game publisher keeps their IP in-house so they don’t need to work with anybody outside. This gives them complete creative control. Marvel has had to deal with a split personality of sorts for years since they had licensed out a number of their properties to other studios before creating their own. The MCU would have never been possible trying to align the desires of multiple studios. Even now, there are numerous Marvel characters, like theX-Men, who Marvel has to leave out of the entire adventure because Fox still has the rights.
Movies based on video games have been struggling for years. A few, like the Resident Evil franchise and Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider films, have been financially successful, but most have bombed, and none of them have been received well critically. There are a handful of upcoming films based on games that Activision CEO Bobby Kotick thinks could change the game overnight. He told The Hollywood Reporter that game titles are in the same position now that comic books were only a few years ago.
Before the year 2000, superheroes had the same role in the industry. Batman was on a shelf somewhere, but then X-Men came out, followed by Spider-Man. Today it's a grossly different thing.
Could Warcraft or Assassin’s Creed become the Spider-Man for the video game medium? It’s certainly possible. And Kotick is almost certainly correct that it will only take one major success to get the rest of Hollywood looking at video games the way they now look at comic books. Activision’s plan is to be ready to go as soon as that shift happens, or to be the cause of it themselves.
There are some great franchises within video games that at least have the potential to be great movies. At the same time, it’s hard to see how much Call of Duty really has to differentiate itself from other combat films. What would make a Modern Warfare movie look any different than Michael Bay’s new movie? This will be an interesting experiment to watch, if nothing else. If they do actually succeed, they’ll change the landscape of cinema. If not, well, there’s always Black Ops III.