Bored at the Movies? Check out these Board Game Movies

Continuing on with the game theme this week, today’s post covers past and upcoming board game adaptations. Board games have always been a great family bonding activity. They’re easy enough for kids to play and entertaining enough for adults to join them. Naturally, Hollywood doesn’t want to be left out of the fun. In 2008, Hasbro has secured a multi-feature deal with Universal to produce feature films based on their games. In 2009, UK’s ITV partnered with Mattel to produce international TV formats based on board games. But how well do games translate to the big screen? Listed below are all known board game adaptations and their current statuses.

Battleship: Many people recognize this game as pencil and paper game that pre-dates World War I. The Milton Bradley Company first published the game in 1931. In 1977, the electronic version of the game was released. Today, the board game has been adapted for a variety of game consoles, mobile applications, and computer games. Now the classic game has been turned into a major action film with a $250 million budget.  The film has the classic naval warfare audiences would expect, but with…aliens? Ok then. Essentially the premise is that a naval fleet based in Pearl Harbor fights an alien race called “The Regents”. These aliens have arrived with the intention of building a power source in the ocean. Will the officers save the day? We’ll have to find out. Actors Taylor Kitsch and Liam Neeson star. Singer Rhianna is making her acting debut in this film. Peter Berg is directing the feature which will be released by Universal on 18 May 2012. If you can’t wait that long, check out the official trailer here.

Candyland: The children’s fantasy game is about to make its big screen debut. Candyland is a game targeted towards young children as it does not require reading or counting skills. The board is a winding track filled with multi-colored squares. Children have to travel through multiple candy-themed kingdoms in order to reach King Kandy. Created in 1949, the game is one of the most popular titles for young children. There have been previous adaptations of this board game such as a 1996 video game and a 2005 animated feature Candyland: The Great Lollipop Adventure.  Hasbro sold the feature film rights to Universal Pictures back in 2009. I haven’t been able to find any clues as to whether this project would be an animated feature or a live-action film. Enchanted director Kevin Lima was set to direct with Sherlock Holmes writer Etan Cohen penning the screenplay. However in May 2011, it was announced that Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger would be writing the screenplay instead. Berger told Entertainment Weekly that “We envision it as Lord of The Rings, but set in a world of candy.” Overreaching a bit there? I have to admit, I am curious to see how this would turn out as a live action movie. I envision either a stroke of comedic genius or a sickeningly sweet sugar coma such as Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” video. Keep an eye out for this project in the next year.

Cluedo

Clue: The classic mystery board game Clue (Cluedo abroad) is getting the royal adaptation makeover. The game revolves around a murder mystery set in a mansion. Someone has died and one of six guests at the mansion is the killer: Miss Scarlett, Mrs. Peacock, Mrs. White, Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, and Mr. Green. By visiting different rooms throughout the mansion, players gather clues about the crime. When they are ready, players make accusations on who the killer is, what weapon they used, and which of the Mansion’s rooms the victim died in. The first player to determine all three answers correctly is the winner. This game was created in 1944 by an English solicitor’s clerk looking for a way to occupy the time during lengthy air raid drills. The game was then bought by Waddingtons in Leeds and released in 1949.

Clue has been adapted several times over the years. In addition to multiple variations of the board game, there have also been computer and video games. The classic game first made its feature film debut in 1985. Clue failed in the box office, but has remained a cult favorite. One of the film’s most notorious elements is the three different endings. In 2009, Universal announced the acquisition of the film rights for Clue. Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) was announced as the director.  However in August 2011, Universal dropped the Clue remake from its schedule.  But the film still lives on as Verbinski is still interested in directing and producing the film under his production company Blink Wink. Screenwriters Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama have been hired to adapt the game into a new movie. Clue is set for release in 2013. In 2010, TV channel The Hub (formerly Discovery Kids) announced a new half hour live-action TV series based on Clue. The first episode aired 14 November 2011. The show features a teenage cast working together to solve mysteries. Strangely the element of murder seems to be absent from the premise of the TV show despite being a central portion of the game. However, I can see this being a successful show for kids.

