Moviegoers might have been skeptical when humble board games such as Battleship or beloved toys like Trolls ended up becoming major motion pictures, but the trend is becoming the norm.
For every embarrassing disaster or project that’s stuck in production hell, studios still find a way to stumble upon the next Transformers or LEGO Movie. Some have even expanded into their own connected cinematic universes. This week’s The LEGO Batman Movie merely marks the beginning of the LEGO onslaught headed to cinemas. When random products like a Ouija board can turn into the next great horror franchise or G.I. Joes can morph into a compelling action saga, all bets are off.
At the same, projects that seem like they could be home runs, like movies based on Candyland, Risk, or Magic: The Gathering have fallen to the wayside and collected dust just like the games that they’re based on.
With The LEGO Batman Movie swinging into theaters this Friday, we thought it’d only be fitting to take a look at all the other upcoming motion pictures that are using toys and board games for their inspiration. Just like the original LEGO Movie kicked off a frenzy of contenders, this release is surely going to do the same. Maybe there will be a Playmobil Superman movie in theaters by 2020?
We have a shorter video version of this list below, but keep scrolling for the full list!
Sure, there have been a slew of direct-to-video CGI Barbie films to keep the masses happy in recent years, but it looks like a feature-film adaptation of the Mattel toy is actually the closest it’s ever been to coming to real life. The Barbie film has gone through a number of rewrites through the years, beginning with Sex & the City scribe Jenny Bicks, then on to the reputable Diablo Cody, before finally falling into the hands of Hilary Winston and Lindsey Beer (who was also curiously working on the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons script at one point). The biggest break came for the film this year though when Amy Schumer of all people signed on to star as Mattel’s perfect lady of plastic.
It should be no surprise that Schumer is bringing her usual sardonic, crude sensibility to the picture, with a logline for the film finally crystalizing in the form of, “A doll living in ‘Barbieland’ is expelled for not being perfect enough and sets off on an adventure in the real world.”
It’s the sort of setup that seems perfect for Schumer, and might even manage to find some poignancy in such a bizarre product. With Schumer and her sister Kim Caramele handling the latest script rewrites, this could actually turn into a challenging feature film.
Unearthing the details regarding whether a new Clue movie is or isn’t happening can sometimes be as mysterious as the ingredients of the game itself.
Originally Hasbro signed a development deal with Universal that would set them up for a six-year partnership allowing them access to properties like Clue, Monopoly, Ouija, Candyland, Battleship, and even Magic: The Gathering. While Universal obviously made good on some of these projects, Clue was one of the titles that ended up stalling.
At one point there was a somewhat promising future for this project with Gore Verbinski interested in bringing this board game to life. With not much happening on the horizon over the past five years, the project was presumably dead until Fox snagged the rights to the game from Universal as recently as this summer.
Since Fox’s acquisition, no new news has surfaced on the project (Verbinski is no longer attached). Maybe they go the younger route and bring in a bit of a Veronica Mars or Search Party vibe to the series?
That being said, would it really be that bad if this project ended up dead in the library courtesy of the candlestick? Just pop in the original! It still more than holds up.
Dungeons & Dragons
Yes, yes, we’re all very impressed that you’ve sat through the dreadful 2000 Dungeons & Dragons film (Editor’s note: Or this Christian Bale/Matthew McConaughey dragon-slaying vehicle). We’re not talking about more of that. Nobody wants more of that.
But a more fantasy-friendly approach, rather than an aggressive action edge to the material, is certainly the right attitude for this world. In fact, the latest take on the “game” has been described as “Guardians of the Galaxy” meets Tolkien” which is pretty much exactly what should be going on here. If such a hodgepodge of characters can work so well in a superhero film like Guardians, then it’s more than possible to bring the eclectic world of Dungeons & Dragons to life. If Warcraft can connect in the way that it did, then this should have no problem.
