The Full And Wild History Of Uncharted Movie Challenges And Delays

Uncharted 3 Nathan Drake by a crashed plane

Every feature film ever made, from the smallest independent productions to the biggest blockbusters, has gone through an at least modest period of turbulence, but there are few that have gone through the ridiculous ups and downs experienced by the developing Uncharted movie. The project – a live-action adaptation of the beloved video game series of the same name – first started coming together all the way back in November 2009, but in the last decade it’s accomplished little more than rotating through a series of filmmakers and scripts.

Even the franchises’ biggest fans probably struggle to keep track of all the back and forth regarding the film, so we’ve decided to… well, chart it. With a deep dive into the CinemaBlend news archives guiding us, here is the full and wild history of Uncharted’s challenges and delays.

David O Russell with Mark Wahlberg directing The Fighter

The Original Version

As noted above, it was in November 2009 that Sony first started getting to work on a live-action Uncharted, hiring Conan The Barbarian screenwriting duo Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer to pen the screenplay, but it was actually just short of a year later that the film really started cooking with gas. This was when the studio managed to recruit David O. Russell to helm the project, the filmmaker having a lot of heat at the time because of the forthcoming release of The Fighter.

With Russell at the helm and penning a new version of the script, Uncharted began to employ some top tier talent. A decade before Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman came together it looked like the video game project was going to be the film that reunited stars Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro. While controversial, it was also confirmed that Mark Wahlberg was the writer/director’s choice to play the lead role of adventurer Nathan Drake.

That version of the project existed for a few months, but it was less than half a year later that everything started falling apart. In May 2011, it was reported that David O. Russell was no longer attached to make Uncharted, eventually explaining that his take on what to do with the source material didn’t line up with what the studio wanted to see from the blockbuster.

Seth Gordon on the set of Horrible Bosses

From Neil Burger To Seth Gordon

Losing a writer/director with as much clout as David O. Russell was surely seen as a disappointment by the studio executives, but little time was wasted trying to find a new vision from a different director. The search took about two months, as Neil Burger was given the helm of Uncharted in July 2011. The filmmaker was just a few months removed from the release of Limitless starring Bradley Cooper, and he started putting together his own take on the material, wiping the slate clean as far as story approach.

With few updates about its development emerging publically, that period of Uncharted’s history lasted for nearly a year-and-a-half, but Neil Burger decided to drop the film in November 2012, deciding to make Divergent instead.

Having lost its second director, the project once again had to start over, and Sony hired National Treasure screenwriters Marianne and Cormac Wibberley to take a crack at the blockbuster. That led to Uncharted spending some time sitting on a shelf… but then in February 2014 it found new life. With a filmography including comedies Horrible Bosses and Identity Thief, director Seth Gordon was matched with the video game adaptation.

By mid-2014 plans were made to have production startup in early 2015, and the film even got Hurt Locker Oscar winner Mark Boal to do a version of the script as it was coming together… but principal photography never began. Instead, by June 2015 it was reported that Uncharted had lost its third director, with Seth Gordon moving on to pursue other projects.

Shawn Levy with Amy Adams making Night At The Museum 2

The Shawn Levy Era

After five years of development and attaching three directors, the Uncharted movie had made zero real forward motion, and it wasn’t until July 2016 that the feature found new life again. Sony felt positive about a pitch given to them by Joe Carnahan, and hired him to work on the screenplay. A proposed June 30, 2017 release date was floated on the release calendar, but by September 2016 it was clear that wasn’t going to happen.

Having been developing Joe Carnahan’s script for nearly a year-and-a-half, Sony struck a deal with Shawn Levy to become the fourth director of Uncharted in October 2016. It was only just shortly after this that Mark Wahlberg announced he was no longer involved with the production – having still been attached since the David O. Russell take – but his journey with the film wouldn’t really end there (we’ll get back to him).

By January 2017, the film once again looked like it was ready to become real. Uncharted had a finished script by Joe Carnahan, and plans were being made to have the project ready to shoot in the spring. In May 2017, Sony decided to double down on one of their biggest franchise’s stars, as it was decided that their Spider-Man: Homecoming lead, Tom Holland, would also play Nathan Drake in Uncharted. Unfortunately, the studio also once again found itself having some serious trouble actually nailing down a director to make the damn thing.

Tom Holland in Spider-Man Homecoming

Tom Holland Is Nathan Drake, But Who Is Directing?

To date, Shawn Levy holds the record as the director with the longest attachment to Uncharted, as he was seated in the director’s chair for over two years… but that particular era ended in January 2019. With the future of the video game movie unclear, Levy decided to make Free Guy starring Ryan Reynolds (a totally different kind of video game movie), and left his position vacant for 10 Cloverfield Lane’s Dan Trachtenberg to take over.

Sony started to get ambitious again and announced a December 18, 2020 release date, but as you might have already guessed, that’s not happening. In August 2019 it was revealed that Dan Trachtenberg had become the fifth director to drop the project. The gap was filled quickly, with Bumblebee’s Travis Knight taking on the job just a few weeks later, but issues haven’t stopped plaguing the project in the months since.

Uncharted 4 Nathan Drake leaping

Where We Are Now

First there was the news in December 2019 about the need to change plans for production due to Tom Holland’s commitments to the Spider-Man franchise (which has a new chapter out in 2021, and plans to start filming in the summer). This led Sony to lose Travis Knight as director (a.k.a. goodbye to Director #6) while pushing the film’s release date back to March 5, 2021.

In January 2020 Sony decided to reteam with Zombieland/Zombieland: Double Tap director Ruben Fleischer for Uncharted, and in the weeks since the film has put together an ensemble cast including Mark Wahlberg (now as Victor “Sully” Sullivan, Nathan’s mentor and father figure), Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali, and Tati Gabrielle. Unfortunately, it’s not clear if the film is going to be able to make its current release date, as the latest reports about the project say that production has been pushed back at least six weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With still not a single frame of the movie captured yet, we can’t say for certain what the future holds for Uncharted. That being said, we have faith that it will eventually get made, and when it does it will hopefully be worth the wait.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.