Hollywood's relationship with video game makers is finally coming to maturity after two decades of tension and mistrust, transforming the entertainment industry in the process, experts said.
The two industries, born from vastly different ages of technology, have long flirted with one another but are only now fully coming to terms with just how lucrative a strategic marriage can be for both.
In the past fortnight, a flurry of deals has been announced between Tinseltown's venerable old studios and the young upstarts of the multibillion-dollar game industry that will allow digital characters to make the leap from the gaming console to the silver screen.
The ultra-violent games Hitman and Alice, a dark interpretation of Lewis Carroll's children's classic Alice in Wonderland, will soon become feature films, with action star Vin Diesel portraying the assassin in the first film and Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar playing Alice in the second.
"What's happened recently is that a few things have come together," said Chris Marlowe, digital media editor for the Hollywood Reporter.
"Games have become more sophisticated, there happens to be a similarity of thought, so it might be easier for filmmakers to turn them into motion pictures," she said.
The two industries first had dealings in the early 1980s, with game makers adapting movie characters for the small box, with mixed results.
"In 1982, the ET video game on Atari 2600 was a huge flop," said Daniel Morris, editor-in-chief of the monthly US magazine PC Gamer, referring to the game version of Steven Spielberg's mega-hit film.
Millions of unsold ET game cartridges had to be crushed, dealing a devastating blow to Atari, despite its onetime 80 percent market share.
After barely three decades in existence, the video game industry's global turnover has topped US$28 billion a year and is expected to double again by 2008. The movie industry turns over just US$45 billion annually.
"In just two days, Halo 2 made US$120 million in sales, and the Hollywood moguls have seen that," Morris explained.
"No film made that in such a short time," he said of Halo 2, in which the player slays alien invaders in a realistic digital battle to the death.
Even the creator of the Star Wars movies, George Lucas, has bolstered his fortune through the success of LucasArts, which produces games with characters based on his intergalactic movie series.
But while the growing cross-over between the two once mutually suspicious industries used to consist of movies becoming games, the reverse is now increasingly true.
"Hollywood is always looking for new sources of inspiration, like novels, TV shows and now video games," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst for Jupiter Research in New York.
"When there's a strong franchise, there's an opportunity to develop it into a film," he said.
But while a big-selling game franchise will achieve brand recognition with its fans, there is no guarantee that the concept will make a good film.
A 1993 movie based on the world's most popular electronic game, Super Mario, flopped spectacularly, leaving the two industries to reconsider just how far cross-over market appeal can go.
But their spirits were buoyed in 1995 by the success of the movie Mortal Kombat, starring Christopher Lambert, and, more recently, by the blockbuster hit Tomb Raider, a 2001 film based on a video game and starring Angelina Jolie, which also spawned a money-spinning 2003 sequel.
And the two industries now also work together on special effects, while actors including Dennis Hopper, Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds and Judy Dench have all lent their voices to video games.
These successes and massive advances in video game technology have meant that the game industry no longer comes to Hollywood as an upstart child, but as the dominant partner in negotiations between the two media.
Software giant Microsoft reportedly demanded that studios stump up a US$10 million advance payment as well as a whopping 15 percent of gross receipts for the rights to transform its game Halo into a film.
All but two studios, 20th Century Fox and Universal, found the demand too rich and pulled out earlier this month.
Adding to the boost provided by the technological advances of video games was the demographic fact that former PlayStation fans are now in their mid-30s and are decision makers at the studios, Hollywood Reporter's Marlowe said.
"In the early days, [Hollywood turning to video games showed] a lack of imagination. Now, ... you have creatures that exist on their own," he said.
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