Retrospective

10 years ago, Rihanna made a terrible sci-fi movie — and launched an even worse Hollywood trend

A decade ago today, movie studios flung open the doors for toy manufacturers eager to branch out.

Battleship is a bad movie. There’s really no way to beat around the bush — or the grid — about a summer blockbuster so lousy that not even Rihanna could keep it from sinking. The 2012 board game adaptation had an abundance of compelling actors and impressive alien vessels, but none of that was enough to keep its anemic dialogue and lousy story afloat.

Directed by Peter Berg and starring Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Rihanna, and Liam Neeson, Battleship debuted on May 18, 2012... to box office indifference. Watching it a decade after its theatrical release does not amplify the viewing experience. However, the anniversary does reveal one thing: Battleship flung open the door for toy manufacturers eager to branch out in the entertainment landscape, quietly influencing Hollywood and serving as a blueprint for how not to adapt a board game.

From a plastic board to the big screen

Battleship has origins that can be traced back almost 100 years. Introduced in the 1930s, the game was played with a pad and pencil until Milton Bradley created a version in 1967 that used a plastic pegboard. In 1979 it was one of the first games to be reimagined for computers. Most people have tried to seek out their opponents’ plastic ships at least once in their lives.

The original game doesn’t have any aliens, but Battleship, the movie, asks a radical question: what if, for some reason, it did? As with most stories about alien contact, the results are calamitous. An extraterrestrial mothership isolates the Hawaiian Islands and inhibits all communications inside its shield, forcing the US Navy’s most attractive officers to destroy the alien threat without the aid of radar.

What follows is 131 minutes of empty bombast. There are lots of ooh-and-aah visual effects but not much character or plot development in between the explosions and alien attacks. It’s fun to look at, at least, but the most notable element of Battleship is that it didn’t make Hasbro, or other toy manufacturers, lose hope about making it in Hollywood.

How games influenced Hollywood

You hit my alien monstrosity. Universal Pictures

Hasbro’s first toy-to-theaters transformation, 2007’s Transformers, was a smash success, and subsequent Transformers movies (Revenge of the Fallen in 2009 and Dark of the Moon in 2011) performed well at the box office too. Hasbro’s simultaneous attempts at converting G.I. Joe for the big screen (The Rise of Cobra and Retaliation in 2009 and 2013), followed by Battleship, were less-than-stellar.

Instead of throwing in the towel, Hasbro focused its attention back on Transformers, releasing three more movies. While Transformers 2 through 5 couldn’t captivate audiences quite like the original, its sixth attempt — Bumblebee in 2018 — was a roaring hit, surpassing the original’s critical and audience reception and proving that maybe toys can make it in Hollywood. Battleship taught Hasbro and Hollywood what not to do, and eventually, the floodgates opened.

The seventh Transformers flick, Rise of the Beasts, is slated for release in 2023. Hasbro will also be taking a swing at Dungeons & Dragons, with an upcoming film scheduled for debut on March 3, 2023.

Taylor Kitsch doing his best to emote in Battleship. Universal Pictures

This trend goes beyond Hasbro. In the past decade, we’ve witnessed the on-screen triumph of LEGO, Sonic the Hedgehog and Pikachu crushing it in CGI, and The Witcher, Castlevania, Carmen Sandiego, The Cuphead Show!, and League of Legends: Arcane all becoming Netflix favorites.

Fans can look forward to even more titles based on toys, board games, and video games, like Greta Gerwig’s live-action Barbie, as well as other Mattel properties like Polly Pocket, Masters of the Universe, Magic 8-Ball, and UNO getting the silver screen treatment. Netflix is developing live-action series based on Assassins Creed and Far Cry, while HBO is producing a Last of Us series starring The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal and Hilda’s Bella Ramsey.

Hollywood shows no signs of slowing down its game-to-screen adaptations. So thank (or curse) Battleship, for not drowning the hopes of toy companies trying to make it big in Tinseltown. Sometimes you have to sink before you learn how to swim. Or sail.

Battleship sails away from Netflix on May 31.