The Many Misadventures of the ‘Uncharted’ Movie

After years of setbacks, the anticipated video game adaptation is garnering some momentum. But will it make it to the finish line this time?
Sony Interactive Entertainment
By  · Published on March 6th, 2020

The long-gestating Uncharted movie appears to be moving forward finally. Variety recently reported that Oscar nominee Antonio Banderas has joined a star-studded cast that includes Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali, and Tati Gabrielle. The video game adaptation, which will be directed by Ruben Fleischer, certainly has no shortage of star power in front of the camera, and hopefully, they’ll be enough to bring Nathan Drake’s globetrotting adventures to the big screen in the near future.

Video game movies are usually more miss than hit, but if an Uncharted adaptation reaches its potential, the result could be this generation’s Indiana Jones. The video games are heavily inspired by the adventures of Harrison Ford’s iconic archaeologist, and that’s not a bad thing by any means. The cinematic landscape needs more pulpy blockbusters.

Of course, this movie has been stuck in development hell for so long that any optimism about the project should be of the cautious variety. The first attempt to get Uncharted off the ground and onto the big screen happened in 2009, with Kyle Ward tapped to write the script. However, he had other projects to wrap up first, and Sony wasn’t willing to wait around. That marked the end of Ward’s involvement.

Following Ward’s departure, Sony hired Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer, who came to the studio’s attention due to their work on Sahara, which is similar to Uncharted in some ways. Sony was quite happy with their script as well, and David O’Russell was hired to bring the story to life. Wahlberg was subsequently cast as Drake, and Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci were approached to play the character’s relatives. Everything looked well, until…

As documented by Digital Trends, Russell wanted to reinterpret the source material and make Drake an international art thief as opposed to a treasure hunter. His version would also have focused on his extended family. The studio didn’t agree with his vision, though, and negotiations between both parties broke down in 2010. Russell then made Silver Linings Playbook and began courting other projects, ending his involvement in the Uncharted saga as a result.

Limitless director Neil Burger then accepted the reins to the project in 2011. The director also decided to ignore the previous scripts because he wanted to incorporate elements of the video games into the story. Burger believed the games were cinematic in their own right, with rich stories and developed characters that could inspire a great film treatment. He said all the right things, but he didn’t last a crack.

Burger quietly dropped out of the project in 2012, and National Treasure’s Marianne and Cormac Wibberley were recruited to rewrite the screenplay. As with Donnelly and Oppenheimer before them, the Wibberleys’ experience with blockbuster adventure fare likely landed them the gig. Unfortunately, nothing really came of it, as the movie’s progress entered another down period until two unlikely names were approached to take over.

In 2013, news broke that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg had been approached several times to write a script. The duo weren’t interested, however, as the studio wanted them to write an Indiana Jones-esque adventure movie, and they didn’t want to take the movie in that direction. As talented as they are, Rogen and Goldberg probably weren’t the best choices for an Uncharted movie as they don’t come across as fans of the games who’d be passionate about making a complementary movie adaptation.

However, the movie gained some momentum in 2014 when Horrible Bosses director Seth Gordon signed on to direct, while David Guggenheim and Mark Boal were hired to write a script. Wahlberg was supposedly approached to star again but nothing came of it. Chris Pratt — who many fans believe would be the perfect Drake — also passed on the lead role. Gordon then dropped out, with reports stating that cuts to the film’s budget led to his decision.

In 2016, Joe Carnahan was hired to write another script, but he was unable to accept the directing duties due to his commitment to other projects. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the studio to find a willing participant behind the camera, as Stranger Things director Shawn Levy took the job. In 2017, Holland accepted the starring role, but since this movie can’t move forward without taking more steps back, Levy stepped aside to focus on making Free Guy, which is one of our most anticipated movies of the year.

2018 was also the year that saw an unofficial Uncharted short film starring Nathan Fillion hit YouTube. This was a dream come true for many fans as the Firefly star is arguably the perfect candidate to play an adventurer like Drake. The movie captured the hearts of millions and impressed Sony chiefs and the game developers. Furthermore, director Allan Ungar is a diehard fan of the games and showed that he knew how to interpret them for the screen. But he didn’t get the gig, and neither did Fillion.

It didn’t take long for Sony to find a replacement director, though. Dan Trachtenberg was brought in at the start of 2019, and a release date of December 2020 was proposed. But it wasn’t to be, as he dropped out last August. His reason for leaving is unclear, but if the history of this movie is anything to go by, it’s possible that he had creative differences with the studio or chose to focus on something else.

With Trachtenberg out of the picture, the studio turned to Bumblebee’s Travis Knight to get things moving. Around the same time, Wahlberg returned to the fold when he was cast as Drake’s mentor, Victor “Sully” Sullivan. Once again, though, the small amount of momentum was stopped in its tracks when Knight became the latest victim of scheduling conflicts and had to step down.

Of all the directors to be attached to the movie, Knight was the most exciting choice. Between his leadership of the animation studio Laika and helming a Transformers flick that’s actually good, his body of work is impressive. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d love to see him direct a big-budget treasure hunting movie.

That said, Fleischer is a solid hand behind the camera, and he is more than capable of delivering entertaining movies. Now that the cast is starting to take shape, here’s hoping that shooting will begin in the near future and the director lasts until the end of it. Uncharted has been in the works for over a decade now, and if it encounters any more bad luck, people will assume that the movie is cursed.

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.