It’s always been a knock against my video gamer street cred that I’ve barely played any of the Saints Row games. The open world sandbox video game franchise – which has collectively sold more than 13 million copies with its four entries – has carved out a niche for itself with its comedic, parodying and often absurdist and unfiltered take on your typical urban crime saga. And we almost got to experience all that R-rated hilarity on the big screen.
Years ago, software publisher THQ had actually been developing a feature film adaptation of the misadventures of the Third Street Saints gang. They even reportedly had a “strong script” from video game writer Peter Aperlo (Watchman: The End is Nigh, 300: March to Glory) with producers Lloyd Levin (Boogie Nights, Watchmen, United 93), and Andrew Cosby (Haunted, Eureka, 2 Guns) tasked to make the film happen. A-list actors and and directors were being courted and according to a post written on Fandom by producer Nick Nunziatta, the movie “was a perfect video game adaptation, faithful to the source material but with a swagger and big screen energy all its own. To me, it felt like a modern-day Escape from New York, only bigger and with that Saints Row attitude.”
And then THQ went bankrupt and the whole project collapsed.
But what kind of movie would we have gotten had it actually gone ahead? Well, as was fitting to the balls-to-the-wall tone of the video game franchise, a pretty crazy one it seems. Nunziatta contacted Aperlo, who explained his approach to the movie, which thanks to video game franchise’s flexible mythology allowed for some narrative reinvention as long as the tone was correct.
“At our meeting, [Lloyd Levin] handed me Saints Row II and sent me off to play it, and for the next couple of weeks, I immersed myself in the crazy world of Stilwater. Loved the anarchic, hyper-violent parody of society, but especially the insane characters like Shaundi and Johnny Gat. This was at a time when they were still developing SRIII, and my initial thought was to set the movie between II and III.
The first treatment had a new character initiated into the Saints via a reality show, a sort of urban Survivor with real bullets. (I believe I even had Jeff Probst get his head blown off at one point.) New gangs were moving into town, and the character was joining up to get revenge for the death of Carlos in SRII, thinking the Boss was responsible. Anyway, the producers liked it but felt we needed to go back to more of an origin story to get an audience used to the Saints and what the franchise would become.
So, our plot ended up hitting a lot of the same notes as SRII, with the Boss as a Count of Monte Cristo figure coming in to reclaim what was once his. Throw into the mix Dane Vogel wanting to convert a chunk of Stilwater into a private prison (something that’s still relevant today) and a lot of over-the-top action and darkly humorous social commentary (a la the original RoboCop), and that was essentially our SR.”
Even with the back to basics second draft, it would have been something to see this on the big screen. We’ve seen plenty of “rise to power” street gang movies, but outside of some early Wayans Bros slapstick comedies, we’ve never seen one that played it all up for insane laughs. And the prospect of this movie was certainly appealing to some big names over in Hollywood. One in particular, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, showed a definite interest. Seeing as how he has since gone on to officially become the biggest star in the world, that would have been a major coup. Slight problem though: He was already on his way to becoming the biggest star in the world, and those come with certain conditions.
“Dwayne Johnson was very interested at one point. One of the worries, for me anyway, of having a big star like that, was that we’d have to tone things down. This was going to be hard R, balls to the walls. Sure enough, I was asked to prepare a draft that was PG-13. Soften the violence, no nudity, only one “f***” allowed. If you’ve played the game, you’ll know how hard that would be and still keep it SR. I couldn’t even use the “Phuc Mi Phuc Yue” Vietnamese Seafood sign I wanted to have!
In the end, they couldn’t get anyone to bite and THQ imploded soon after. The IP got sold off and the new owners didn’t seem interested in making a movie. It was frustrating because the process was so fun, to be immersed in that world of larger-than-life gangstas and corrupt corporate tools. A little cartoony, sure, but we had something to say, and this was one movie that I really wanted to see up on the big screen.”
Although my hands-on experience with the Saints Row games are admittedly limited, I know them well enough to not be sure if general audiences would be willing to accept a proper, faithful big screen adaptation of the video games’ madness. I know that I sure as hell would have loved to have seen this whole thing come to life, because if there’s something that Hollywood is short supply of, it’s movies featuring weaponised sex toys and guns that fire live octopuses.
Check out some of the concept art created for the Saints Row movie below.
Last Updated: September 6, 2016