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In case you've been taking a media vacation for the past week, you know the release of Grand Theft Auto V was a major cultural event. In its first day, GTA V made an astonishing $800 million, or, to put that into proper perspective, more than the domestic total gross of Avatar. After a few more days, it has gone on to do over one billion dollars worth of business. Reason.com’s Nick Gillespie argues, persuasively, that GTA V is a work of art, in fact the defining popular art form of the 21 st century. This leads us to the inevitable question: How will the phenomenal success of GTA V impact film? And will that impact be long lasting or just another flash-in-the-pan trend?
Whether or not one is a gamer, GTA V is a post-postmodern work of art. Can the same be said of White House Down?
This huge win for video games comes at a time of crisis for the summer movie tent pole business model. Hollywood – or, to be more precise, the summer blockbuster potential franchise – underperformed this summer. And so just as the studios are wrestling with whether or not to put $100 million into more risky ventures, along comes the wildly successful GTA V. How could that not influence the bottom line?
There are reasons why GTA V did so well, and tent poles like RIPD and The Lone Ranger did so badly. It might be easy for studio executives to dismiss the success of GTA V as simply the success of interactive gamification, but GTA V also, truth be told, out-Hollywood-ed Hollywood. Grand Theft Auto V took four years to develop and has a 1,000 page script; it is, whether or not one is a gamer, a post-postmodern work of art. Can the same be said of White House Down?
I suspect the director and the cinematographer will become more important in the big budget action films of the future.
GTA V’s biggest impact on the film industry will be felt in the sci-fi genre. Two thoughts: One, Hollywood, because of the estimated 16.5 million GTA units sold, will pay more attention to the “action” genre of film, but with far more lushly imagined landscapes. Two: Hollywood films, particularly action films, will now have to compete with the dense, strange, action-packed interactive virtual worlds of video games. Since the action genre came of age out of the bilateral tensions that existed between the United States and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, it has never had much competition. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone-types were the stars of the films. I suspect the director and the cinematographer will become more important in the big budget action films of the future.
The pendulum swings. If I were to guess how the competition between the ultra-violent action film genre and video games play out in the future, my guess would be that, at least in the beginning, wildly creative visionaries – think Chris Nolan in “Inception” -- will get more chances to create worlds. Directors, not testosteronal actors, will get above-the-title billing. If a studio can spend $150 million to produce White House Down, clearly they can take a gamble on the iconoclastic, perhaps apocalyptic vision of the next Chris Nolan as a hedge against the competition from GTA VI (which, incidentally, might be in the sci-fi genre).
My first thoughts on considering GTA V and film are about the choose your own adventure franchise that, reportedly, Fox, who promises "cross platform four quadrant franchises" is near to acquiring. This has all the elements of interactivity, action-adventure, open-ended stories and a massive built-in community. How Fox handles the Choose Your Own Adventure franchise, in light of the success of GTA V, will be very, very worth watching. I, for one, cannot wait to see what they do with "Your Code Name is Jonah.”