Red Light, greenlit: 22 childhood games ripe for Hollywood adaptation

Red Light, greenlit: 22 childhood games ripe for Hollywood adaptation

1. Red Rover, Red Rover
With The LEGO Movie hitting theaters, the era of toys becoming films might finally be tapped out. But Hollywood hasn’t drawn from another fertile vein yet—childhood games that don’t belong to Milton Bradley or any other corporation. Here are some places for studio execs to kick off this trend (or continue it, if 2004’s DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story can be considered ground zero). Red Rover, Red Rover will first be made in Japan as the hyper-violent Kodomo Kaiju Hashitte (translation: “children running from monster”) before being slightly watered down for American audiences. In Red Rover’s dystopian, Hunger Games-inspired future, children will be forced into brutal combat with each other, with only the most daring individuals attempting to break through the human chains of the opposing teams. But it’s not just other children they’ll have to contend with: The murderous Red Rover—a part-robot, part-phantom killing machine controlled remotely by the gleefully evil Seann William Scott—will brutally murder anyone who refuses to fight. It’s only when the opposing teams can tightly lock arms with each other that they can hope to be free. Tag line: “Red Rover, Red Rover, let terror come over.”

2. Bombardment
In this unofficial sequel to DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story from Austrian director Michael Haneke, Vince Vaughn once again plays the owner of a gym that’s seen much better days. Unfolding in stark, long, black-and-white takes, Bombardment documents the slow death of a once-proud man, his glory days long behind him. Glimmers of hope in the form of old friends—Stephen Root, the ghost of Rip Torn—are quickly crushed by the haunting realization that they’re simply a series of fever dreams, symptoms of a serious illness whose nature is only hinted at in a series of agonizing treatments at a rundown clinic. Tag line: “When life hits all at once, there’s no point fighting back.”

3. Sharks And Minnows
Next summer, terror moves out of the playground and into this great nation’s swimming pools, where it belongs. Mindy is a 10-year-old girl (played by a spare Fanning that Hollywood probably has hanging around out back) who spends a long, lazy summer realizing that the town swimming pool—the one her religious mother forbade her from using after that weird accident with the swim team last year—is the place to be… until she learns its secret. A chemical plant has spilled several gallons of a highly classified mutagen into the pool, and Mindy’s friends have begun transforming at night, under the full moon—their arms becoming fins, their mouths filling with sharp teeth. Yes, they are were-sharks, and the only one who can stop them is Mindy “Minnow” Owen. John Goodman stars as what amounts to Quint from Jaws, with Toni Collette as the mom and Ariana Grande as head lifeguard. Check out the trailer, soundtracked by V V Brown’s “Shark In The Water.” Tag line: “Death rules the water.”

4. Hot Lava
As he prepares to deliver the State Of The Union address, aging U.S. president Edward LaValley (Laurence Fishburne) faces record-low approval ratings and a brash young Speaker Of The House—“Mag” Magnusson (Matthew Perry)—who’s looking to unseat him. But none of that matters when the president’s speech is cut short by a subterranean volcano erupting in the heart of Washington. Lava consumes everyone on the floor of the House, leaving just the president and speaker alive. They must get from the Capitol to the White House without touching the lava-covered ground, so President LaValley can reach the Situation Room and launch a nuke into the heart of the volcano (which will solve everything, obviously). Tag line: “This summer, Washington is hell on earth.”

5. Freeze Tag
When the nation’s top epidemiologist, Rachel Heaton (Sandra Bullock), is called to a grocery store in rural Georgia, she’s shocked by what she finds: customers and cashiers frozen in a state of panic, unable to move. Our hero tracks down patient zero, Taggart Braer (Aaron Paul), who explains that after a hiking expedition in the deepest reaches of the Amazon years ago, he developed “the touch” and retreated from civilization, only coming into town for necessities. But he made a mistake, innocent people got frozen, and now there’s a manhunt in progress. Heaton thinks she can develop a cure for Braer’s virus—she just needs to determine the “it” factor that keeps Braer from freezing himself before the angry mob catches up to them.  Tag line: He can put anyone on ice.”

