July 11, 2008 — -- Coming soon to a theater near you … Monopoly!
Now that board game company Hasbro has formed a partnership with Hollywood's Universal Studios, movie audiences could well see the big-screen version of their favorite board games, such as Monopoly, Candy Land and Ouija.
Following films based on amusement park rides ("Pirates of the Caribbean"), toys ("Transformers") and children's cartoons ("The Flintstones"), a movie centered on a board game should come as no surprise.
Yet, the announcement of the Hasbro deal has some industry watchers wondering if Hollywood is raiding pop culture for the next big hit because it has run out of good ideas.
"People ask that question every five years," said Borys Kit, a senior film columnist for The Hollywood Reporter. "When you see 'The Dark Knight,' one of the best movies in years, and it's based on a comic book created in the 1930s, you realize in the end, it doesn't matter where the initial source material or inspiration comes from if you make a good movie."
But UCLA screenwriting professor Richard Walter believes it does matter.
"The most depressing thing about Hollywood is the lack of originality," he told ABCNEWS.com. "Everything is sequel, prequel, from one medium to another. Now they're going to do board games? I just despair that they're going to do a film on Candy Land. It represents the suffocation of imagination, the death of creativity."
Paul Dergarabedian, a Los Angeles-based box office analyst, remembers similar comments before the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" film was released.
"People were saying, 'Wow, a movie based on a theme park ride? How good can that be?'" he said.
Good enough to gross $305.4 million in the United States alone, and its two sequels did even better.
"Even a board game can spring a really good movie, if it's in the right hands and has great writing, acting and directing," Dergarabedian said.
Hasbro must be counting on that, since the last film to be based on a board game, 1985's "Clue," earned just $14.6 million at the box office – a flop by all accounts. The game was owned by Parker Brothers at the time.
"You can't really compare," Hasbro senior vice president Wayne Charness told ABCNews.com about the last board-game-to-big screen film. "It's apples and oranges."
Instead Charness points to "Transformers," Hasbro's first big-screen partnership based on the 1980s toy and cartoon. Released last summer, the film made $319.3 million, making it the third-highest-grossing film last year.
"'Transformers' showed the world what a great Hasbro product done in the right way can do," he said. "It's all in the execution. The executives at Hasbro and Universal are very serious about getting it right."
That is why the Rhode Island-based toy company is building an office on the lot of Universal Studios in Los Angeles and has hired veteran producer Bennett Schnier ("Forrest Gump") to helm the new venture. Its first films with Universal are slated for 2010 and 2011, while "Transformers 2" is scheduled for summer 2009.
If its projects do well, Hasbro, which has owned Clue since it acquired Parker Brothers in 1991, might even consider a remake of the film, according to the Journal.
Kit said the idea of Hollywood mining pop culture for ideas is nothing new.
"Why does Hollywood make comic book movies, movies about novels and [about] video games?" he asked. "It's always looking to tap into the next big thing. Historically, it's always done that. Back in the 20s, Hollywood looked to radio shows, like 'Zorro' and 'Flash Gordon,' pulp novels, Shakespeare. It has always looked to other mediums for creative inspiration."
Today's executives, many of whom were children in the 1980s, are mining their childhoods for inspiration — hence, the recently announced "Smurfs" movie and the forthcoming "G.I. Joe" movie, Kit said.
He believes a new "Clue" movie would fare far better than its predecessor.
"We're a much more pop culture-obsessed world, where brands have more power," he said. "Brands are more pervasive in today's world."
And today, when studios are spending nine figures — anywhere from $100 million to $150 million — on a blockbuster, they want to hedge their bets as much as possible.
"Having brand recognition is one way to guard their nine-figure investment," Kit said.
Dergarabedian explained that, "from a branding perspective, there's a built-in awareness and fan base. Hence, the appeal of turning these things into a movie."
Walter argued that it is such a safe approach, that it has removed the originality from many films.
"I know audiences want to get what they expected," he said. "But I don't want what I expected. I want to be challenged and provoked and, ideally, changed completely by a film."
Walter explained that the "blockbuster mentality" also makes studios take fewer risks.
"Everything must break the bank in one weekend," Walter said. "It used to be you would open in one theater and after the movie caught on, it would go wide to more cities. Now, you open wide and if it doesn't catch on Friday night, it's done."
So, how far will Hollywood go to get a blockbuster?
"Pretty much anything out there that's popular could conceivably be made into a movie," Dergarabedian said. "We haven't seen a film based on cereal yet."