For millions of PlayStation gamers, Nathan Drake and Victor “Sully” Sullivan are favourite characters whose stories they have lived out through their consoles in the Uncharted series of videogames. In Uncharted, moviegoers will see for the first time how the two joined forces and how a young Nathan Drake became the famed treasure hunter.
The “Uncharted” games have connected with millions of players and sold more than 44 million copies over six games.
Director Ruben Fleischer (Venom, Zombieland) says it’s no secret why: “It plays like a movie, he says, and not just any movie – the kind they don’t make anymore. Uncharted truly captures all of the magic of what I love about film,” says Fleischer, who directed the film from a screenplay by Rafe Lee Judkins and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway, and a screen Story by Rafe Lee Judkins and Jon Hanley Rosenberg & Mark D. Walker, based on the PlayStation video game by Naughty Dog.
“I’ve dreamed of making a treasure-hunting, globe-trotting adventure since I was a kid. That kind of movie gave me a passion for history and antiquity – I even went to college thinking I was going to be an archaeologist. As soon as I read this script, it captured that magical quality of escapist adventure. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be asked to be part of something special.”
Street-smart Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) is recruited by seasoned treasure hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) to recover a fortune amassed by Ferdinand Magellan and lost 500 years ago by the House of Moncada. What starts as a heist job for the duo becomes a globe-trotting, white-knuckle race to reach the prize before the ruthless Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), who believes he and his family are the rightful heirs. If Nate and Sully can decipher the clues and solve one of the world’s oldest mysteries, they stand to find $5 billion in treasure and perhaps even Nate’s long-lost brother…but only if they can learn to work together.
“The games are so cinematic,” says producer Charles Roven, noting that these games lend themselves perfectly to an adventure film. “The places these guys go on their adventures in the games have some pretty great visuals to them, with engaging characters who do some pretty incredible things together. It’s a fantastic base to build a movie.”
Producer Avi Arad agrees: “A movie needs plot, excitement, action, mystery, and ‘Uncharted’ has it all,” says Arad. “‘Uncharted is a high-action adventure game based on historical facts, exciting characters, treasure hunts, and all the elements that make it exciting for moviegoers. It has elements of sailing of the high seas, sailing the high skies, and characters that all have a reason as to why they are on the hunt. That makes it more complex and gets us to understand our players of the game.”
“Uncharted is a return to the classic adventure movie, with a very contemporary, modern twist,” says producer Alex Gartner. “And these are characters you want to go on an adventure with. You want to see how they work out their issues and become bonded to each other. We intentionally took advantage of the gap in the games’ narrative to explore a time period of Nate and Sully’s relationship that the games do not cover, giving everyone a fresh experience.”
Tom Holland has been a fan of the games ever since he first got his hands on them with “Uncharted 4” in 2016. “I was shooting Spider-Man™: Homecoming, and one of the benefits of working with Sony is they outfitted all of our trailers with the newest PlayStation. One of the games they gave us was ‘Uncharted 4,’ so, between setups, my best mate Harrison and I would be playing. We played the game backwards – once we fell in love with the fourth, we bought the other games and caught up.”
“As an actor, it’s a gold mine – forgive the pun,” says Holland. “Nate has had this dream all his life, but let it go because of circumstance. To have Sully come in an relight that fire is really exciting. For someone as capable and talented as Nathan Drake, it’s really nice to see him have wonder, excitement, and innocence when Sully reintroduces him to the world of treasure hunting.”
“Movies aren’t really made like this anymore,” says Tom Holland, noting that the film was shot on location and on built sets (rather than computer-generated ones) whenever possible. “When you make these big, big action movies, you’re just acting on a blue screen. For this movie, Ruben was adamant that it needed a tangible feeling that we were in real places, so he pushed for real sets. The crypt and church were both built. The boats are real – we had an interior, exterior, and an outside exterior on a gimbal to simulate that the boats were flying. We pushed the boundaries of what we could do with practical sets.”
“There were so many moments throughout the process of making this movie that I felt like a kid in a candy store,” says Fleischer. “Getting to build these sets transforms you. The crypt underneath the cathedral, the catacombs, the treasure room (which was a Roman antechamber), and then of course the pirate ships… it makes it much more visceral and real, for the actors but also for the audience. It adds a layer of texture and reality that you can feel when you watch the movie. And in modern filmmaking, it’s just not done that way very much anymore. A lot of the credit goes to our production designer Shepherd Frankel, who was responsible for building all those incredible sets that fill the frames of the movie. His vision and his commitment to making it believable and real – it’s a tribute to him.”
The production also filmed in real-life locations. “We shot in the real Santa Maria Del Pi, a fifteenth-century Gothic basilica in Barcelona – which is exactly where the scene in the film takes place,” says Fleischer. “We set Moncada’s headquarters at an incredible place in Barcelona called el Born – it’s a Victorian market that was going to be converted into a library, and when they began to dig out the foundation, they discovered ancient Barcelona below it. It’s now an archaeological site – antiquity beneath this 150-year-old structure. It felt very appropriate to make it the headquarters of the Moncada Foundation.”
