J.J. Abrams: Half-Life & Portal Movies “In Development”

Half-Life and Portal movies are “in development”, according to JJ Abrams. The director told IGN that “We’ve got writers, and we’re working on both those stories. But nothing that would be an exciting update.” Which means clearly Abrams isn’t familiar with Half-Life fans, who can see excitement in a cloud shaped like Gordon Freeman’s face.

Abrams spoke about the films only very briefly while promoting 10 Cloverfield Lane, but we’ve known there’s been a collaboration on the cards since at least 2013, when Abrams and Gabe Newell appeared at DICE 2013 together to talk about “storytelling across platforms.” There was also a very minor collaboration once before, as there was a Source engine teaser for Abrams movie Super 8.

Obviously a movie is a much larger collaboration. Newell has said previously that the company had conversations with people in Hollywood not long after the release of the original Half-Life, but found the ideas lacking. They said they’d rather do a movie themselves or not do a movie at all. Presumably with Abrams they’ve found a collaborator they trust – and, more than likely, retain veto rights over any proposed script.

If I were to make a movie in that universe, I’d probably base it on the first Half-Life game. Keep the budget low and make a tightly plotted escape movie about Black Mesa before you do anything else. Although as much as I love the Half-Life and Portal games, I’m not sure it’s a cinematic universe I’m dying to see come to life.

Fan films are fun, however. That’s where this post’s header image comes from: a short film called The Gravity Gun, which you can watch below.


  1. Lakshmi says:

    The casting is also super important. It’ll be weird if Gordon is a big chatterbox, too.

    • Alien426 says:

      > It’ll be weird if Gordon is a big chatterbox, too.

      Same goes for Chell (and, tangentially related, Boba Fett).

      • Lakshmi says:

        I’m trying not to think about Chell. I’m worried about the casting there, too.

        • HyperBreadnox says:

          Bryan Cranston is the obvious choice for Freeman. Though i think that the only way this will work is if you make whoever is cast a badass that only speaks 5 lines the whole movie. Same with Chell, but maybe a smart badass that is depressed all the time and has mental issues.

          • Lakshmi says:

            Chell has a pretty good reason not to speak – to annoy GLaDOS.

          • Davie says:

            I honestly think Cranston is way too old at this point. Gordon’s supposed to 27 in the first game, and unless he aged in stasis, not much older in the second. I think part of his (admittedly limited) character is that he’s not a senior scientist at all, and largely has no idea what’s going on, but still manages to figure things out and survive.
            Personally I can see Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing a decent job, assuming he doesn’t look silly with a goatee.

    • Artea says:

      I’d be weird if Gordon was a character with some semblance of personality, you mean.

    • Rumpelstiltskin says:

      Definitely Jim Parsons.

    • aleander says:

      Freeman should be played by Freeman. Obviously.

  2. demicanadian says:

    Now this is a sad way to start a new week…

  3. Jay Load says:

    Have to say, I’d LOVE to see a Portal movie if the original voice actress for GLaDos returns and the script was as tight.

  4. Noirpunk says:

    A while back, I thought Rashida Jones would have made a great Alyx. But that time has passed.

    • Rizlar says:

      But Rashida Jones as Chell with Amy Poehler as GLADOS, oh my yes.

      • Llewyn says:

        Hang on, did you seriously just suggest anybody other than Ellen McLain as GLaDOS?

      • Atrum says:

        Now I can’t stop thinking about a GLaDOS that sounds like Leslie Knope.

  5. Plank says:

    First person films or nothing.

  6. Sui42 says:

    To be honest, does anyone really care about film adaptations now that we’re in a technological era where virtual realities can look almost as convincing as ‘real’ ones?

    I mean, I remember when I was a kid, the idea of a Warcraft / Half Life / Metal Gear Solid movie (or something) seemed tantalising. But, looking back, partly this desire was kindled by the fact that most games had terrible graphics and even worse scripts. I think I just wanted to see these game worlds outside of the wonky haze of 90s technology.

