How Mass Effect Could Become The Next Billion Dollar Film Franchise

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Even in the earliest possible stages of production, excitement is already starting to reach a fever pitch for Star Wars Episode VII. Ever since Disney announced they were buying Lucasfilm in order to unlock the potential for a new, endless string of Star Wars movies, fans rejoiced that finally, the original would get true sequels (well, most fans, anyway).

A director was attached (JJ Abrams), then it was revealed the original three actors would be returning in some capacity (Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher), and then most recently, the full cast has been unveiled, featuring many young, relatively unknown actors, just like the original films.

The potential is there for Star Wars to continue its box office dominance for the foreseeable future, and the franchise has already racked up billions upon billions in ticket sales, to say nothing of the merchandising. Is there anything that could ever surpass it?

A few have tried, and we’ve seen monster hits in the form of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and to a lesser extent, the new Hobbit films) and of course James Cameron was gunning directly for Star Wars with Avatar. But in the end, that film broke box office records largely due to the fact that it was a can’t-miss visual spectacle, not that it was a particularly compelling story with fantastic characters as the original Star Wars trilogy was. Avatar has the rest of its trilogy coming, but I don’t think it will find a place in pop culture immortality at the same level as Star Wars.

It may sound strange to say, but I think we need to wade into the video game realm when it comes to a franchise that could possibly hope to take on Star Wars in the future, Mass Effect. It’s a somewhat laughable notion at first. After all, there is really no such thing as a good video game films. There are movies that are good FOR a video game film, but that’s not really the same thing. Though many high profile video game movie projects are on the horizon, it’s never a safe bet to think that they’ll A) for sure make it theaters or B) be any good when they get there.

Mass Effect is yet another one of those games that are currently being written into films, but compared to others, Assassin’s Creed, Warcraft, it’s not very far along in the process.

Like Star Wars, Mass Effect is a sprawling space epic, but one centered in this galaxy, not one far, far away. It has humans as the central species, but only as one part of a larger whole, as the discovery of giant machines known as “Mass Relays” allowed for travel between the stars, and the discovery of countless populated worlds in the galaxy.

The game focuses on a central crew made up of humans and aliens alike, led by a central figure, Commander Shepard. He (or she) is trying to rally the galaxy to prepare for a coming invasion by Reapers, massive biomechanical creatures that return to the galaxy every 40,000 years or so to purge it of life.

Mass Effect has done something unique in the video game space by not simply writing a story for a game. Rather, they’ve created a vast universe with enormous Wikipedias full of more lore than anyone could possibly read. Bioware, the company who developed the series, and fans themselves have expanded to the universe to the point where its depth and breadth rivals Star Wars itself.

Past that, across three games Mass Effect has written a stable of characters that players of the series have grown to know and love. The crew of the Normandy, over the course of three games and hundreds of hours of gameplay, becomes like family by the end of the series. It’s rare in games to spend this must time with specific NPCs, and much of the time in Mass Effect, you’re simply talking with them, getting to know them.

Because of how rich the universe is, and how well these characters have been crafted and shaped over three games, Mass Effect seems prime to become a great candidate for a blockbuster film franchise. It would have to overcome the obvious challenges of every video game film, namely the fact that it can be hard to attract talent to those kinds of projects, but if Hollywood could familiarize themselves with the source material, they’d instantly see the potential.

Perhaps the film’s biggest obstacle would be the lead himself, Commander Shepard. Mass Effect is a game that allows players to design their own lead hero, choosing their race, gender, facial features, sexual orientation and backstory. And throughout the course of the game, players are tasked with making decisions that ripple throughout the universe and change the plot itself.

A film would have to pick one Shepard and one set of decisions and run with them, but that could make the game lose much of what makes it unique. And how do you choose something like that? Do you just make Shepard a straight, white, handsome male to match the box art? Or do you make him a her? Make them black, Asian or Latino? Make the lead romance be male to male or female to female? There is no set character to work with, and picking  “default” seems a bit too easy.

Still, there’s so much potential in Mass Effect to become a mammoth film franchise, it will be a tragedy if it’s mishandled like so many other video game movies. Here’s to hoping it lands in wise enough hands to realize that it very well could be the Star Wars of a new generation.

[Photo via EA]

Paul lives in New York with his beautiful and supportive wife. He writes for Forbes and his work also appears on IGN, The Daily Dot, Unreality Magazine, TVOvermind and more. It's a slow day if he's written less than 10,000 words.
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