Will 'Battleship' Keep Board Game Movies Bankable?

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Taylor Kitsch in Universal Pictures' "Battleship" - 2012

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Taylor Kitsch in Universal Pictures' "Battleship" - 2012

Though "Battleship" has big special effects, a big budget, and big expectations, the upcoming action flick is a rarity among major 2012 summer movies: a potential blockbuster that isn't a sequel, reboot, or continuation of an existing franchise. Despite scenes reminiscent of Michael Bay's "Transformers" property, producer/director Peter Berg has swapped the classic pegs and coordinates of the Battleship tabletop game with an original story about a U.S. Navy fleet battling aliens in the waters off Hawaii.

Will "Battleship" sail to success, or be sunk by heavy-hitting competitors like "The Avengers," "The Dark Knight Rises," and "The Amazing Spider-Man"? Time will tell come May 18. Till then, the future of movies based on board games remains overboard, searching for sea legs the subgenre hasn't found despite over 25 years of trying.


The effort to transfer board games to film began with "Clue" in 1985. Retaining the game's basic "plot," comedic MVPs like Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, and Madeline Kahn fleshed out the mystery game's colored pawns into wacky, criminally mischievous characters, including a philandering Professor Plum and a treasonous Colonel Mustard.

Despite a stellar cast and an innovative series of multiple endings later borrowed by movies like "Wayne's World," the "Murder by Death"-esque treatment of Clue underperformed, failing to make back its $15 million budget and receiving mixed reviews upon release. However, since then the movie has picked up a cult audience appreciative of its satire of the "whodunnit?" style of crime picture.

"Dungeons & Dragons"

As Gary Gygax aficionados will no doubt point out, Dungeons & Dragons is more than just a board game. However, unlike video games and LARP-ing, D&D is played on a flat, stationary surface, making discussion of 2000's "Dungeons & Dragons" movie mandatory.

Already hamstrung by the absence of the game's character selection, viewers spent "Dungeons & Dragons" in the company of two obnoxious thieves battling an evil mage (played by a scenery-chewing Jeremy Irons) hoping to control the kingdom. Irons is aided in his campaign by a bald man with powder blue lip gloss and tentacles embedded in his ears.

"Dungeons & Dragons" underperformed at the box office and was slaughtered by critics. No dissenters were more vocal, though, than fans of the game and the fictional world surrounding it. Given the toxic response to this fantasy flick, it's a miracle "The Lord of the Rings" debuted to such fanfare just one year later.


Counter-intuitively, "Jumanji" inspired a board game, not the other way around. The subsequent Milton Bradley tie-in included a deck of cards cryptically describing animal encounters and environmental hazards taken straight from scenes in the adventure flick.


Despite the seance-friendly parlor game's multiple appearances in movies, from "Paranormal Activity" to "Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders," Ouija has never been turned into a movie of its own.

Until now, that is. After numerous false starts and changes in studio partners, "Ouija" is in development at Universal, with a planned 2013 release date. Due to a reported budget of just $5 million and the involvement of new producer Jason Blum (a key figure behind the "Paranormal Activity" series), expect a low-key supernatural affair, perhaps shot found-footage style.

"Risk," "Candy Land"

Sony is shepherding not one but two board game adaptations to movie screens. Iconic strategy game Risk is getting a script by "The Wire" writer John Hlavin, so it might just be a gritty look at world warfare in the Napoleonic era.

"Candy Land," meanwhile, might just be the stuff of nightmares for movie fans already sick of game and toy adaptations. Adam Sandler is set to star in and co-write a movie based on the sugary fantasy board game.

If you're in the market for "Billy Madison" meets "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," your cinematic Candy Castle is on the horizon. Everyone else: Prepare for double entendres about Gramma Nutt, plus a horrifying reinvention of Gloppy the Molasses Monster.

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