Ubisoft is on a roll. Two of their hottest properties Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed are getting the movie treatment, and they’ve both now cast their respective action heroes. The role of covert operative Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell will be played by Tom Hardy. And just a few weeks earlier it was announced that Michael Fassbender will be donning the hood in Assassin’s Creed.
The quick backstory is that most video game to movie adaptations have rarely done well, both financially and critically, with the pseudo-exception of the Resident Evil franchise. The latest and most striking example of this was the poorly received Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Critics universally panned it, and though it did manage to make around $330 million, with a production cost of $200 million it was still a loss after P&A expenses. So what was Ubisoft to do now that their first foray into Hollywood garnered only a lackluster response to one of their most enduring properties? The answer was to form their own film division – Ubisoft Motion Pictures.
The deal made for Assassin’s Creed is an interesting one. It bucks against the grain of how these type of video game adaptations have traditionally been put together, and it’s been a difficult journey getting there. Newly formed Ubisoft Motion Pictures came about as a way to preserve their creative control and to protect their highly profitable properties. Amazingly, Sony agreed to finance and distribute in a deal that would have had Ubisoft retaining full creative control of the project, having approval power over the script, casting, budget, and release date. But that ultimately proved too restrictive a relationship and the deal fell apart. Cut to the present a year later and New Regency has taken Sony’s place and seems keen to play ball, especially with Michael Fassbender onboard to not only star, but produce. Add to that the huge success of their latest game installment of the franchise and you can see why New Regency is so eager. Thanks to the biggest Ubisoft launch ever, Assassin’s Creed 3 has seen an estimated 3.5 million units sold in its first week, which is double that of its predecessor a year ago. By the way, at a conservative average cost of $60 USD per game, that’s about $210 million… again, in the first week alone.
And now, the news is Tom Hardy will be joining the Tom Clancy inspired Splinter Cell franchise. No studio’s inked that deal quite yet, but many are certainly vying for the opportunity, with Warner Bros. and Paramount currently the top contenders. It remains to be seen if the terms will be equally as favorable to Ubisoft as their Assassin’s Creed one, but it’s reasonable to assume that they’ll be able to walk away with a good amount of control seeing as how there’s already been a precedent set. This may ultimately turn out to be a good thing, for both video games properties looking to make the big screen jump, and also for the bottom line of the film industry that remains intent on mining that source material. The status quo might get shaken up a bit, in terms of how things have gotten done in the past, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, considering the unimpressive trend that video game film adaptations have usually followed, the smart money just might be on letting the creators actually have a larger hand in the process. After all, they didn’t build billion dollar franchises not knowing what they were doing. And now Hollywood is looking to them for inspiration. Credit where credit is due.