Tetris the Movie, to begin shooting in China soon, is part one of a purported sci-fi trilogy

Film producers have seen the value of making movies based on existing brands, be they comic books or video games - although filming Tetris seems such a stretch it has been an industry in-joke. Not any more

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 May, 2016, 10:43am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 May, 2016, 10:45am

Know how everyone always said Hollywood should make a movie based on Tetris, the 1984 video game in which players fit differently shaped blocks into one another? Oh, wait – no one said that, but we’re getting one anyway, thanks to Larry Kasanoff and Bruno Wu.

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The idea of such a film, much less a trilogy of them, seems so patently absurd that a group of filmmakers created a joke trailer for the movie long before the actual idea was even announced. Again, let us note, this is a fake trailer:

But the real thing might be coming to the silver screen in the next few years. At the Cannes film festival, Kasanoff, who previously produced a string of films based on the Mortal Kombat video game series, and Wu, CEO of China’s Sun Seven Stars Media Group, announced their new company Threshold Global Studios, Deadline reported. They go on to say that the company is making Tetris the Movie, which will be a sci-fi thriller. The film’s current budget is US$80 million and shooting is set to begin in China in 2017, according to USA Today.

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For any Tetris fans worried that one might not contain the real estate to fully flesh out the backstories of those coloured blocks, fear not. Kasanoff and Wu see it as the first instalment of a trilogy.

“It’s just a phenomenal idea for this brand,” Kasanoff told Mashable. “That’s what motivated this whole thing. And you’ve gotta ask yourself why Tetris has been so successful for so many years; we’ve thought of a really great science fiction movie out of it. I get pitched video game projects all the time, and we’re very picky about that stuff.”

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Deadline reported that the partners have been working with The Tetris Company for more than a year.

If this sounds like a put-on – and it absolutely, totally, without question sounds like a put-on – rest assured it isn’t. With the company behind the game on board, it sounds even more feasible.

After all, recent years have proven that co-opting well-known intellectual property – even when it’s based on something as inanimate as coloured blocks or a board game often translates into box office success.

At the end of the day, most studios judge films on how much revenue they make. Anyone who bemoans the recent spate of superhero movies, wondering if American cineplexes will get a break from caped crusaders, need only glance at the numbers to realise that superhero movies aren’t going anywhere.

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The first instalment of The Avengers franchise grossed US$623 million, according to Box Office Mojo, and Iron Man 3 hit US$409 million. And that’s just in the US. Worldwide, the former made US$1.5 billion, the latter US$1.2 billion.

There’s big money in forming movies around pre-existing brands. In 2014, The Lego Movie , based on the famous children’s building blocks, raked in US$257.7 million in the US (and another US$211.4 million worldwide). Transformers: Dark of the Moon, based on a line of action figures, grossed US$352.3 million in the U.S, and US$1.2 billion worldwide.

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As video games grow increasingly popular - global sales rose 8 per cent in January, hitting US$6.3 billion, CNBC reported – the number of movies based on them will only increase along with them. We’ve already got trailers for Warcraft , Ratchet & Clank , and Sly Cooper , along with confirmation of Metal Gear Solid, Assassin’s Creed and a new Tomb Raider, among many others.

“Today there are so many great sources on which to build a movie blockbuster, and video gaming is certainly an amazing category with its huge international following,” Wu told USA Today.

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Consider this: According to Forbes, the mobile game Angry Birds was downloaded more than 3 billion times. There are about 7 billion people on earth. For better or for worse, there aren’t many things that cross language and cultural barriers as well as this silly game. The unanswered questions that make it seem like bad movie fodder – What’s the plot? Who are the characters? - don’t really matter. It comes pre-packaged with a built-in audience, so now we have an Angry Birds movie.

In fact, this announcement comes on the heels of Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima announcing that the video game company – and, fun fact, majority owner of the Seattle Mariners baseball team, which Nintendo of America is looking to sell – is seeking a movie production company with which to partner. The company plans to create films featuring characters from its games, according to The Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.

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In 1993, Nintendo arguably began the video games-become-movies trend when it allowed Lightmotive Productions to bring Super Mario Bros. to the big screen. The movie, starring Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper, presented middling returns: It opened at No. 4 and grossed US$20.9 million. But it also represented an untapped market: video games, which don’t force a creative studio to follow a pre-written script the way comic books, novels and non-fiction accounts do.

What could be better?

Since then, many films have been based on video games, and in recent years, they’ve done well. More importantly, they’ve done well (better, actually) globally than in the U.S. Reaching foreign audiences is increasingly important to Hollywood, Deadline reported. In 2010, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time grossed US$336 million worldwide, despite only making US$90.8 million domestically.

In 2014, Need for Speed, which is based on a string of racing games - yes, as in just straight-up car racing - only made US$43.6 million domestically, but went on to gross US$203.3 million globally.

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That global market is especially important to this pair of producers. They said the new company being formed to make the China-US production “will make cross-cultural movies for the global market,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Tetris will probably perform well at the box office regardless of what the film actually is. Forget the curiosity factor – though that will certainly contribute to its potential success – and simply consider its built-in, cross-cultural popularity. It’s an easy argument to make that most people hit the movies on a Friday night to disconnect and unwind. What could be more escapist than a game?

A game made into a movie.

The Washington Post