Ever since video games started claiming the most profitable form of entertainment, Hollywood has tried to use them to its own advantage. Not that it’s particularly elaborate, of course. The curse of video game adaptations is legend, and with examples spanning decades (street fighter at Assassin’s Creed, house of death at Unexplored) it’s a miracle that studios are still willing to try. However, it looks like Hollywood may be slowly coming to grips with this curse, with the list of proposed video game movies that were ultimately undone appearing even longer than those that were completed.
One of the most notable examples is Halo, an adaptation of the sci-fi franchise that has become synonymous with Microsoft thanks to its close association with their line of Xbox consoles. While it’s impossible to speak of the quality of an unreleased film, the project attached such a plethora of top talent that it made its eventual cancellation a heartbreaking outcome, regardless. These names included Neill Blomkamp, Alex Garland, DB Weissand especially) peter jackson, who was to produce the film with his company WingNut Films. Whether Halo would have been the movie to finally end the curse is something we’ll never know, but the snippets of information we have paint an optimistic view that gives rise to some intriguing (if tragic) speculation.
But first, a little history lesson. Halo first appeared in 2001 with Halo: Advanced Combat, a game that would lay the groundwork for the next generation of games. It followed the exploits of Master Chief, a super soldier raised from birth for combat, who helps defend humanity against a collective of alien races called the Covenant who are waging a twenty-year war against the human race. This conflict leads him to cross paths with the titular Halo Array, a colossal ring-shaped superweapon capable of destroying all sentient life in the galaxy. The games were originally developed by Bungie before the baton was passed to 343 Industries in 2011, and their huge success (coupled with various related materials such as novels and comics) led to it becoming one of the most profitable franchises in the entertainment industry. When combined with its blockbuster sensibilities and expansive universe, it’s no surprise that rumors of a live-action movie have started to emerge.
The project was announced in 2005, just a year after the release of Halo 2a game that had broken sales records to become best-selling game on first-generation Xbox. Obviously, Microsoft had hoped that success in one medium would translate into another, and hired Alex Garland to write the script. Garland, who had achieved great success with her novel The beach and its scenario 28 days later (both of which had received feature film adaptations from Danny Boyle), seemed a natural fit for the high-concept world of Halo thanks to his background in science fiction, and his involvement sparked speculation that the zombie-like creatures the Flood (a recurring antagonist across the games) would make an appearance.
Microsoft’s decision to create its own script rather than simply license the franchise to a studio and let it develop the story was unusual and would prove to both help and hinder the project. Apparently, the plot of the script remained close to what had been depicted in the gamesand while Microsoft’s desire to avoid the failures of previous video game adaptations is admirable, its determination to control creation despite never producing a movie before is something few studios would accept. In the end, only two studios found these terms acceptable.20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures, but a finished product was still a long way off.
After the studios agreed to produce the film, work began to assemble a team. Shortly after, Peter Jackson’s involvement was revealed, an announcement that sent the gaming world into a rapturous frenzy. Don’t forget that was in 2005 and the success of his The Lord of the Rings trilogy was still fresh in everyone’s mind. His remake of King Kong was only a few weeks away, and with rumors of a The Hobbit adaptation on the horizon, Microsoft’s ability to attract one of Hollywood’s biggest names was something that would get even a non-Halo interested fan. Jackson’s involvement also brought on board Francois Walshhis longtime production partner, as well as Wētā Workshop, the special effects company that had been highly regarded for its work on The Lord of the Rings. The work did not take long to start. Paul Bertonlead designer on Halo 2, recalled a meeting with Jackson this involved taking a ride in a fully functional life-size Warthog (the games’ signature vehicle) that Wētā had built. All indications indicated that the Halo the movie was just a stone’s throw away.
The director’s choice raised a few eyebrows, however. Originally, Guillermo del Toro was in talks for the role, a move that would have piqued anyone’s interest thanks to his recent success with Pan’s Labyrinthbut, unfortunately, it failed. Shortly after, Neill Blomkamp was announced as his successor, a then-unknown filmmaker with only a few commercials and shorts to his name. While Blomkamp would later become a big name in science fiction thanks to his work on District 9 and Elysium, at the time, the choice to entrust the realization to someone so inexperienced raised concerns. However, Jackson’s guiding hand helped ease those worries, and soon after, the future game of thrones Showrunner DB Weiss was hired to rewrite the script.
Although a completed script and pre-production had already begun, the project began to stall in October 2006. Universal and Fox weren’t happy with the big chunk of profits Jackson and Microsoft would takeand the proposed budget of $128 million was a steep price for a property that was still largely unknown outside of the gaming world. Ultimately, both studios backed out, and while discussions have taken place with MGM and Warner Bros. on the relaunch of the project, the film found itself placed under the dreaded title of “indefinite hold,” a fancy way of saying it’s not happening. While the addition of Josh Olson to the writing team seemed like Microsoft’s attempt to salvage the project (Olsen having been nominated for an Academy Award for A history of violence a few months before), it ultimately made no difference. Blomkamp declared the film “dead” in October 2007.
Even without reaching the big screen, Halo yet managed to leave its mark on the industry. Jackson and Blomkamp will meet soon after to make District 9, a widely acclaimed film that earned them Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, respectively. Jackson’s mastery of special effects and economic storytelling, combined with Blomkamp’s independent sensibilities that fused whimsical sci-fi concepts with a cinema verité style, made it one of the best films of the 2000s, a result which makes the cancellation of Halo all the more painful. Interesting way, District 9 has reused many accessories originally intended for Haloan amusing nod to its origins which ensures HaloThe two years of development were not for nothing.
Despite the feature film’s failure, Microsoft was still keen to expand Halo beyond its video game roots. In 2013, a television series was announced with Steven Spielberg attached as an executive producer, but that project also languished in development hell before finally hitting Paramount+ in March 2022. It took nearly two decades to Halo to finally make the jump to live action, and while the mixed reaction to the series proved disappointing for those who waited so long to see their dream come true, there was undoubtedly some joy to be had to see Master Chief and his band of elite Spartans in all their macho glory on the small screen.
The show’s renewal for a second season, along with the vastly different state of the film industry compared to twenty years ago, means a revival of the Halo movie is highly unlikely. Even if it did, it looks like another director would be needed, with Blomkamp seemingly reluctant to return. With Jackson also showing no signs of wanting to resurrect the movie, it seems fans will have to make do with the snippets of concept art that have leaked onto the internet, hints at a grand project that would no doubt have left its mark. Although Blomkamp’s recent directorial output pales in comparison to his early work, there’s no denying his partnership with Jackson on District 9 brought out the best of his talents to marvelous effect. Its militaristic approach to the sci-fi genre is exactly the tone that Halo necessary, and given Jackson’s track record for making blockbuster films that delight critics and audiences alike, its unfortunate cancellation will go down as the saddest example of a video game that failed to reach the big screen.