What do Avatar, The Titanic, The Avengers and The Dark Knight have in common? They are the highest grossing films of all time. According to Box Office Mojo Avatar ranked in a whopping $2.7 billion worldwide, and yet that’s still no match against a couple of stumbling car thieves, a man going through a mid-life crisis and a son who just wants his father’s love. I bet you’re trying to figure out what movie I’m referencing. You can stop right there, not a single movie has come close to matching the success of the top grossing video game in history. Yup, I’m talking about Grand Theft Auto V, the fifth game in the series about life on the hard and wealthy streets of Los Angeles, in which players steal a car and escape before the police arrive, grossed over 1 billion dollars in three days, $800 million of which was made in its first day, embarrassing the entire movie industry.
It wasn’t suppose to be this way. Movies are short. You’re in-and-out. Blockbuster movies are popular for a reason. They’re known all around the world. And it’s easier to profit from a movie than Grand Theft Auto V; not all people have a video game console and they cost more than seeing a movie.
Despite this, since the game’s launch, it has been revealed that Grand Theft Auto V officially holds seven Guinness World Records:
- Best-selling action-adventure videogame in 24 hours
- Best-selling videogame in 24 hours (selling 11.21 million units)
- Fastest entertainment property to gross $1 billion
- Fastest videogame to gross $1 billion
- Highest grossing videogame in 24 hours
- Highest revenue generated by an entertainment product in 24 hours (it managed $815.7 million)
- Most viewed trailer for an action-adventure videogame
Alongside these feats, it’s also has become the UK’s fastest-selling game of all time, outsold GTA IV‘s lifetime sales in the UK in just three weeks and also overtook The Last of Us to become the PlayStation 3’s best-selling digital title.
So what happened? How did a video game franchise that wasn’t even suppose to see 1998 surpass the sales of some of the most beloved movies worldwide? There are several explanations.
There’s a myth somehow floating around that movies cost more money to make than video games, therefore, it’s easier for video games to gross more. You have to pay the actors, directors, special effects and so much more. However, Grand Theft Auto V put that rumor to rest when it was revealed that the game cost $265 million to make ($115 million developing and $150 million on marketing), making it the most expensive video game ever made. Not even The Avengers cost that much, just a measly $220 million. Even more shocking, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy cost just $280 million to make–that’s just $93 million per film. I know what you’re thinking, what about Avatar? Yes, Avatar is the highest-grossing film of all time at $2.7 billion. However, it took 17 days to hit the $1 billion milestone, while Grand Theft Auto V took 14 days less.
Even though there is plenty of publicity and media coverage around movies and movies do focus on their success on opening weekend box office, the total amount a movie can generate on its opening weekend is actually very limited. For example, there are only so many seats for moviegoers to sit in. Not everyone can see a sold out movie on its opening day. With video games, the only real restricting factor is the game’s distribution, which for now doesn’t seem to be a problem. Shipping 15 million discs isn’t worrisome compared to 15 million people going to see the same movie on the same day. Therefore, people are bound to be shutout. I can recall several times when I was unable to watch a movie because of this, after traveling to different theaters begging the employees to let me in, even offering to watch the movie while standing. Sadly, I gave up and went home with my pride left on the floor. However, with video games I have never faced the utter sadness of defeat.
Have you ever heard of the phrase “Controversy Creates Cash”? When Grand Theft Auto first started out in 1997, it looked horrible. Well, not really, but there was nothing spectacular about it. For those too young to know what I’m speaking of or too old to remember, the first game of the series had a satellite-view of a 2D city. I’m talking about a flat, boring 2D game, even by 1997’s standards. It earned some cheers from people but nothing that made you want to run to the stores to purchase your copy or even wait for it to be discounted at Gamestop (yes Gamestop existed even back then). Then along came the wondrous power of the media, sprinkling its outcries about violence, theft and 2D sex, which–due to the technology–was more like two cutout paper dolls rubbing themselves against each other trying to create a fire or a fierce paper cut.