    But now it often seems like the cinema screen is more wonky. I mean, look at the fucking Warcraft movie trailer- it looks beyond awful. They’ve sucked all of the Simpsons-esque parody fun out of Warcraft (which is probably one of the main reasons for its success), along with the majority of the best races / locations (as it’s set long before the undead etc). In a word; it’s boring. Compare with something like, say, Firewatch, which has a wonderful script to rival any indie film, and which loses nothing for being rendered digitally.

    If anything, I’d rather *films* were made into *games*. I was re-watching Aliens lately, and it’s dated so much. But it DID make me want to play Natural Selection. There must be so many Hollywood flicks that could be vastly improved by being game-ified.

    • Doganpc says:

      The flip side of my Games don’t make good Movies post is that Movies don’t make good Games either. Frankly, if I’ve seen the movie and enjoyed it, my interest in a game is based on wanting more of that world. More importantly is that I want to have a part in it too. Bad games get made when someone feels they can just shovel the movie script into a game. It is bad, because I’ve already seen it, I already know the story arc and the game provides nothing novel.

      So if you make a game about a movie, don’t do the movie with go here and gather this to continue shit. Take the world the movie created and find an angle for another character to have a side story within.

      • Doganpc says:

        or the lead character (if that’s your selling point, ala Batman) and put them into a new story.

      • Sui42 says:

        Well, I think the joint message of both our posts is this: only adapt the things that WORK. Most game scripts / storylines are terrible, and therefore don’t translate into good films – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting ideas / concepts that a director could run with.

        Similarly, only a handful of films would make good games – most of which are probably action films, or revolve around a conceit which could be easily translated into ones and zeroes / code-based interactions. BUT such films exist, and many have already been unoficially adapted (e.g. my earlier example of natural selection).

        But there’s huge scope for more game adaptations of films – the trick would be to immediately throw out the film’s script. Take something like Terminator, for instance. What a brilliant idea for an open world game! The player starts in one corner, the ‘terminator’ in the other. There are only a very few ways to kill the Terminator; none of which are ‘known’ to the player at the start. So the player has to evade / escape until it can figure out a way to kill the terminator.

        Of course, if you make a linear Terminator game with checkpoints and cutscenes… just…. no.

      • Scripten says:

        Alien: Isolation would like to have a word with you.

        Though, I do understand what you are saying. Straight conversions between mediums very rarely ever pan out well. Exceptions abound, of course, but they invariably fit within various constraints. Alien: Isolation works because the Alien is a well-defined antagonist, yes, but also because the narrative conceits translate to an existing gaming genre. Game of Thrones works as a television series because the story structure translates across mediums easily. Same thing goes for The Walking Dead, Batman, and any number of extended worlds where new stories fit easily or existing stories are already molded into the right shape.

        Where it gets murky is when you have things like STALKER/Roadside Picnic/Stalker. Each was successful and entertaining (YMMV, of course) in its own medium, but the links between each are tenuous at best. The important part is whether the designer of each experience is skilled enough within their own medium to draw the elements from another medium and employ them correctly.

        I doubt that there is anything that can be made, in movie form, of the existing narratives in Half Life or Portal. They do, however, each offer a universe with enough detail to make a unique narrative, if the scriptwriters are brave enough. (Assuming they also understand the world to a reasonable degree, as well.)

        • Sui42 says:

          Agreed on the last point.

          I’m actually 90% sure that both Valve and JJ Abrams are smart enough to make these films pretty far removed from the storylines of the games. If they were to make a film starring Gordon Freeman, they’d piss off the majority of the fans by not doing him “right”, whilst alienating the majority of cinema goers (who don’t know who he is).

          Much better to design a NEW script / film, from the ground up, which borrows all the awesome ideas & locations from HL2. After all, City 17 was far more of a well-developed idea than Freeman ever was (he’s basically a blank slate with glasses – terrible character material for an actual film).

