GamingGrill 2019: “If we were to do something like that, we’d want to have complete creative control to make sure we expressed [GTA] in the way we wanted,” Zelnick says
Grand Theft Auto fans shouldn’t expect a movie based on the blockbuster video game franchise anytime soon, according to Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick.
It’s not a money issue; the GTA franchise has brought in billions of dollars for Rockstar Games, a subsidiary of Take-Two, and would likely drive a legion of gamers to the theater if a film was ever released. Zelnick, speaking Tuesday afternoon at TheWrap’s GamingGrill in Santa Monica, explained why a GTA movie hasn’t happened yet.
“Part of it is, if we were to do something like that, we’d want to have complete creative control to make sure we expressed [GTA] in the way we wanted — and that would mean we’d need to finance that motion picture,” Zelnick told TheWrap editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman. “While we have the balance sheet to do it, we don’t have the corporate expertise to do it, because only a handful of people inside Take-Two have ever worked in that business. I’m one of them. But that’s not what we do for a living.”
Waxman followed up, asking if Take-Two doesn’t have enough employees with a film background to make it happen, why hold on so tight to the creative control?
Zelnick said this gets to the heart of why it’s so difficult to translate popular video games to the big screen.
“You just got the crux of the issue,” Zelnick continued. “Which is, you have the most valuable intellectual property ever created by mankind: Grand Theft Auto. We wholly own and control it. Are we really going to let go of that and hope that someone — no matter how talented they are — will do a really good job with it?”
For Take-Two, Zelnick said focusing on video games is plenty of work as it is. The video game juggernaut is behind some of the biggest franchises in gaming, including NBA 2K and Red Dead Redemption, and typically has more than 100 games currently in production, according to Zelnick. It’s easy to see how movies aren’t on the agenda.
Still, Zelnick’s response came after Waxman asked why it’s been so challenging for major film franchises to translate to the gaming world and vice versa. Why Hollywood and the gaming industry have failed to find a better working relationship is tough for even Zelnick — who has decades of experience in both entertainment and gaming — to understand.
“The motion picture industry has done a better job of having their intellectual property expressed as video games than the other way around, for sure,” Zelnick said. “Because you have hit games like Spider-Man and Batman and Mortal Kombat and others. Then, in terms of the other way around, generally speaking, they’ve been disappointments, with a few exceptions. And I’m not really sure why that is.”
Of course, some movies based off popular games have turned a profit at the box office. Angelina Jolie rose to stardom after starring as Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider franchise, for example. But it’s just as easy to remember dismal game-to-movie showings, like the failed Super Mario Bros. film, to see what Zelnick means.
Which is why, if you have valuable IP like the GTA series, it would seem wise to cash-in on it. Waxman pointed to George R.R. Martin’s books leading to the “Game of Thrones” series as a textbook example.
“Right,” Zelnick added, “but George Martin’s books are not worth what Grand Theft Auto is worth.”