Why aren’t there more movies based on apps?

While old media has traditionally proven itself to be very happy at the idea of recycling itself into irrelevance – See the latest reboot of a television series/movie franchise/etc. to hit a movie theater near you soon – it has equally turned out to be something that is surprisingly slow at taking advantage of media that is outside of its immediate comfort zone. While we are now used to superheroes dominating the summer blockbuster circuit, it’s worth remembering that Tim Burton’s Batman movie came out almost twenty five years ago, and the original Superman: The Movie more than a decade before that. Even comic books, apparently, needed some time to be assimilated into the movie and television mainstream. All of which is a long way of saying, for everyone who may be expecting Hollywood to turn around any minute now and realize that there is a lot of Intellectual Property just waiting to be bought up, adapted and exploited for enterprising entertainment executives out there…? You may have quite a wait ahead of you.

If you’re looking for some evidence of that, then you need look no further than this weekend’s New York Times, in which the trials awaiting app developers hoping for a multimedia payday were enumerated in painful detail. Whereas Iron Man, Optimus Prime and even John Carter have specific audiences – and nostalgic appeal – the problem with apps (and even video games) is that, well, they appeal to too many people: “Should Talking Tom be a cartoon for children on Nickelodeon?” the piece asked, referring to the creation of Outfit7, an app developer looking to bring their brand outside of the tech field. “Or is it something more grown-up, perhaps for Spike or Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim? The wrong move could narrow the following. A Nickelodeon show, for instance, could make Talking Tom uncool for men in their 20s.”

Additionally, there is the problem that today’s app makers are more merchandise-savvy than many more traditional creators. “App makers want to keep potentially lucrative toy rights for themselves. But studio executives say it is hard for them to justify pouring tens of millions of dollars into the creation of a movie or television show unless there is an added revenue stream as an incentive,” explained the Times’ Brooks Barnes.

There is, of course, an even more obvious reason why moviemakers might want to stick with what they know for now: No-one in Hollywood has worked out a way to translate first-person interactive narratives – videogames, for the most part, or even analog like Battleship – into a successful movie just yet. Until they can work out how to create a pleasing story for all viewers out of something that so much of its potential audience has made up in its head, it’ll be awhile until we’ll see a massive influx of material that’s based even more on interactivity and less on pre-set conditions.

Well, Angry Birds aside, obviously.

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