Atari’s Missile Command, a potential Hollywood franchise


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Can squiggly lines be the new movie stars?

Not the ones on the face of an aging, plastic-surgeried celebrity, but those that threaten the the base cities in the vintage video game Missile Command. That’s because Atari, which has been increasing its efforts to mine its video game library in Hollywood, has tapped Missile Command as a property ripe for a theatrical film.
The company is in active discussions with studios to acquire the title for development, with Fox and Peter Chernin’s new production company the likely venue at which the property will end up.

The 1980 game was both of a product of and reflected Cold War anxieties. Players were asked to defend six cities from an onslaught of ballistic missiles (represented by the sort-of squiggly lines) with the help of anti-missile weapons (represented by flashing cursors) fired from alongside said cities. Basically, you kept trying to line up shots to explode the squiggly lines and stop them from from coming, over and over again until it got so fast you could stop them no more.


The game first appeared on the Atari 2600 -- cue nostalgic memories of the family rec room -- and was subsequently developed for other consoles and handheld platforms. Atari is also said to be developing a multi-player remake of the game.

There are traces of science-fiction elements to the game (the story is putatively set in another galaxy) as well as military overtones. And the film would likely be shot in 3D, tapping into the current vogue. But how a studio could turn Missile Command into a full-fledged action movie remains a question. Both the look and story behind Missile Command were, as they were with so many titles from the so-called golden age of video games, spare to say the least, though a manual did offer some detail: players were defending cities on Zardon from the invading armies of Krytol (aren’t you glad we told you that?).

Then again, while video games with rich back stories can be more cinematic, a spartan vintage game can offer its own appeal, if only because it can be molded by an enterprising screenwriter into just about anything.

There’s been a gold rush of late on video games generally. Back in the summer, an auction erupted over another Atari property, Asteroids, which Universal and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura ended up winning. And plenty of contemporary games are on the path to the big screen, including the upcoming ‘Prince of Persia’ and the still-in-development ‘Shadow of the Colossus.’

Avid’80s fans, or just casual browsers of Wikipedia, will know that Missile Command’s cheeky ‘The End’ screen was used in the final-credit scene of ‘Fast Times Ridgemont High.’ If Atari has its way, the game could go from a big screen pun to a full-fledged film.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Times staff writer Ben Fritz contributed to this report.