Fleischer says that Tom Holland was the perfect person to lead the adaptation as Nathan Drake. “He’s endlessly creative, as collaborative as you could hope for, and such an avid fan of the games,” says the director. “He had a real commitment to the character and the franchise that even exceeded my own because he’s such an ardent fan.”
As a veteran of the Spider-Man movies, Holland is well-versed in filming action, but from the very beginning, it was clear to him that Uncharted would require its own approach. “It had to be more grounded in reality,” he says. “When you’re making a Spider-Man movie, the sky is the limit – Spider-Man can essentially do anything. Nathan Drake, at the end of the day, is a regular person. It was exciting to have the opportunity to bring a character like this to life – to explore the action sequences and figure out what he could do and what he couldn’t.”
“You want to bring character and personality to the action,” Fleischer continues. “It’s so great when you can find humour within the action, or even elevate the character through the action.”
Pairing Holland with Wahlberg brought out everything that Wahlberg excels at as an actor, Fleischer continues. “He can do incredible dramatic work, he’s one of the world’s funniest actors – for which I don’t think he gets the credit he’s due – and he’s obviously beyond physically fit. He has a great heart and can disguise that in layers of wiliness, untrustworthiness, and intriguing mystery. Sully features all of those different aspects of Mark at once – his portrayal of the character is spot-on.”
For Holland, the chance to work opposite Wahlberg was a fantastic opportunity that he embraced – and the two developed an incredible rapport. “What’s happening on screen is also happening off-screen,” says Holland. “I’m very much the young kid in Hollywood who’s coming up, and Mark is the OG – he’s been doing this longer than I’ve been alive. Mark was showing me the ropes and made me want to bring the best of myself, to show what I could do. As we brought these characters to life, it was nice to see the synergy between Mark and me and between Nate and Sully.”
“The movie raises the bar with the chemistry between the characters,” says Wahlberg. “It was a lot of fun working with Tom – we hit it off right away. He’s a gamer – no pun intended: he’s willing to try things and play around. And I embraced being the more mature elder statesman. In the movie, because Nate is a little bit younger and Sully can still move around a little bit, we peel back the layers as these guys start to come into their own.”
“It added to the authentic relationship between them,” says Fleischer, who notes that the actors reflect their relationship both comedically and dramatically. “It’s a testament to their talent as comedians and actors that they were able to bring themselves to that dynamic in their banter. But more importantly, it’s through this adversarial relationship that by the end, they’re truly bonded and forged in brotherhood.”
“One is in it for the treasure and one is in it for finding his brother. At the same time, it’s like a mentorship,” says Arad. “Nate is a young kid who was raised to believe in Magellan’s travels, and if he finds the treasure, he will find his brother. Sully is in it just for the gold. Everyone is protecting their small territory and get what they want out of it. It creates interesting banter and a very crafty relationship as both will do anything to get the answers they are looking for.”
Gartner says that bringing the game’s relationship between Nate and Sully into the film – protecting the repartee between the characters while showing how they built that trust – was key. “This first meeting puts the wheels in motion of what becomes an unbelievably close and enduring relationship between Nathan Drake and Victor Sullivan,” he says. “But the dynamic between them at the beginning is definitely not great. They’re both characters with trust issues. Sully doesn’t trust anybody and has learned over his life he can’t trust people because he himself is not trustworthy. Nathan, on the other hand, was abandoned as a child, and assumes any close relationship is going to go in that direction. So you have two characters who are very hesitant to trust each other embarking on an incredible adventure together, and who eventually find a common bond between them.”
“This theme of mistrust is replete in the movie,” says co-writer Art Marcum. “Nate and Sully walk in the footsteps of people who centuries before them had the exact same mistrust of each other. The surviving members of the Magellan journey hid their gold, then made one key for the captain and one key for the crew. If any time they ever went to get the gold, no one person could steal it for themselves. That’s what gold does to you; it makes you paranoid.”
Sully and Nate will join forces not just because they want to, but because they have to. It will be the only way to win a deadly race to the treasure against Santiago Moncada, the heir apparent to the Moncada family fortune, who believes that the even greater missing Magellan fortune is rightfully his.
The role is played by Antonio Banderas. “He brings humour and interest to every part he plays,” says Fleischer. “The way Antonio plays him, he has a chip on his shoulder and a lot of daddy issues. He wants to prove that he’s not just a spoiled kid – that he can contribute to his family’s history. The one thing that no one else in the 500 years of his lineage has been able to do is to find this treasure. He’s committed to doing it and to making the Moncada name what it once was. Against Tom and Mark, Antonio carries equal dramatic weight as a villain.”
