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Why Bioshock’s Movie Took So Long

Why Bioshock's Movie Took So Long
Written by Publishing team

The Bioshock movie has a long history that saw it shelved for years due to budget concerns. However, it eventually ended up with Netflix: here’s how.

BioShock was a beloved video game that was slated for a big-screen adaptation several times, before ending up in development hell: here was how it finally found a home with Netflix. The series was considered ripe for adaptation due to its compelling plot, unique setting, and interesting characters. However, despite numerous attempts to get it off the ground, the citizens of Rapture simply couldn’t find a home with the traditional Hollywood film studios. It was only in 2022 that it was announced that a film based on the first game would finally be released, helmed by powerhouse streaming service Netflix.

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BioShock was a first-person shooter on the Xbox 360 and PS3. The game was marveled at and received exceptional ratings from critics across the board for its fantastic story and beautifully dark world. The game took place in the undersea city of Rapture, a proposed utopia based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand. However, due to the immense leaps in scientific technology, the citizens started injecting themselves with “Plasmids“: superpowers in the form of a liquid drug known as “ADAM“. By the time the player character, Jack Wynand, arrived, the city had already torn itself apart after a bloody civil war, with its once intelligent residents reduced to drug-addled monsters known as “Splicers“. The game was followed by two sequels: a direct follow-up known as BioShock 2, and an ambitious third game that took place in a different universe in a city floating in the sky known as Columbia. This was called BioShock Infinite and though it seemed to be its own story, its main characters eventually crossed over into Rapture in its downloadable additional adventure, Office at Sea.


Related: BioShock’s Movie Has To Break The Game’s Jack Rule (But That’s A Good Thing)

It was clear to everyone involved at 2K Studios (the developer behind the game) that their story would be perfect for a film adaptation. As such, many attempts were made to get the project up and running, though they all ultimately fell through due to two major reasons: budget and content. Eventually, the film was finally confirmed to be canceled, though leaked art, storyboards, and even a script eventually made their way into the public domain. It was only after Netflix acquired the rights this year that a BioShock movie finally turned from a farfetched fantasy into a dream come true for those who loved the first game when it was released more than a decade ago.


Why BioShock Is So Perfect For A Movie Adaptation


BioShock's Movie Has To Break The Game's Jack Rule (But That's A Good Thing)

BioShock‘s story was one of the most unique and compelling video game narratives ever made, and it is still lauded as one of the best games ever made on many ranking lists. The game was horror-focused, with the world of Rapture acting as a terrifying playground to explore as the player struggled to stay alive while fighting Splicers. They also had to take on “Big Daddies“and”Little Sisters“, two more genetically altered groups that became synonymous with the franchise, and almost acted as its mascots. All of this impressive iconography made the world of BioShock a fantastic setting for a film, as there simply wasn’t a horror project out there that was anything like it. Splicers, Big Daddies, and especially the characterful city of Rapture itself were begging for a big-screen adaptation, as despite the game’s impressive graphics, there was only so much the team could do to bring the world to life back in 2007.


However, it was the game’s plot that really caught the eye of major movie studios. The intricate history of Rapture was one of the most interesting parts of the game, as the player learned about how it started off as a utopia before civil war broke out between the founder of the city, Andrew Ryan, and the player’s guide, Atlas. Yet, it was the twist ending that revealed that the player was actually an aged-up test tube baby who had been brainwashed into working as a sleeper agent that firmly cemented it as an exceptional piece of storytelling. This twist genuinely caught players off guard, and it was exactly the kind of carefully woven narrative moment that would be ideal for a tense, gritty horror movie. Having a basis in real-life philosophy and compelling characters like Andrew Ryan and Sander Cohen was an additional bonus.


How Gore Verbinski Nearly Made a BioShock Movie Decades Ago


Gore verbinski The pirates of the caribbean dead men tell no tales

Director of the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy Gore Verbinski was tied to the project from its earliest days, as 2K seemed to regard him as a worthy director to bring Rapture to life thanks to his work on the horror remake The Ring. The first confirmation of the project’s existence came in May 2008, with Take-Two Interactive (2K’s parent company) announcing that a deal had been reached with Universal Studios to create a movie based on BioShock, and Verbinski would direct. Veteran screenwriter John Logan (Star Trek: NemesisGladiator) was also pegged to write the screenplay and the film was expected to release in 2010. However, from there, the movie was quickly put on hold by the studio due to budgetary concerns. It then wasn’t long before Verbinski dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, though he was allegedly in talks to produce and be replaced by director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo.

Related: Why Horror Video Games Make The Best Movie Adaptations

After this initial buzz, news about the BioShock movie became more and more scarce. However, 2K Creative Director and BioShock creator Ken Levine shed light on the film’s issues. He said (via Eurogamer):”gore [Verbinski] wanted to make a hard R film […] Then Watchmen came out, and it didn’t do well. The studio then got cold feet about making an R-rated $200 million film, and they said what if it was an $80 million film – and Gore didn’t want to make [that]“. Gore Verbinski himself revealed more about the situation, claiming that the film was only 8 weeks away from shooting when it was canceled. In this interview (via IGN), he confirmed the studio didn’t want to fund such a violent project with the necessary budget to bring Rapture to life. It was thus a monetary decision that sealed BioShock‘s fate. Shooting on location would be impossible due to the unique setting of the game, so extensive green screen sets would have been essential. When combined with the cost of the special effects needed to bring Plasmids and Big Daddies to life and the need for a star to helm the production, it was clear why Verbinski turned down the offer to make the film for $80 million.


The BioShock Movie and Netflix Today


Bioshock 4 Leak Reveals Title

2022 marked a significant turning point in the history of the Bioshock movie, as Take-Two and Netflix revealed that they had reached an agreement to make the movie a reality, though the film’s exact budget was still unclear. After the film fell through, the rights presumably sat with Take-Two which eventually decided to partner with Netflix. Additionally, a user (via Twitter) going through the copyright agreement of the partnership also noticed that Netflix optioned the rights not only to BioShock but also BioShock 2 and BioShock Infinitemeaning characters like Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth from the Infinity universe could also turn up should Netflix want to use them. The journey of bringing BioShock to the film world was marred by fears about the viability of an R-rated movie with a major budget. However, movies like Joker and Dead Pool proved that in the right hands, these kinds of films could still be major successes. Whether BioShock ends up being a success remains to be seen, but the future is finally looking bright for this beloved game’s adaptation to the silver screen for the first time in a decade.


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