6. Red Light, Green Light
In the romantic-dramedy Red Light, Green Light, irritating ad executive Jack McDougal—played by Adam Sandler, teamed here with his Spanglish director James L. Brooks—is suffering a Gypsy curse placed on all the men in his family three generations ago: Whenever something great happens in his life, it’s always followed by something equally horrible. He gets a big promotion, then his grandmother dies. He finally gets engaged, but his fiancée leaves him at the altar. Still, he relentlessly pursues wealth, power, and women. Will happy-go-lucky crossing guard Cameron Diaz be able to teach him about the art of balance—of when to stop and when to go—and help him lift the curse? Tag line: “All things in moderation… except love.”

7. Ghost In The Graveyard
In this animated Tim Burton film (based on a discarded doodle by Tim Burton, age 8), Thad (Johnny Depp) haunts a cemetery at the edge of a suburban town—in which his is the only body that’s buried. Confined to the boundaries of his graveyard home, his only contact with the outside world comes courtesy of the neighborhood kids (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter, Winona Ryder, and Johnny Depp) who dare one another to touch Thad’s tombstone. His years of solitude come to an end when he’s befriended by Clara (Winona Ryder), a similarly lonely teen obsessed with the afterlife. Her friends (Helena Bonham Carter and Winona Ryder) just don’t understand—and neither does her boyfriend (Johnny Depp). But this fall, Clara will teach Thad a little about death—and Thad’s going to show Clara a little about living. Tag line: “He’s one ghost you’ll hope to see tonight.”

8. Marco Polo
Three prisoners—Chow Yun-Fat, John Cho, and George Clooney—are abandoned by their captors in the vast Gobi desert. But there’s one catch—they’re blind, victims of a terrible acid attack. The empty desert around them is meant to be their tomb. Through sheer determination, the men learn to depend on each other for survival—leaning on their voices for support as they unknowingly, but instinctively follow an ancient road to China—with water running out. Tag line: ”Lose each other, and you’ve lost yourself.”

9. Four Square
A sadistic, yet playful domestic terrorist (an especially unhinged Paul Giamatti) crafts a terrifying new kind of explosive: the VolleyBomb, a nuclear weapon encased in hard rubber that will detonate only if it’s allowed to bounce twice in the same location. When he deploys it at the border of the Four Corners, threatening equally the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, it becomes a race against sluggish human reflexes to keep the VolleyBomb moving between all four states, without ever touching down that second, deadly time. Meanwhile, it’s up to a brash federal agent (Channing Tatum) and a crusty Farmington sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) to set aside their initial friction and do whatever they can to ensure they don’t all end up… out of bounds. Tag line: “It’s nonstop action—squared.”

10. Keep Away
Two halves of a nuclear device have found their way to Europe; each is harmless without the other. A Somali terrorist (Captain Phillips’ Barkhad Abdi) lucks into one piece, but doesn’t know what he has; an Al-Qaeda splinter group has the other, and they’re ready to use it. Michael B. Jordan is the hotshot CIA agent trying to keep the devices apart, and David Strathairn is the Company lifer whose loyalties are suspect. Can Jordan keep the devices moving around the continent long enough for the bomb-disposal experts—led by Jeremy Renner, in a nod to his Hurt Locker role—to catch up with him, or will the terrorist factions converge and threaten all of Europe with annihilation? Tag line: “It’s all fun and games… until somebody loses a nuke.”

11. Honey, If You Love Me, Please Please Smile
When it comes to love, Busy Pratfell (Katherine Heigl) feels like she’s been going in circles, dating men one after the other without ever finding happiness. Dragged by her friends to see an unconventional motivational speaker (an even-louder-than-usual Kathy Griffin), she quickly becomes a convert to an unusual game plan: Just be as obnoxious as possible, and eventually you’ll wear down Mr. Right. Busy’s new strategy of goofy faces, clumsy physical comedy, and talking in an annoying baby voice is soon put to the test against an attractive yet stoic co-worker (a visibly filled-with-regret Timothy Olyphant), who proves resistant to her desperate attempts to get him to break—but how long will he last? Tag line: “Sometimes love just refuses to leave.”