“Antonio Banderas is an acclaimed actor who is beloved the world over,” says Arad. “His character has a unique interest in this treasure that has to do with the family legacy. He’s of course charming but can be just as dangerous as he wants to get all of the treasure and reclaim his family fortune.”
The writers attracted Banderas by penning a layered villain with more than a little self-delusion. “From his point of view, there’s a debt he’s owed, but as a descendent, he’s never made anything of himself in his own right,” says Holloway. “Moncada believes if he can find the Magellan treasure, it will be his own claim to greatness – which is weird because he’s going after the gold that his ancestors stole. But in his own mind, this is how he’s going to prove himself.”
Why the Uncharted games are so popular
“The inspiration for the “Uncharted” franchise lays in classic action-adventure movies, infused with a modern take,” says executive producer Asad Qizilbash, Head of PlayStation Productions.
“‘Uncharted’ is built on four major pillars,” he explains. “Number one is exotic, beautiful locations: these are globetrotting adventures. Number two are character-driven stories: a lot of drama and great wit. Third is big cinematic action sequences that always stand out. And four, iconic treasure-hunting nostalgic moments featuring maps, puzzles, and torches.”
“The great thing about having the games as source material to base the film upon is that the tone is so well-established,” says Fleischer. “The humour, the relationship – there was a template to follow. But when you’re making a film and not a videogame, you have to make it your own. It was really important to distinguish our story from the games, to show a different aspect of it. For any fan of the games who’s had the experience of playing it – viscerally immersed in it – I wanted to give them a movie that worked as a film first.”
To wit: the characters of Nathan Drake and Victor “Sully” Sullivan, who – when the games begin – are partners in their treasure hunting adventures. The games pick up the relationship midstream, as the two have clearly survived many adventures together. In Uncharted, the filmmakers introduce the characters to movie audiences by showing how they got that way, casting Tom Holland as a young Nathan Drake before he became the legendary treasure hunter, and Mark Wahlberg as Sully, still in his prime.
Roven says that the movie characters are the characters that the fans of the games will know – but before they have been shaped by each other. “Nate is a little more innocent than he is in the game because he hasn’t been on an adventure like this before,” he says. “And Sully’s a guy who just really wants to make sure that he gets what he wants – you’re not really sure whether or not he cares about anything else.”
“This is a story that has never been told,” says Gartner. “For an audience who have never played the games, it’s an origin story of this key relationship. For fans of the games, who already are familiar with the characters and the stories told within the games, they get something new, something to learn, something to explore that they haven’t had a chance to explore before. For everyone, it’s a new adventure.”
Director Ruben Fleischer
Based in Montclair, New Jersey, Fleischer got his start as an award-winning commercial and music video director. He founded the ABC Studios-based production company The District with partner David Bernad. Prolific producers, their comedy series Superstore ran for six seasons for NBC. They also produced The Bold Type for Freeform, which ran for five seasons, and Stumptown for ABC, which starred Cobie Smulders and Jake Johnson. They most recently produced the miniseries The White House Plumbers which is set to premiere on HBO in 2022. Notably, Fleischer also directed the pilots of Santa Clarita Diet for Netflix and American Housewife for ABC. Previously in the TV space, Fleischer co-created and executive produced the hit reality MTV shows Rob & Big and Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory. Most recently he directed Zombieland: Double Tap, a ten-years-later follow-up to his breakout first feature film, Zombieland. Other films Fleischer has directed include 2018’s comic book adaptation Venom, 2013’s Gangster Squad, and 30 Minutes or Less. His films have grossed over $1.2 billion at the worldwide box office.
Raffe Lee Judkins (Screenplay / Screen Story by) is a film and television writer and producer. His production company Long Weekend has a first-look television deal with Sony Pictures Television. In TV, Judkins created and is currently showrunning The Wheel of Time for Amazon, based on the acclaimed fantasy book series by Robert Jordan. The first season premiered in 2021 and was Amazon Prime’s most-watched series ever, with Season 2 currently in production. Judkins also created The Last Amazon, which is currently in development with a writers’ room at Netflix and is expected to go into production later this year. His other projects include The Division for Netflix with Jessica Chastain and Jake Gyllenhaal starring, Red Queen for Universal, and Imagine Agents for Netflix.
Art Marcum & Matt Holloway (Screenplay / Executive Producers) are screenwriters and producers. They are originally known for writing Marvel’s Iron Man, directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey, Jr. Marcum and Holloway also wrote Punisher: War Zone, Transformers: The Last Knight, and Men in Black: International. Their upcoming film Morbius, starring Jared Leto and based on the Marvel antihero, will be released later this year.
Jon Hanley Rosenberg & Mark D. Walker (Screen Story by) are a screenwriting duo who have developed projects at Universal, Tristar, 20th Century, and Sony Pictures Television. Walker is originally from Montpelier, VT, while Rosenberg hails from Bensalem, PA. They met at Temple University in Philadelphia and both currently live in Los Angeles.