While the film is still slowly rolling that 20-sided die, a few details have come to light. Warner Bros. holds the rights to the film and the studio is eying young adult actor Ansel Elgort for the film’s lead. The script is from David Leslie Johnson (Wrath of the Titans) and Rob Letterman of Goosebumps fame would handle directorial duties.
It’s crazy how the public has become more accepting to fantasy and role-playing over the past decade. Series like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones can be ultra-successful and people actually want to see dragons rather than cringing at them. Hell, Seeso even has its own D&D-themed television show in the form of Harmonquest. It’s never been a better time to strike the iron with this property.
It’s funny how the announcement of a director is enough to completely turn you around on a project. The news of an upcoming Hot Wheels feature film is hardly the sort of thing to get that excited about. However, when you add in the fact that directing wunderkind Justin Lin is helming the project, it’s kind of hard to not get excited.
Lin is responsible for some of the more action-heavy blockbusters of recent years like Star Trek Beyond, Fast Five, and Fast & Furious 6. Clearly Lin knows how to construct a bonkers car movie, but this could go to the next level. The cars in his Fast and Furious pictures already operate like the rules and physics of reality don’t apply to them, so this property could end up looking like his Speed Racer. Turn up the neons, bring on the loop-de-loops, and never take your foot off the gas pedal.
Hot Wheels doesn’t exactly have the most robust story to pull from so as long as Lin doesn’t get swamped by his many other upcoming projects, Hot Wheels will hopefully be pulling into the finish line in its planned date of 2018.
Masters of the Universe
With He-Man having such a healthy life as an animated TV character, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the characters and the rest of the Masters of the Universe actually began as action figures. Even though this Masters of the Universe revival has been bumping around between studios for over a decade, it’s still a project that always has just enough life in it that it looks like it’s going to end up happening. Eventually.
The kitschy property has surprisingly attracted the attention of a lot of big names, with directors like John Woo and Jon M. Chu (who funny enough left the project to make another toy-based property, Jem and the Holograms) showing interest before ultimately dropping out.
Last it was reported, Columbia Pictures has Kick-Ass 2’s Jeff Wadlow on tap to adapt the tale, with Christopher Yost (both Thor sequels, a ton of Marvel animated fodder, and the also toy-based, Max Steel) penning the most recent draft of the script, which apparently goes back to He-Man’s origins. All of the elements make sense and Yost has been on a roll lately that surely this Masters of the Universe film is going to end up happening, it’s only a matter of when.
Ridley Scott has famously gone on record for saying that his motivations behind adapting Monopoly into a feature is because, “I wanted to just make a movie about the idea of greed.” While that is in itself a tantalizing prospect, it seems like a somewhat jaded, misguided take on the argument-causing board game. Sure, it’s true that when in the heat of Monopoly, even the frailest board gamer can turn into a green-eyed demon, but there are already countless films on the emotion. Do we really need to watch the end credits roll on There Will Be Blood and see, “Based on the Popular Hasbro Board Game”?
Even with Scott claiming that his adaptation would be akin to an Alice in Wonderland and Wall Street mash-up where an actual Monopoly fan gets transported into his coveted board game, the film has still stalled. This more than likely has to do with Scott’s full directing slate as of late, but with the director is back in the spotlight after The Martian and with Alien: Covenant causing a big stir, maybe he’ll be given this opportunity soon enough.
Even though Universal said goodbye to the project and the rights have gone back to Hasbro, Scott still remains vocal on it. Ownership has shifted slightly, with Hasbro and Lionsgate offering Andre Niccol (The Truman Show, Gattaca) the opportunity to script a more PG-minded approach to the game. With rumblings still going on as recently as last year, it’s likely that some iteration of Monopoly will be passing “Go” soon.
My Little Pony
With a strong animated series, handful of direct-to-video films, and a thriving DeviantArt community online, My Little Pony might feel like one of the least necessary adaptations here. Even if a feature film does fail to come together, there are still plenty of other examples out there where you can watch these magical ponies come to life and play.