Jumanji: Ok, so technically Jumanji wasn’t a board game before the 1995 movie. But since the movie is based on a 1981 picture book about a magical board game that makes wild animals come to life when the game is played, I decided to include it in this series. After all, they did eventually make a Jumanji board game based on the movie.  Jumanji starred Robin Williams as Alan Parrish, a boy who becomes trapped in the game’s jungle world after playing the game in 1969. He is not released until two children in present day begin playing the game. Parrish emerges from the game a full-grown adult and realizes that they must continue playing at their own risk in order to end the game. The film did well at the box office, earning $262 million worldwide. No remakes planned for this project.

The Game of Life: The Game of Life (also known as Life) is a popular family board game. Players have miniature cars that they must use to navigate the winding road of life as they face obstacles and make choices that will shape their future. The player with the most money is the winner and gets to retire at Millionaire’s Estate. The game was originally created in 1860 by Milton Bradley and was called The Checkered Game of Life. Life became America’s first major parlor game and pocket-sized versions were created for Civil War soldiers. In fact, Life is so significant that the game is part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History. The game as we know it today was created in 1960 by Reuben Klamer in celebration of the game’s 100th anniversary. Hasbro and The Hub have teamed up to adapt The Game of Life into a TV game show. The Game of Life show involves 2 families consisting of two children and one adult competing for the grand prize. Each family “drives” a car through a life adventure of their choice and spins the jumbo rainbow spinner to answer questions. Comedian Frank Nicotero is hosting the program which premiered on 3 September 2011. I loved this game as a child but I struggle to see how this works as a game show since the fun comes from making your own choices. How interesting is it for viewers to watch other people make life decisions? We’ll find out if audiences flock to the new game show. The Game of Life is interesting choice to adapt, but someone really needs to go ahead and create a biopic on Milton Bradley. A movie surrounding his invention of the game and its impact on American society would be far more interesting than any game show.

Magic: The Gathering: The popular fantasy card game has been selected for film adaptation. Magic: The Gathering is a collectible card game created by mathematician Richard Garfield. Wizards of the Coast introduced the game in 1993 and today the game continues to thrive with millions of players. Each game is a battle between wizards called Planeswalkers who use magic spells and mythical creatures depicted on the cards to win. In 2008, Magic: The Gathering was included in Hasbro’s Universal deal. The film approaches this adaptation by using Planeswalkers as the main characters, but these Planeswalkers don’t belong to any particular time or place. According to Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner, these magical beings are “not your old-fashioned wizards” which seems to hint that the film Magic: The Gathering could possibly be set in today’s world. Unfortunately, Universal announced in August 2011 that they were dropping  the project. The film may be dead at Universal but Hasbro is still shopping it around to other studios so there may be hope yet. Out of all the game adaptations, this one makes the most sense due to its rich characters and mythology. There is also a huge fan base that would flock to this film. I am still surprised that Universal dumped this one in favour of 80s toy Stretch Armstrong.

Monopoly: Monopoly is America’s favorite real estate board game and now upcoming movie. The board has forty spaces with 28 properties (22 colored streets, 4 railroads and 2 utilities). These properties are all named after places in and around Atlantic City, New Jersey. Each character has a quirky small metal token that they use to move around the different properties. The idea is to become a real estate baron by snatching up properties to build hotel developments and charging other players high fees for landing on your properties. The game’s hisory begins in 1924 when American woman Elizabeth  J. Magie Philips created an anti-capitalist board game called The Landlord’s Game. In1934, Charles Darrow presented the board game as Monopoly to Parker Bros. and Milton Bradley. Parker Bros. bought the rights and started distributing the game in 1935. The UK version was issued by Waddingtons in 1935 after Parker Bros. sent over a demonstration set. Waddingtons bought the right to distribute the game outside of the US but insisted on changing the names of the properties to reflect British locations. In a fascinating historical side note, Waddingtons created special versions of Monopoly in 1941 to smuggle maps for Allied prisoners of war held by the Nazis.

Today there are countless versions of the game all over the world, which makes it ripe for adaptation into a blockbuster feature. Ridley Scott is set to direct this project under his production company Scott Free productions. Scott’s version is a dark satirical comedy which takes on the real estate industry and explores how greed led to the current economic crisis. Perhaps a real estate version of Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps? Intriguing. Screenwriter Pamela Pettler (Corpse Bride) is set to pen the script. In August 2011, Monopoly was one of the victims of Universal’s cutbacks. Hasbro refuses to give up on the project though and is determined to make Ridley Scott’s vision come to life. The movie is currently scheduled for release in 2014. If you can’t wait that long to see the Monopoly movie, check out the award-winning 2010 documentary Under the Boardwalk: The MONOPOLY Story.