The beauty and sometimes blessing about controversy is that it creates a tidal wave of attention that doesn’t stop until you’re drowning to death. Much like today, everyone ran out and brought a copy of a game that otherwise might have never seen a sequel two years later. Don’t think for even one second the people at Rockstar Games changed their format nor should you think the media has quieted their outcries. Aside from the sex, killing, torturing and other debauchery that goes on, there’s are scenes that would make sensitive people run for the hills. For example, Jimmy is overheard in one sequence playing an online video game and shouting offensive comments over his headset: “If there was a rape button, I’d press that, unless you’re a faggot and you like that, in which case I’d just rape your mom, instead!” However, its offensive lines like that, that keep the game in the headlines, thus people in the stores.
A majority of people have very short attention spans and as a result sitting down to watch a movie straight through in one sitting is kind of impossible for a lot of us. For example in 2004 a movie entitled Star Spangled to Death debuted at the New York Film Festival, its run-time was 7 hours, almost the length of an average video game. Unlike video games, you cannot pause movies to take a break and if you were to go to the bathroom you would most likely miss a plot twist or a death. However, the attraction behind Grand Theft Auto V, aside from the ability to pause and stop the game completely, is that you have the ability to switch between different characters. Each character has their own storyline with their own set of problems, achievements and missions. Bored with Franklin? Check out what Trevor is up to.
Aside from character switching and linear structures there’s the open world sandbox experience; to hell with a proper format. Unlike movies, you control what you want to see and do. Movies may have better settings and sweeping camera angles of every nook and cranny in a scene but they too are very limiting. Video games let you explore the surroundings. Ever wanted to roam around mansions or get to know a city sidewalk better in a movie? Well, you can’t, but Grand Theft Auto V made this possible. Ever wondered what it would be like if a movie character just stopped what they were doing and stole a purse or walked into a store or just decided to jump in the ocean and swim with sharks? Unlike the movies where imagination is created for you, Grand Theft Auto V allows you to control the action. Rockstar Games has mastered the creation of “the sandbox,” massive open worlds that allow players to roam freely in addition to play through the stories of their games.
Fun fact: Los Santos, the city in Grand Theft Auto V, is the largest one yet; twice as big as Liberty City. Even though Star Spangled to Death was 7 hours this game outruns Death’s run-time. Let’s play fair and take away the open world “sandbox” for a moment: if you were to play through the story without exploring the world, the game would still take up to 40 hours to complete all the missions. That’s a huge difference from the experience of an average movie. Therefore, unlike a movie, it’s hands down near impossible to find Grand Theft Auto V boring, unlike the straight linear movies.
Sometimes you can have a great pool of actors, the best location and even an audience for the movie but it can all be undone in the script. We’ve all seen what kind of actress the script to Twilight made Kristen Stewart look like. Now even big named actors can’t promise a movie success like Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp. The Lone Ranger failed, as did John Carter, The Green Lantern, and Cowboys & Aliens. In this fast-paced world of chasing the money, Rockstar Games have let the money chase them. Unlike sequels that come out within the next year or two with rushed scripts, over the years Rockstar has learned to take its time crafting the best script possible and seven years later with a script over 3,000 pages long they did just that.
One of the most appealing aspects of Grand Theft Auto V that you’re not going to find so much in movies is how its script not only calls for the game to satire the media, but it makes it a part of the game design. Anyone who has played the game is all too familiar with the way it parodies news coverage of violence, as well as compliments other aspects of its setting. Designers have created thousands of fake advertising campaigns that appear in the game as well as audio tracks for various radio stations. There have been times when I pulled over in the game just to listen to the radio or watch a television commercial. You just can’t do that in movies.
Even with a massive script they were even smart enough to realize that to be truly authentic to a character, ad-libbing was a necessity. Just take a look at one of the most memorable and hilarious characters who is played by an unknown rapper by the name of Shawn Fonteno, the voice actor behind the Franklin character. There were many times where he changed the script because it wasn’t true to the character and with the same drug dealing, gang member background as Franklin, the developers didn’t object. As a result the game most likely is a lot better than it was originally intended.
As the grossing numbers for Grand Theft Auto V continue to come in, one can only wonder if this would lead to the movie industry continuing to be outdone by an industry some people refer to as being dead. Grand Theft Auto V could be a massive learning lesson for the movie industry to mold some of its techniques after this game. While I have only touched the surface of how Grand Theft Auto V was able to surpass the sum of movies biggest blockbusters, we all have different reasons. So what are some of your reasons why this game is shaming the movie industry? Leave your comments below.
For more on the game, check out all of DualShockers’ GTA news.