Sony (NYSE:SNE) recently announced that it would turn two of its biggest video game franchises -- Uncharted and The Last of Us -- into movies.
Sony Pictures intends to release the first Uncharted film in June 2015. Seth Gordon, the director of Horrible Bosses and Identity Thief, is in talks to direct, while David Guggenheim, the screenwriter of Safe House, has written the latest script. It's unclear who will play Nathan Drake, the roguish protagonist of the series, but Nathan Fillion is a popular choice among fans.
The Last of Us will be written by Neil Druckman, who also wrote the game, and produced by Spider-Man director Sam Raimi. Sony's Screen Gems hasn't set a release date for the film yet. Hugh Jackman and Maisie Williams, the latter last seen as Arya Stark from Game of Thrones, are rumored to be Raimi's top choices to play Joel and Ellie.
What Uncharted and The Last of Us mean to Sony
If Uncharted and The Last of Us are box office hits, Sony could have a cross-media goldmine on its hands. The two films could also finally change the public perception of video game film adaptations, which are generally known as mindless shoot 'em ups like Sony's Resident Evil series.
Naughty Dog's Uncharted has been one of Sony's flagship series since the early days of the PlayStation 3. Between 2007 and 2011, the three main Uncharted games sold 17.5 million copies. Since Nathan Drake is essentially a combination of Han Solo and Indiana Jones, the game could translate easily into a crowd-pleasing adventure film for the summer.
The Last of Us, also from Naughty Dog, is one of Sony's biggest new IPs. The game sold 4.7 million copies on the PS3 and was recently remastered for the PS4. A film version would likely be a quieter, "thinking man's" zombie film, more similar to I Am Legend and The Walking Dead than Resident Evil.
Uniting the video game and film businesses
With Uncharted and The Last of Us, Sony could tie two of its strongest-performing business divisions together.
Last quarter, revenue at Sony's game and network services division rose 95.6% year over year to $2.55 billion, thanks to strong sales of PS4 hardware and an increase in PlayStation Network revenue. The segment also posted operating income of $43 million, compared to an operating loss a year earlier.
Revenue at Sony Pictures climbed 22.6% to $1.93 billion, while operating income rose 109.3% to $78 million. The company attributed that strong growth to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and 22 Jump Street, which respectively grossed $708 million and $304 million worldwide.
If Sony releases the Uncharted film on schedule in summer 2015, it could be a great promotion for the fourth game, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, which is scheduled to arrive in the fourth quarter of 2015. That could give the game a much-needed boost against heavy-hitting competitors including Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Halo 5: Guardians and Square Enix's Rise of the Tomb Raider, an Xbox One exclusive that is widely seen as Microsoft's answer to Uncharted.
A sequel for The Last of Us is still unconfirmed, but a film could generate enough new interest in the remastered PS4 version to encourage Naughty Dog to accelerate the development of a second game. Once the films leave theaters, Sony could also grant PS4 owners early access to the movie through the PlayStation store.
Why Sony could change the business of video game adaptations
In the past, video game films were surprisingly profitable. New Line's Mortal Kombat (1995), for example, grossed $122 million worldwide on a tiny budget of $18 milion. Sony's Resident Evil (2002) grossed $102 million on a budget of $33 million.
Yet most video game movies have been poorly received. The five Resident Evil films have an average score of 26% at Rotten Tomatoes. The best-received video game film was Sony/Columbia's animated feature Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, with a score of 44%, but it bombed at the box office, only grossing $85 million on a budget of $137 million.
The big flaw with most of these previous efforts was that the game publisher and film studio remained separate. Capcom made the Resident Evil games, but Sony's Screen Gems made the movies. Ubisoft published the Prince of Persia games, yet Disney handled the movie. Ubisoft's upcoming Assassin's Creed film will be handled by Fox.
Since Sony will oversee both Uncharted and The Last of Us in game and film forms, we could see more cohesion between the two, similar to the way in which Disney's Marvel Studios finally did justice to the comic book characters on the big screen.
A Foolish final word
Uncharted and The Last of Us could open the door to better video game movies, which have proved elusive for over two decades.
Sony is also reportedly working on a Gran Turismo film, which means that other first-party titles like Beyond: Two Souls and LittleBigPlanet could eventually be turned into films as well. That's certainly something that Microsoft -- which prematurely abandoned its Xbox Originals plans -- can only dream of doing.