In the never-ending quest to find something — anything — that might drive audiences back to movie theaters, Warner Bros. has hit on a particularly desperate idea: A film version of Temple Run, a wildly popular iOS game featuring an explorer who runs over bridges and collects coins.
It's hard to think of a game less suitable for big-screen adaptation. Temple Run's main character doesn't even have a name, and the game's style is nakedly stolen from movies that already exist, like Indiana Jones and Romancing the Stone. Cynical as it sounds, Temple Run is actually the second upcoming movie based on an iPhone game — an animated Angry Birds movie is already slated for a plum summer release date in July 2016.
It's easy to dismiss the idea of a movie based on an iPhone game — but the more I've thought about it, the more I can see the potential here. Unfortunately, producers have targeted the wrong games so far. Games like Temple Run and Angry Birds are as simple and repetitive as they come, designed for nothing more than short bursts of gameplay. There's even less plot in them than in Super Mario Bros. — and we all remember how that turned out when it hit the silver screen.
So listen up, Hollywood. Before you greenlight Candy Crush or Doodle Jump, check out these six iPhone games that would actually make pretty great movies:
1. Year Walk
The moody, chilling Year Walk is supposedly based on a series of obscure Scandinavian folk tales. According to developer Simogo, real-life "year walkers" would lock themselves alone in dark rooms on certain pagan holidays, then emerge at midnight and wander into the woods. The process was intended to facilitate a series of encounters with strange, otherworldly creatures, who would either give a year walker a vision of his future or lead him to his death.
Year Walk actually began life as a short movie script by Jonas Tarestad, who was persuaded by Simogo's Simon Flesser to adapt the story as an iOS game instead. But as effective and chilling as Year Walk is on an iPhone or iPad, it would lose none of its magnetic power as a film. Let somebody like Guillermo del Toro or Ti West freely adapt Year Walk as a slow-burn horror/thriller set in 19th-century Sweden, and you would instantly have the most innovative premise for a horror movie in years.
2. Costume Quest
An adaptation of Double Fine's Costume Quest, if executed correctly, could be Hollywood's next great children's movie. The game takes place in a suburb on Halloween, as a pair of combative siblings take to the streets to trick or treat. One of the siblings is quickly kidnapped by a candy-craving monster, who mistakes a Candy Corn costume for the real deal — leaving the other sibling with no choice but to rally the other neighborhood kids and defeat the monster and his friends once and for all.
The central gimmick of Costume Quest is that wearing a costume gives you that costume's powers. If you dress up as a robot, you can glide around on wheels; if you dress up as the Statue of Liberty, you can use a torch to light your way. It's pure childhood wish fulfillment, and the perfect material for a fun, irreverent children's movie — think something like Coraline or Paranorman, and you'll get the idea.
3. Device 6
Simogo's Device 6 follows Anna, a young woman who wakes up alone in a strange, isolated castle on an island, with no memory about how she got there. She wanders from one bizarre room to the next, encountering a series of cryptic and creepy puzzles as she attempts to escape. It's not the most innovative setup for a game, but the impressive presentation — which, admittedly, owes a heavy debt to trippy conspiracy thrillers like The Prisoner and more recent mind-benders like Lost — stands out among similar titles.
It would be difficult to replicate the game's core concept on film, because it relies so heavily on the unique opportunities afforded by the iPhone's technology, but an adaptation that follows the spirit of Device 6's twisted narrative would be just as effective. Cast someone like Elizabeth Olsen — who has already proven that she can carry a movie where she's the only person on screen for most of the time — and ramp up the paranoiac tension accordingly.
Hollywood's definition of big-budget fantasy tends to begin and end with Lord of the Rings, but Supergiant's gorgeous Bastion offers its own compelling fantasy world ripe for the big screen. In the game, players take the role of The Kid, an unnamed protagonist who ventures out onto a series of floating continents in order to recover relics and interact with a few straggling survivors.
Using an omnipresent narrator, Bastion spins a darkly fantastical storybook yarn about a world that's been obliterated by war. In a fascinating design choice that would translate perfectly to the big screen, the narrator's words are immediately reflected in the surrounding environment, which leads to the feeling that the world is literally being created around you with every step you take. Imagine what Terry Gilliam could do with that kind of material.
5. The Cave
Double Fine's The Cave is one of the most ghoulishly offbeat games in recent memory. At the outset of the game, the player is invited to choose three characters from a cast of seven distinctive archetypes, with options ranging from a medieval knight to a time traveler to a pair of twins ripped straight from a horror movie.
As it turns out, there's a reason that this oddball cast of characters has been assembled together: They've each been drawn to the surprisingly chatty Cave, which forces its visitors to confront the dark secrets of their past as they go deeper and deeper. As they relive some of the choices they once made, it becomes clear that The Cave offers opportunities for both redemption and damnation.
Any one of the stories presented could make a fine film, but The Cave might work even better as a Twilight Zone-esque anthology series, with a different character digging deep into his or her own past every week, and confronting something they have done their best to forget.
6. Layton Brothers: Mystery Room
It's been a while since a truly great mystery hit theaters, but any screenwriters looking for inspiration would do well to check out Level-5's jazzy Layton Brothers: Mystery Room. The game features no less than nine cases to solve, from a man who was stabbed in a knife-less apartment to a series of gangsters found dead in a locked room.
Layton Brothers: Mystery Room puts players in the role of young investigator Lucy Baker, who teams up with an eccentric genius named Alfendi Layton to solve a series of cold cases abandoned by the London police department. For the most part, Layton is a calm, reliable mentor, but he occasionally snaps — and it eventually becomes clear that his odd behavior is tied up in a much greater mystery.
Layton Brothers: Mystery Room has a strikingly fresh tone: While the murders you solve are taken quite seriously, there's a wacky, almost cartoonish tinge to the interactions between the game's many characters. (The recent example that comes closest to this dynamic is the BBC's Sherlock.) With the right two actors in the lead roles, Layton Brothers: Mystery Room could offer audiences a mystery that's as charming as it is macabre.