Adapting a masterpiece: The Last of Us

Cropped frame from the trailer of HBO's adaptation of The Last of Us

Following typical consumerist fashion, per HBO Max, the live-action remake of Neil Druckmann’s The Last of Us has been scheduled for release on Jan. 15, 2022.  

The Last of Us, a critically acclaimed release for the PlayStation 3 and subsequently remastered for the PS4 and PS5, is a linear story-based game following the protagonist, Joel, on his mission to deliver 14-year-old Ellie across the post-apocalyptic United States. Released the early 2010s, a decade plagued with zombie-themed shooters, it’s no miracle that The Last of Us stood above its contemporaries. Upon its release, the PlayStation exclusive was met with a perfect score from IGN and is currently ranked the fourth-best PlayStation game on Metacritic.  

The Last of Us, a dark third-person shooter whose tense and harrowing story remains captivating nine years later, finally faces the challenge of adapting to a new medium. The live-action series, starring Pedro Pascal (Narcos) and Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones) as Joel and Ellie, is to be co-directed by Druckmann and Craig Mazin, creator of the acclaimed Chernobyl (2019). The two are tasked with adapting a videogame in a market where few videogame adaptations find success.  

Naughty Dog, the studio behind The Last of Us, saw their most popular IP, Uncharted, adapted into a film earlier this year. The film, staring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg, currently boasts a 2.8/5 on Letterboxd, yet it grossed over $400 million at the box office on a $120 million budget. Similarly, the 2016 adaptation of The World of Warcraft franchise, respectively titled Warcraft, boasts a 2.6/5, received negative reviews from practically every critic, and grossed $439 million making it the highest-grossing video game adaptation. Directed by Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie and director of the respected 2008 release Moon, Warcraft beats out 2022’s other video game adaptation, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (3.3/5) by a mere $35 million.  

Although there seems to be an inverse relationship between critical and monetary reception of film adaptations of videogames, box-office success hasn’t stopped the adaptations from flooding into the market. The Last of Us, praised for its emotional, suspenseful and fast-paced story, faces the challenge of becoming a great adaptation in a market of  lackluster attempts. Barrie Gower, a prosthetics designer for The Last of Us series, shared his optimistic hopes for the series in an interview with Variety: “It’s very true and authentic to the game. I’m hoping the fans will be over the moon with it.” 

Cover photo credit: HBO.

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