What Could Have Been… #24 | Bioshock

What Could Have Been… #24 | Bioshock

As a fan of film, I love exploring behind the scenes. Reading about the production process, the special effects and the stories of what could have been.

Bioshock was originally a first person game released initially for Xbox360 and MS Windows in 2007 (a Playstation 3 version arrived the following year). Rather than try to explain the plot for myself, here is the game’s official synopsis,

BioShock lets you do the impossible as you explore a mysterious underwater city. When your plane crashes, you discover Rapture – an underwater Utopia torn apart by civil war. Caught between powerful forces and hunted down by genetically modified “splicers” and deadly security systems, you have to come to grips with a deadly, mysterious world filled with powerful technology and fascinating characters. As little girls loot the dead, and biologically mutated citizens ambush you at every turn. Now you’re trapped, caught in the middle of a genetic war that will challenge both your capacity to survive and your moral allegiance to your own humanity. Make meaningful and mature decisions that culminate in the grand question – do you exploit the innocent survivors of Rapture to save yourself – or risk all to become their savior?

I remember playing the game for myself and I absolutely fell in love with it. The underwater setting for the game was visually stunning and the cast of characters that inhabited that world was perfect.

The most famous of these was the Big Daddy. A huge lumbering creature contained within a deep sea diving suit. These were the protectors of the Little Sisters, genetically modified young girls who travelled around the underwater city collecting and producing ADAM, one of the games major plot elements.


In 2008, just after completing work on the last film of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, director Gore Verbinksi (Rango, The Lone Ranger) signed with Universal Pictures to direct a live action adaptation of the game.

Universal were also in talks with Academy Award-nominated writer John Logan (AviatorThe Time Machine) to provide the screenplay.

Despite both Bioshock and Pirates of the Caribbean having a nautical based theme, he envisioned the former to be of a much smaller scale.

In an interview with Variety, Verbinksi said,

“It’s a much more intimate story than Pirates. Although it’s an adventure, it’s a dramatic adventure. I see it more along the lines of Blade Runner.”

He also told them that he hoped to make the film rated R,

“The utopian references and the way the characters and world are drawn in that delightfully inspired Jules Verne and Ayn Rand style places the film in a more elevated realm. It’s the realm of a graphic novel. It has to have that edge.”

Work soon got underway on preproduction but when asked later on for a progress update from the press, it looked as of things were starting to go awry.

It later transpired that Universal weren’t really willing to spend the rumoured $160-200 million price tag, especially if it was going to be an R rated picture. Verbinski later explained,

“I couldn’t really get past anybody that would spend the money that it would take to do it and keep an R rating. Alternately, I wasn’t really interested in pursuing a PG-13 version. Because the R rating is inherent. Little Sisters and injections and the whole thing. I just wanted to really, really make it a movie where, four days later, you’re still shivering and going, “Jesus Christ!”… It’s a movie that has to be really, really scary, but you also have to create a whole underwater world, so the pricetag is high. We just didn’t have any takers on an R-rated movie with that pricetag.”

But why the change of heart on the budget?

According to Ken Levine, the creator of Bioshock, it was around this time that Zak Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen hit the theatres in 2009. Watchmen was also rated R and made $185 million at the box office. Unfortunately it cost around $135 million to produce. Levine believes it is for this reason that Universal, “…got cold feet about making an R-rated $200 million film.”


Universal looked to be still interested in the project and started to make savings. Firstly, a large number of the production staff were laid off.  Then the film’s budget was reportedly cut down to $80 million dollars. The studio also discussed shooting the picture elsewhere. The director explained,

“We were asked by Universal to move the film outside the U.S. to take advantage of a tax credit… We are evaluating whether this is something we want to do. In the meantime, the film is in a holding pattern.”

Verbinksi was never happy with the budget cuts and this in turn leads him to leave the director’s position.  Universal then bought on board Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later) as director.

When IGN spoke with Verbinski at a later date, it looks as if he was still overseeing the project to some degree and was still confident in keeping that violent tone true to the game,

“We’re working trying to make it. The problem with BioShock was: R-rated movie, underwater, horror. It’s a really expensive R-rated movie. So we’re trying to figure out a way working with Juan Carlos to get the budget down and still keep so it’s true to the core audience, you know? The thing is it has to be R, a hard R….We don’t want to dumb it down, we don’t want to make it PG-13. We want to keep it really edgy, and it’s a huge bill.”


Once the studio changed directors however, Ken Levine, the game’s creator, lost his confidence and personally cancelled the project.Speaking to Eurogamer in late 2013, Levine said,

“They brought another director in, and I didn’t really see the match there – and 2K’s one of these companies that puts a lot of creative trust in people. So they said if you want to kill it, kill it. And I killed it.”

“It was saying I don’t need to compromise – how many times in life do you not need to compromise? It comes along so rarely, but I had the world, the world existed and I didn’t want to see it done in a way that I didn’t think was right. It may happen one day, who knows, but it’d have to be the right combination of people.”

You can see a small sample of the film’s concept art below. If you wish to see more I highly recommend viewing these websites of the film’s concept artists.

“​I was a concept designer for Academy award winning production designer, Rick Heinrichs on this unproduced Gore Verbinski film.  Fun sets to design!” – Kasra Farahini

Concept Designer – Kasra Farahini

Concept Artist – Jim Martin

Concept Artist & Designer – Tim Flattery

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This all feels a little ironic considering at the time of writing, Deadpool, which is rated R, has just opened and is smashing box office records for a film with that rating.

However you have to remember that Deadpool‘s budget of $50 million is still smaller in size than Bioshock‘s later revised budget of $80 million.

It’s been confirmed that Deadpool‘s creators had to cut several action sequences to the tune of $7 million at the last moment for Twentieth Century Fox  to greenlight the picture. Fox wanted to reduce the financial risk of producing this R rated film as much as they could.

Maybe, thanks to Deadpool‘s success, this could start a change in the industry.


John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves the movies and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990's. Whilst the web page idea became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. Now he's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.

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