Ouija: Paranormal board game Ouija was another property in Hasbro’s deal with Universal.  This controversial game is used to contact the dead. As demonstrated in the picture above, players place their fingers on a heart-shaped piece of wood called a planchette and ask spirits questions. The spirits then move the planchette around to spell out answers. Ouija was first introduced in 1891 but not associated with the occult until a medium popularized its use in World War I. Mainstream Christians and some occults warn against Ouija, citing demonic possession as a real danger. Scientists debunk the paranormal occurances as a phenomenon known as the ideomotor effect. Despite demonic warnings and scientific scoffing, the game remains popular today. Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes are producing with legendary director McG to helm the film. Screenwriter David Berenbaum (Elf) was assigned to adapt the script along with countless of rewrites from other screenwriters. In late August 2011, Universal dropped this film adaptation. Rumors have it that Ouija ‘s $100-150 million budget scared off the studio. The project is currently being shopped around to other studios. Judging on the game’s spiritual origins, my guess is that the feature film will be some kind of psychological or supernatural thriller. Hopefully the characters will ask better questions than the ones in the picture! We’ll find out in 2012.

Risk: Risk is the ultimate Cold War strategic board game. Invented by French film director Albert Lamorisse, the game was released in 1957 as La Conquête du Monde (“The Conquest of the World”). Two years later, the Parker Brothers released the game to English-speaking consumers as Risk. Risk is played with 2-6 people on a board that contains a world map. The goal is essentially world domination as players control armies to take over countries. Risk was influential because it was the first board game to offer non-linear movement. Today there are numerous computer and video game adaptations. In 2009, Sony’s Columbia Pictures acquired the film adaptation rights to Risk. John Hlavin (The Shield) is writing the screenplay Risk. Rumor has it that the script will be set in present day as a “contemporary global action thriller”. Overbrook Entertainment, Will Smith’s production company, is producing the picture. My guess is that Will Smith is intending to star as the lead but no announcements have been made. Risk will be released 2012/2013.

Scrabble: Popular word game Scrabble is now available on your TV set. The game consists of a board filled with grids. Players score points by forming words from individual lettered tiles. The game was created in 1948 by James Brunot based off an earlier game by Alfred Mosher Butts. Scrabble took off in 1952 after the president of Macy’s took a shine to the game and insisted on stocking it in his stores. Today, Scrabble has been adapted into not one but three game shows based on the beloved game. Scrabble was a game show hosted by Chuck Woolery which aired from 1984-1990 on NBC. Contestants played on a computer-generated Scrabble board and had to guess 3 correct words before their opponents. The first contestant to solve the words won $500 and got to participate in the Scrabble Sprint in a face-off with the reigning champion. TV Scrabble was Britain’s answer to Scrabble adaptation. The show was hosted by Toby Anstis and aired from 2001-2003. New game show Scrabble Showdown began airing 17 September 2011 on The Hub. Hosted by Justin Willman, the show consists of two teams (each team has a parent and a child) competing for the grand prize of tickets for a trip anywhere in the world. The players must endure four rounds of Scrabble before the grand prize winner is declared. The current US  show is produced by Rubicon Entertainment.

CONCLUSION

Hasbro and Hollywood’s relationship appears to be as strong as ever despite Universal’s decision to dump several board game adaptations. The upcoming Battleship has a lot riding on it as both Hollywood and audiences will be looking to its box office success/failure as an indication for the viability of future board game adaptations. I predict Battleship will be a success if people can overlook the board game association. Not because I believe the movie is genius film making, but because the premise is similar to fellow adaptation franchise Transformers.

The trend of adapting board games has been derided by many as being unimaginative and a sign of corporate greed. However, since many games don’t have a story attached to them, it takes quite the creative writer to be able to generate an entertaining tale while remaining true to the franchise’s many fans. It is best if writers adapt the board games loosely rather than create strict versions of the game. No one wants to see random people rolling a die on screen. The trick will be finding the heart of each board game and strengthening the associated characters and themes. Give the audience what they expect, but entice them with something new as well.

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