My Little Pony: The Movie looks to be more of a film adaptation of the existing television series, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, rather than a fresh updating of the property for the cinema crowd. This is likely the right approach rather than alienating the already built-in audience for the property. The film is set to feature the voices of the show’s regular voice talents, but is also ready to bring in that feature film star power in the form of Emily Blunt, Zoe Saldana, Taye Diggs, and Kristin Chenowith, who will surely be helping out with the animated film’s musical numbers.
With all the work being done on this one and Lionsgate having set a worldwide theatrical release for October 6th, 2017, it looks like nothing’s going to be able to stop this magical pony train.
A movie based on LEGO seemed like a lengthy stretch, but turning out a narrative that revolves around colorful modeling clay seems borderline impossible. That’s why it takes the brilliant mind of a comedic genius like Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks, Bridesmaids, Other Space) to understand how to synthesize this plaything into cinema gold. When such a toy doesn’t come with a set narrative, you’re allowed even more creative freedom, which Feig could really run wild with.
Details on Feig’s direction for the property have been appropriately scant, but in 2015 he did reveal the following: “My company was approached by Hasbro with this property, and at first I was like, ‘How do you make a Play-Doh movie?’ and then I was like, ‘Wait, it’s colored clay. It’s Claymation!”
Admittedly, news on Hasbro’s feature film adaptation of their modeling clay has been relatively quiet since the news broke in 2015, but maybe Feig has just been waiting to get all of the residual Ghostbusters out of his system. Will Play-Doh be straight-up Claymation? CG-enhanced clay? We’ll hopefully have our answer within a few years’ time (as the film currently has no projected release date), meanwhile just don’t leave the tops off those containers.
Playmobil characters and playsets might have always seemed like some creepy bizarro world version of LEGO, but the toys still have a strong following that could translate beautifully to cinema. Pathé and Wild Bunch sort of threw everything that they had at this adaptation of the German toy, accruing an impressive $80 million animated feature that has Dreamworks Animation’s Bob Persichetti heading the creative team, with Frozen’s animator, Lino DiSalvo, helming the picture.
The interesting thing here is that the Playmobil movie seemed to be well on its way to its expected 2017 release date until being slapped with a hefty lawsuit in the summer of last year. Open Road, the small yet commendable company responsible for distributing The Little Prince, is facing a $35 million lawsuit from The Weinstein Company that claims that they are the ones who technically own the distribution rights to any Playmobil film. While this alleged breach of contract isn’t slowing down the production of the film at all, it might lead to its release getting lost in limbo while the legalities are figured out. You would think that all of this animosity could be aside for a project of this nature. It’s Playmobil after all, not Workmobil.
The Stretch Armstrong property was included with Hasbro’s six-year pact with Universal, and while this arrangement also included the television branches of Universal, most of these board games were being eyed for the silver screen. There was an unsuccessful attempt in 2009 at launching a Stretch Armstrong film, even going as far as recruiting Breck Eisner to direct a comedic, somewhat satirical take on the character coming from Nicholas Stoller (Neighbors and its sequel, The Muppets).
In a curious pivot that might have saved the property, the Stretch Armstrong film (even though it at one point had Taylor Lautner locked in for the lead role) was transformed into an animated Netflix series.
The series takes a more futuristic, modern approach to the elastic strongman character, but the Netflix’s division of children’s programming could help this one live for several years on the streaming service rather than just turning out one problematic picture. Dubbed Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters, the series sees three regular teenagers encountering an alien substance that turns them into the stretchy trio.
The success of The LEGO Batman Movie, future Transformers films, and even tracking how well Barbie does should act as a healthy indication of where this trend is heading. Toy and board game adaptations certainly aren’t at the risk of becoming the next superhero films, but they are beginning to slowly change the trajectory of cinema. Phil Lord and Chris Miller hit new heights with the success of their LEGO Movie, but who knows who might end up seeing that same level of notoriety next, and with what?
Here’s hoping for an Ava DuVernay directed Slinky by 2021, people!
This article has been updated to reflect new information. It originally ran in 2015.