2023 has truly been the year of video game adaptations. Whilst there have been successful examples before, for instance the Sonic The Hedgehog movies, there hasn't ever been anything quite on the level of both The Super Mario Bros. Movie and The Last Of Us. If it wasn't for the phenomenon that is Barbie, the whirlwind burst of energy delivered by the Mario movie would have undoubtedly ended the year as king of the box office – not that second place isn't a huge achievement too. The Last Of Us television series meanwhile also drew in millions of viewers and received much critical acclaim, being nominated for several awards including a whopping 24 Emmys. Hell, even my parents who told me they have no interest in either video games or zombies loved it (I'm still unsure if my dad has emotionally recovered from the devastation that was episode three).
And because Hollywood is Hollywood, the above could only mean one thing – that's right folks, strap in as a whole bunch of film and TV adaptations of video games are coming your way. The industry never seems to learn its lesson that it should be about quality rather than quantity (also look at how many films inspired by toys are now in production post-Barbie) and so, a whole bunch of gaming related projects have been given the green light. Hitting your screens soon will be everything from a Ghost Of Tsushima movie to an Alan Wake TV show, and stranger ones such as a Slime Rancher film from the creator of John Wick. Yes, really, that is apparently happening.
At my count there are an estimated 57 adaptations currently in the works which quite frankly is a staggering number – and that only grows as more are commissioned. This week Stray joined those ranks as Annapurna announced that an animated film based on the beloved 2022 game from Blue Twelve Studio is in active development. Understandably some of you may roll your eyes at this announcement, questioning whether we really need a Stray movie. Now, I can't answer that as it's for the filmmakers to prove to audiences, but I am here to tell you that out of all the video game adaptations in the works, Stray is the one to really look out for.
Cat's out of the bag
Firstly, we shouldn't be surprised by this news as it feels like it's been a long time coming, in fact it was probably planned from the moment gaming publishers Annapurna Interactive reached out to Stray's developers in 2016. They are a division of film and TV studio Annapurna Pictures who have released numerous beloved movies including Booksmart, Her, and Hustlers. Due to this connection a film adaptation was always a possibility, but Annapurna was likely waiting to see not only if the game was successful but to launch their animation division too, Annapurna Animation, which was founded at the end of last year. Rather than a studio buying the rights to the game then seeing dollar bills in their eyes, this project has evolved more organically which is already a promising start.
Annapurna Animation has also already proven that they are very safe hands thanks to the success of their debut feature Nimona, which hit Netflix earlier this summer. Visually stunning and deeply emotional with plenty of spark, it's no surprise that the film was a hit with critics, currently standing at an impressive 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. Just like the Stray game Nimona is also an adventure set in a sci-fi fantasy world, but instead follows a knight as he strives to prove his innocence after being framed for a crime he didn't commit. Their achievement with Nimona has indeed set a high bar for the Stray movie to meet or even exceed, but I'm already convinced it will.
That will certainly get hearts pounding in the cinema
And all this is before we even dive into the game itself, which does seem ripe for a big screen animated adaptation. Following a stray cat as he falls into a city populated by robots and machines, you play as the feline who is struggling to make it home, discovering secrets along the way. It's a simple plot to adapt, but it also has enough intrigue and action to fill a runtime thanks to the mysteries that are unravelled during the cat's journey through the city and those thrilling chase sequences with the horrifying Zurks. Now, that will certainly get hearts pounding in the cinema. Stray's stripped-back narrative also allows the filmmakers plenty of room to explore should they wish to further expand the world, which could be exciting to see.
What a beautiful world it is to explore too, a dystopian land that is both nightmarish and magical somehow all at once. Stray delivered a masterclass in visual design and worldbuilding, earning valid comparisons to the likes of Studio Ghibli movies. Again, it seemed destined to become an animated feature. Whilst playing it at home I wished that instead I was enjoying it in a cinema, as the neon streets lit up my living room and the cat's purrs echoed throughout the flat (you bet I constantly hit that button dedicated to meows). Imagine all of that on the big screen, it would be beautiful. The fact that Stray is presented via the cat's perspective also adds an interesting dynamic, one that will feel refreshing if it's kept for the film adaptation. Last year the indie wonder that is EO, a movie told through the eyes of a donkey, proved that this can work, so let's hope that the filmmakers look to this for further inspiration. That was live-action too and with animation, anything is possible.
Imagine all of that on the big screen... and with animation, anything is possible
There are also the themes to consider as whilst Stray does have a simple story, it explores several hefty topics. The game asks us to think about environmentalism, capitalism, policing, our relationship with technology, what it means to be part of a community, and how we define humanity – that is only the start of it too. It's certainly a lot of food for thought for the filmmakers in how they address these themes but one thing is for definite – audiences will be reflecting on the movie weeks after the credits have rolled. Just remember to bring those tissues too!
Head of Annapurna Animation Robert Baird is already questioning how they will "pull that off in the movie", as he revealed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. We aren't surprised he's asking himself this as Stray is really quite something special and could be just as magical on the big screen. He concludes by saying "we will, even though sometimes it feels impossible" and well, I really do believe him.