12. Tetherball
A cross between Battle Royale and Rollerball, Tetherball stars some of today’s hottest young stars in a post-apocalyptic playground battle to the death. Elle Fanning stars as Jess, a small but mentally strong 15-year-old chosen to represent her town in the nation’s televised tetherball tournament. While she’s played a few times, she’ll have to quickly develop both skill and arm strength if she hopes to best other competitors, like ruthless and popular Tamara (Ashley Benson). And what happens when, during training, Jess falls for one of her male counterparts, played by Logan Lerman? Will either of them have the strength, stamina, or ball-handling skills it takes to make it through the horrible gauntlet? Or will they end up victims of their inexperience, twisted in the ropes of fate and left to hang? Tag line: “Life itself is on the line.”

13. Steal The Bacon
In this DreamWorks Animation feature, Springs Oinkson (voiced by Modern Family’s Nolan Gould) is the latest addition to Mr. Wilbur’s pig farm. The son of Momma (Amy Sedaris) and Poppa Oinkson (Dennis Quaid), Springs earned his name by being the only straight-tailed pig on the farm. One morning, Springs is scared awake by a loud clatter—the sound of his parents being thrown in a truck headed for the slaughterhouse. Springs must break free and face his own anxieties and shortcomings (including his lack of a springy tail) so that he can save his parents before they meet their doom. Does Springs have what it takes to step up to the table and Steal The Bacon? Tag line: “The only way to break out is to pig out.”

14. Duck Duck Goose
In the grand tradition of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Duck Duck Goose steeps itself in the atmosphere of paranoia surrounding the British secret service. Working within and without this environment is Idris Elba, an MI5 agent tasked by agency boss Helen Mirren with rooting out a mole. Suspicions run rampant, particularly after a manipulative colleague (Jared Harris) suggests to Elba that he could name anyone in a large circle of higher-ups (played by, in order of appearance, Emma Thompson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Hugh Bonneville, Nick Frost, Olivia Colman, Archie Panjabi, Hugh Grant, Christopher Plummer, the starting lineup of the Arsenal F.C., a hologram of Laurence Olivier, the actual Dumbledore from Harry Potter, and the royal baby) as the quarry of this “wild chase”—and then take their place in the chain of command. Tag line: “Either you duck, or you become the goose.”

15. Sardines
In this close-quarters romance, Jenny and Jim (Katie Aselton and Mark Duplass) are lovers on the rocks who seek to hash things out by hiding beneath a living-room table for the afternoon. As the day wears on, they find that they can hide from their friends (Greta Gerwig, Alex Karpovsky, Lynn Shelton) but not from their problems, which end up easier to resolve when they’re crammed face-to-face in the same small space. But as word of the amazing problem-solving table spreads, Jenny and Jim find themselves crowded out of the only thing that’s keeping them together. Tag line: “Meet Jenny and Jim. They’re about to get closer.”

16. King Of The Mountain
In this Sony Pictures Classic release—playing only at your local arthouse—a high-school boy loses his arm, along with his self-confidence, in a farm accident. Once a sports champion destined for scholarships and maybe even the big leagues, Miles Teller (of The Spectacular Now) must now look inward, but only after winning a battle with his own depression. Will he ever again climb atop huge piles of winter snow and physically dominate his peers? Or will he discover, with the help of his mother Phoebe Cates, that sometimes it’s better to pull a friend to the top with you rather than try and knock everyone else down? Tag line: “Lend a hand—even if it’s the only hand you’ve got.”