        • Sui42 says:

          On that note, I’d also disagree with the author that the best way to do a HL film would be to start with Black Mesa… because while Half-Life was an excellent *game*, its storyline and setting was mostly comprised of cliche’s. They just happened to be slightly more ‘mature’ cliche’s than other games at the time. I mean… imagine picking up a Black Mesa ‘novel’. It’d be cheap pulp. If I read the synopsis, I wouldn’t give it a second thought, let alone *read* it.

          But City 17 is such a brilliantly designed setting, at the very least (mainly thanks to Viktor Antonov). I’d love to see a film set there.

          • Josh W says:

            I think you could probably do a blueshift style variant, where all the main characters are scientists in an underground lab going pairshaped. Basically, all they need to do is start with that, with a good set of characters, good dynamics and actors, then sneak it into the half life world, with vortigaunts and headcrabs.

            Plus, you can give them a complement of crowbars, but have them mainly use them for opening stuff and hacking things together, embracing the complexity of having people tear a location apart to survive, or hack things together like the engineering support/scientists they are.

            Then you can zip forward to city 17 resistance.

  7. Goodtwist says:

    For the sake of the Almighty, let Uwe Boll make it. He’s the man when the job needs to be done.

  8. GernauMorat says:

    Has there ever been a game adaptation film that was above ’embarrassingly awful’? That said, I felt that Edge of Tomorrow was the best ‘gamey’ film I’ve seen – its essentially like cheesing it through a game by constant repetition without the benefit of quicksaves.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      The last Hitman was watchable and I didn’t mind some of the resident evils. None of them are cinematic masterpieces but they weren’t awful.

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      phuzz says:

      The first Resident Evil film was ok, by the standards of horror movies at least.
      Looking at Wikipedia’s list of adaptations, well, lets just say that if a hypothetical Half-Life film manages to be merely OK, then it will be vastly better than pretty much every other game-to-film adaptation there has been.
      (Super Mario Brothers, ouch)

    • Herring says:

      The first Mortal Kombat summed up the game pretty well. Tomb Raider was good too.

  9. Hedgeclipper says:

    Just what the half life universe needs, lots of lens flare.

  10. Unsheep says:

    Can’t they just make another Portal or Half-life GAME if they have the money to make big budget movies out of these games and they think the interest is there in terms of sales ?

    Based on his previous movies I expect this to become another case of forgettable fluff: a visual spectacle with poor unimaginative writing.

    I would have preferred if the folks at the SyFy channel made these movies.

    • Axess Denyd says:

      I would guess that Valve aren’t funding it, but sold the license while retaining some creative control.

  11. Simbosan says:

    I get it now, HL3 is going to be a movie! Shoukd have guessed

    • Replikant says:

      They said “cross-platform” story-telling. So, yes, it is going to be a movie, but with 4 to 5 android/iOS-supported QTE and a quicksave/quickload feature.

  12. Doganpc says:

    Why does Hollywood keep thinking this is a great idea. That for some reason a popular intellectual property is a viable vehicle for selling a movie. These all fail for the same damn reason. A video game is an interactive experience, you engage with it, determine its pace and interpret its meaning. When someone shoves all this at you through a camera lens it loses all that. I can watch other people play games I’ve played, because it’s a relatable experience. One that I too engaged in and have memories of similar experiences, which recalls my own twist on those moments.

    A Game is not a Book. Now if you want to take a part of the game’s lore (follow an NPC or background story) and do up a film about that, OK. Just don’t sell me on your interpretation of my experience of the actual game.

    • bit.bat says:

      I think its all about considering the strengths of each medium. You can in theory make a good movie out of anything as long as you aware of what film can do well and what it cannot. In that sense games are as valid as books in my opinion, you just have to do it right.

      • Doganpc says:

        Re-reading my bold text… you could say the same things about a book (interactive, at your own pace, up to your interpretation). I like to think the people here get my meaning though.

