Grand Theft Auto’s Creators Don’t Want a Movie Adaptation and That's Fine, Actually

It’s a successful franchise, but no one is asking for this.

Trevor is the wildest GTA protagonist ever.
Rockstar Games

Grand Theft Auto has never made its way to the silver screen. But that wasn’t from a lack of trying, according to a recent interview with one of the co-founders of Rockstar Games. Instead, it was the game studio’s leadership that didn’t see the need for it, a remarkable feat of restraint in the era of blockbuster franchises and adaptations.

Speaking to The Ankler, Dan Houser, the former head of Rockstar Games who since founded multimedia company Absurd Ventures, said that movie executives constantly propositioned the studio on the adaptations of Grand Theft Auto and some of their other hit games. Houser said these unnamed executives would try and dangle the prestige of being able to make a movie. But Rockstar wasn’t sold on handing over those rights.

“We’d be like ‘no, what you've described is you making a movie and us having no control and taking a huge risk that we're going to end up paying for with something that belongs to us’,” Houser explained. “They thought we'd be blinded by the lights, and that just wasn't the case.”

Rockstar Games’ co-founder Dan Houser (left) spoke candidly about why Grand Theft Auto never made its way to the big screen.

Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

“We had what we considered to be multi-billion-dollar IP, and the economics never made sense. The risk never made sense. In those days, the perception was that games made poor-quality movies,” he said. “It's a different time now.”

Houser was right to turn down the movie offer. There are few gaming franchises as valuable as Grand Theft Auto, and a movie adaptation, regardless of quality would have likely swept the box office. But people’s reactions to bad adaptations have been fairly pronounced. In the years that the series grew in popularity, video game duds like DOOM, Max Payne, and Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil films left a bad taste in the mouths of moviegoers. I have a tough time thinking Rockstar’s top titles would’ve fared any differently.

Worryingly though, Houser cryptically left the door open, telling The Ankler, “It's a different time now.”

He is completely right. Recent video game adaptations have seen a considerable leap in quality. But with Grand Theft Auto, I struggle to see the purpose. What would a Grand Theft Auto movie even be?

The excellent Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, borrowed heavily from classic films like South Central and Boyz N The Hood.

Rockstar Games

The standouts among the recent adaptations have all had a specific thing to offer to the medium of film. Fallout’s unique blend of dark humor, deep lore, and interesting tone and setting is unlike anything else on television or in theaters.

The Last Of Us arguably works better as a TV series than as a standalone film. The ability to spend more time with well-written characters, deepening viewers' relationship with them is great for those who don’t want to engage with Naughty Dog’s fantastic stealth and combat mechanics.

Even 2023’s Super Mario Bros Movie and the Sonic trilogy have the broad, family-friendly appeal that makes them smash hits with young kids and nostalgic parents not up on the latest in video games.

Grand Theft Auto, on the other hand, doesn’t have qualities unique enough for the big screen. In the early 2000s, Grand Theft Auto was held up for being an irreverent takedown of modern society and Americana of the past. But by the time, Grand Theft Auto V rolled around, this juvenile style of lampooning became grating as the series failed to get with the times.

Unlike Grand Theft Auto, Fallout brings something totally unique to television and movies as a franchise.

Prime Video

There is no shortage of movies and TV shows doing the Grand Theft Auto shtick, and doing it way better than the blockbuster game series ever had. The Boys is a much smarter, more edgy parody of today’s political landscape than GTA ever was. Boots Riley has repeatedly taken subversive, surrealist big swings dissecting race and class in films like Sorry To Bother You. For those looking for an insightful good time poking fun at the military-industrial complex to the police state, director Paul Verhoeven’s got you covered a few times over.

Once you strip away Grand Theft Auto’s signature satirization of American culture, what you’re left with is a well-made, playable send-up of Hollywood’s greatest touchstones. From Goodfellas to Scarface and Boyz N The Hood to The French Connection, Grand Theft Auto has always worn its greatest inspiration in film on its sleeve.

If Grand Theft Auto’s surface-level satire barely works as a video game and its identity so strongly relies on other movies, then what could a Grand Theft Auto film be, other than a bad imitation of much better, much smarter gangster movies of the past?

Here’s to hoping Grand Theft Auto VI will be the maturation the series desperately needs.

Rockstar Games

That’s not to say Rockstar isn’t capable of crafting great narratives. Both Red Dead Redemption games are beautifully written magnum opus. I’d recommend both games to anyone with an appreciation of good cinematic storytelling. I’m also hopeful that Grand Theft Auto VI will be the maturation the series so desperately needs.

But as it stands today, Rockstar’s biggest franchise has little to offer the medium of film. And until it does, it’s better off sticking to what it does best.

Related Tags