17. Musical Chairs
A comedy of errors, Robert Luketic’s Musical Chairs is non-stop zany. Charlotte (Rachel McAdams), a would-be singer who can’t carry a tune, mistakes Peter (Justin Timberlake) for a famous pop songwriter and invites him to a lavish dinner at her estate in hopes of snagging a record deal. Little does she know that her fiery younger sister Katie (Emma Stone) has invited the actual pop composer (also played by Timberlake, but with a mustache) as her date, completely neglecting to RSVP “plus one.” Meanwhile, Katie’s friend Nikki, a wannabe pop sensation willing to do anything to succeed, decides to crash the soirée with her agent in tow. With only so many place cards and the mingling music dwindling, who will get a seat in the big time? Tag line: “Who’ll be left standing when the music stops?” 

18. Hopscotch
In this dark drama, Nick Nolte stars as Daniel Hops, a geologist who loses his federal grant—and becomes estranged from his wife and child—after he’s caught dredging drunk late one night. A year later, Hops is an alcoholic who only finds joy when creating naïve art with found geodes. Hops gains the attention of a local art dealer (Thomas Lennon) who helps get him on the straight and narrow, turning him into a local celebrity. Hops struggles with his demons in the face of his newfound fame, learning that in the game of life, redemption comes one step at a time. Tag line: “Life is a game that can be played alone… But should it be?”

19. Trench Ball
Small-town Kentucky boy Tommy (Tom Hardy) is sent off to the trenches of World War I, leaving behind his high school sweetheart (Michelle Williams). Tommy hopes to fight his longing heart by writing her a letter every day—but his tough, battle-tested hands have rendered his handwriting indecipherable. Determined to improve his script and reconnect with his lady, Tommy befriends his outfit’s soft-spoken radioman, Anthony (Giovanni Ribisi), who helps teach his bullish counterpart the art of cursive. Their lessons are constantly interrupted by cannon fire, and they’re eventually stuck behind enemy lines. But the friends use their position to attack the enemy from the rear, changing the course of the war. Tag line: “I think it spells… love?”

20. I Declare Thumb War
In this touching mumblecore comedy, Mark Duplass and John Krasinski play childhood friends whose lives have turned out just slightly different from each other: Duplass is a shlubby, jobless video gamer obsessed with past glories, and Krasinski is a shlubby insurance salesman frightened of the future. Rekindling their friendship after years of bad blood—dating back to a fight about a girl whose name neither can remember—they set aside their differences and decide to hitchhike across the country to invest in a video-store business. Tag line: “One, two, three, four, I declare… whatever, man.”

21. Heads Up, Seven Up
Doing for David Fincher-styled psychological thrillers what Scream did for the slasher genre, Heads Up, Seven Up follows the game of lies, intrigue, and deadly obsession that ensnares a group of students at Nicholas Van Orton High School. The rules are fluid, the conclusion is ambiguous—and for all any of the “players” knows, their teachers started the whole thing just to get a little peace and quiet. Standout sequence: A tense tracking shot through Principal Durden’s office, where silent students place their heads against desks in a tableau representing the sins of sloth, vainglory, and pride. Tag line: “Keep your head down—or it might end up in a box.”

22. Monkey In The Middle
The most cutthroat firm on Wall Street is Finster, Binks, And Crystal—certainly no place for a know-nothing schmoe like Marcel Rhesus (Paul Rudd). But unlike his Ivy League-educated colleagues, Marcel has a secret: Enos, the talking Capuchin (voiced by Tom Kenny) who lives in his desk drawer. While exploring the building’s HVAC system (where he encounters creatures voiced by Maria Bamford, John DiMaggio, and Wanda Sykes), Enos intercepts all the hottest stock tips, passing them along to Marcel. But in his transition from low man on the totem pole to big man on Wall Street, will Marcel forget the monkey that got him there? Or will a smarmy co-worker (Joel McHale) catch on and use Enos to his own advantage? Tag line: “You’ll never get to the top if you’re always in the middle.”

Illustrations by Derrick Sanskrit.

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