    • deadlybydsgn says:

      “A video game is an interactive experience, you engage with it, determine its pace and interpret its meaning.”

      I can agree with all of those except the last one. There doesn’t seem to be much of a difference in ‘meaning’ between game and film when it comes to the plot. In both cases, we’re being presented a story through light and sound. Games have the additions you mentioned, and while that might make us feel it differently, that doesn’t change the meaning of the story.

      Then again, I’m not a huge fan of everything being open to interpretation. It’s fine in cases where that’s a deliberate choice, but otherwise, the context and author’s intent is important.

      Side note: I still get chills when I hear certain main story songs from The Witcher 3. Storytelling can be a powerful thing. You’re right about the pace, too. Because TW3 took up the majority of my 2015 singleplayer gaming, its cast and characters left an enormous impact on me.

      • Doganpc says:

        By interpret it’s meaning, i’m getting at player motivation for playing. That whole, save the world or see it burn thing. Some of the more coded wording stems from my being up all night for finals.

  13. DrMcCoy says:

    So is JJ Abrams going to ruin everything now?

  14. Replikant says:

    I love Portal as a game, gladOS is one of my favourite video-game anniversaries of all time (Shodan being another one, I sense something of a theme here).
    But…a movie?? 90 minutes of one person falling at nauseating speeds through holes in the walls, floors and ceilings, building relationships with cubes and avoiding flames, acid, cakes and, most prominently, high-speed collisions with the floor?

    • Replikant says:

      I probably wanted to write adversaries, though I’ll have to check with my psychoanalyst.

    • jfultz says:

      There have been some halfway decent movies which are not so different than 90 minutes of falling through floors, test chambers, room escapes, etc. Cube (IMDB) is a good example. Test chambers, death traps which make no real world sense, etc. Exam (IMDB) is nearly a quintessential room escape story in movie form. What makes these movies interesting, though, is decent development of and conflict between the characters.

  15. Crocobutt says:

    I can already see all the fanboys making these movies a success. JJ Abrams smells money, and these are definitely reeking of it.

  16. Janichsan says:

    So, instead of Half-Life 3, we’ll get Half-Life: The Movie Reboot: The Game?

  17. Jackablade says:

    Portal is bloody a weird choice. I guess they could start by following Doug Ratmann before GlaDOS wipes everyone out and then get he and Chell together.

    A Left 4 Dead movie would seem to have been a much more obvious choice. I guess zombies are a bit old hat, but you’ve got actual characters and something resembling a traditional film narrative to work with.

  18. RedXian says:

    Consider this, JJ’s latest movie 10 Cloverfield Lane which is directed by Dan Tractenburg. Dan, who used to be a one of the hosts on Totally Rad Show, also created a short 4 years ago called Portal: No Escape.

    If JJ was going to produce a Portal movie, he has already employed a director who is deeply familiar with the Half-life/Portal world.

    • rondertaker says:

      yeah i was surprised not to see this mentioned, theres a big connection here and following the success of 10 cloverfield lane trachtenburg will be the obvious choice for a big budget portal movie.

  19. int says:

    Disney should make a sub-studio of Pixar called pixaR (you know, rated R), and start doing gory CGI movies… There must be a TEAM FORTRESS: THE MOVIE!

  20. Moonracer says:

    “Half-Life: The 8 Hour War”
    Another global action invasion movie, telling the story between the two main games. The fall of Earth, the rise of the Combine and the rise of the Resistance. All stretched out into three movies. The third, never to be released.

  21. Tempus Fugit says:

    Because the game-to-film genre has such a great track record.

  22. soundofsatellites says:

    Well, I was actually hoping an HBO Half Life series adaptation (spoiler: vortigaunt sex). That way we have… dunno 3rd or 4th season storylane earlier than HL3.

  23. Asbjoern says:

    When did Gabe Newell last have a public appearance?