Why has Hollywood gone toy crazy?
Hollywood's new assault has begun. It's the march of all your childhood playthings, from Battleships to Lego, Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Space Invaders, says Daniel Bettridge
Saturday 28 April 2012
Battleship launched a broadside at the UK box office last week, cruising to an impressive £3.8m haul over the course of its opening weekend . The movie has yet to open in the US but the early signs suggest that it looks like being another success story for toy manufacturers Hasbro, who are also behind the big screen treatments of Transformers and G.I. Joe.
As the movie's marketing so proudly proclaims, Battleship is based on the classic children's board game of the same name. Of course, no one wants to watch a two-hour game of chance in which Liam Neeson and Rihanna call out alphanumeric grid references in a bid to sink each other's aircraft carriers. So director Peter Berg has, with the help of a reported $200m (£120m) budget, transformed Battleship into an action-laden sci-fi epic in which an international fleet must face off against an alien race.
It is, of course, a far cry from the game that generations of children have played on scraps of paper and with pre-made sets. So why have Hollywood bigwigs been so keen to tie the blockbuster to its board-based predecessor? The answer lies in the next big movie trend that will see Hollywood turn to our toyboxes in search of franchises.
Battleship is just the opening salvo in an upcoming barrage of films based on some of our favourite childhood toys. Others include big-screen treatments for adolescent amusements ranging from Candy Land to Cluedo; there's even a Monopoly movie in the works, with Ridley Scott, of all people, slated to bring the family favourite to the silver screen. And that's just board games.
There are also a host of projects based on retro computer games – including live-action realisations of space-based favourites Asteroids and Space Invaders. And lets not forget toys themselves. Films based on Lego and the pliable plaything Stretch Armstrong are set for our screens in 2014; as well as an all new instalment to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise from Michael Bay.
Bay, of course, has previous when it comes to commercialising childhood nostalgia. It was the astronomical success of his big-screen Transformers trilogy that kick-started Tinseltown's current toy story. To date, the Transformers franchise has grossed more than $2.6bn worldwide, with the latest instalment, 2011's Transformers: Dark of the Moon, accounting for almost half of that; making it the fourth-highest-grossing movie of all time.
The success of the series clearly wasn't a one-off; nor was it an isolated incident. In 2009 another childhood favourite was transferred to film, as an all-action movie based on the popular G.I. Joe action figures launched its assault on the box office. Despite a lukewarm reception, G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra went on to gross more than $300m and its success has paved the way for a sequel, G.I Joe: Retaliation, which will no doubt do the business when it lands in cinemas this summer.
Despite their popularity among adults, comic books are a predominantly pubescent pastime; and while they were first adapted for screens back in the 1940s, the genre has only really exploded onto our screens in the last few decades as a slew of Spandex-clad characters have taken up residence in the multiplex. The same is true for movies based on popular video-games, a trend which, despite setting off on unsteady footing after Bob Hoskins and Co bombed in the 1993 adaptation of Nintendo's Super Mario Bros., has proved enduringly popular at the box office.
Hollywood's heavyweights have traditionally been drawn to comic books and video games because they offer a mixture of compelling characters and richly textured back-stories; the fact that they cash in on our childhood memories is just an added bonus. In stark contrast the recent rash of projects plucked from our childhood playthings have neither of these things. Instead, Hollywood execs are investing staggering amounts of money in exchange for what is essentially a well-known brand name. The appeal of toybox movies is that they come complete with a pre-made audience which is interested in seeing its childhood playthings brought to life on the silver screen. It's what advertising types call "unaided awareness", and the fact that these blockbuster brands are instantly recognisable to audiences means that studios don't have to risk millions of pounds selling a fresh concept.
It's a role that used to be played by Hollywood's A-listers: the Cruises, Clooneys and Pitts of this world; who by merely being attached to a movie, could help to hook in a particular proportion of the audience. But A-listers are expensive, and their power has waned in recent years. By contrast, brand movies are significantly cheaper to fund, and also have a direct line to our childhood memories.
FIVE UPCOMING FILMS FROM YOUR TOYBOX
Despite being cut loose by Universal, Ridley Scott's Monopoly movie has still passed Go and the property is currently being built by scriptwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who have already penned 'Ed Wood' and 'The People vs Larry Flynt'.
Warner Bros. is bankrolling a live action/ animation hybrid based on the colourful Danish bricks. Currently slated for release in 2014, the film is being written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, whose previous projects include "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" and "21 Jump Street".
Another project recently dropped by Universal, this film, based on the popular pliable plaything originally released in 1976, has found a new home with Relativity Media and is set for cinemas in April 2014.
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