Warcraft: from game changer to epic big screen adventure

The epic, 20-year-in-the-making Warcraft narrative brings the 1994 inaugural game, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans to life.

Since its inception, more than 100 million players have experienced the dazzling and compelling mythology that is the global phenomenon known as World of Warcraft.

Now, Warcraft, an epic adventure of world-colliding conflict based on Blizzard Entertainment’s global phenomenon hits the big screen under direction of Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) and written by Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond) and Jones.   Read the review


Warcraft stars Travis Fimmel (TV’s Vikings) as Commander Anduin Lothar; Paula Patton (Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol) as half-orc Garona

In the film, the peaceful realm of Azeroth stands on the brink of war as its civilization faces a fearsome race of invaders: orc warriors fleeing their dying home to colonize another.   As a portal opens to connect the two worlds, one army faces destruction and the other faces extinction.   From opposing sides, two heroes are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their family, their people and their home.

So begins a spectacular saga of power and sacrifice in which war has many faces, and everyone fights for something.

Warcraft fimmel

Warcraft stars Travis Fimmel (TV’s Vikings) as Commander Anduin Lothar

Warcraft: Orcs and Humans

Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, created by Blizzard Entertainment in 1994, was a breakthrough smash success that served as the first chapter in a trilogy that, for many fans, redefined the real-time strategy genre.  The second and third, Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness and Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, further stoked fascination and imagination in its players, as did the best-selling novels and other popular merchandise.

But it was the fourth title in the series that was, literally, the game changer.

In 2004, Blizzard released the massive World of Warcraft, a subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG)—in which vast numbers of players throughout the world can adventure alongside one another in the same universe.  The game, in which players are able to select a character within the Alliance or Horde faction and control its actions, forging bonds with other characters in a dazzlingly detailed setting, went onto become one of the most successful fantasies in the history of gaming.

Today, more than a decade later, World of Warcraft boasts 100 million registered users, maintaining its ranking in the top-10 most popular MMORPGs in the world.

Since that time, five expansions to World of Warcraft have been released, the most recent being World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor.  By embarking on the ever-evolving chronicles that are Warcraft, a player can engage in thousands of quests and limitless adventures amid a fantastical backdrop of myth, magic, mighty kingdoms and dangerous battlefields.

Conflict is at the center of the Warcraft lore and when Blizzard and the filmmakers began discussions about bringing the property to the big screen, the challenge was not only to be faithful to countless legions of fans throughout the world, but also provide a riveting narrative for audiences unfamiliar with these fantastical environments and characters.

Ultimately, they chose to return to the very beginning of the Warcraft saga and focus the creation on two contrasting worlds: Azeroth, beautiful and serene, and Draenor, a dying planet whose inhabitants face extinction—as well as the odyssey of two heroes on opposing sides whose fates were drawn together by destiny.

Warcraft the film

Duncan Jones 1

Writer-director Duncan Jones is an award-winning filmmaker known for telling bold and exciting stories full of multi-dimensional and interesting characters. Jones previously won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for his directorial debut feature Moon, about an astronaut and his time alone on the moon. Jones also co-wrote the sci-fi drama, won a slew of awards and was named as the award for Top Independent Film of the Year by the National Board of Review. Additionally, Jones directed the thriller Source Code, and is currently in pre-production on his next film, the long-awaited science-fiction film Mute.

In 2006, Legendary Pictures announced it had acquired the Warcraft film rights and entered into a development partnership with Blizzard Entertainment to produce a live-action motion picture.

During this process, blockbuster producer Charles Roven and his producing partner, Alex Gartner, were approached by Legendary’s Thomas Tull and Jon Jashni to partner in the production of a movie that would do justice to this remarkable entertainment franchise.  Legendary and Atlas had worked together since the production of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, and Warcraft would be their next monumental project together.

The filmmaking team, along with partners at Blizzard, brought writer Charles Leavitt on board to distill the franchise’s complex mythology into a feature-length epic-adventure drama.  A strategy emerged to tell the story predominantly from the perspective of the Alliance, with a brand new hero being introduced into the character array.  Naturally, in the ensuing decade, development ensued, as other premises and the ideal director were considered.

Then, in early 2013, it was announced that filmmaker Duncan Jones was on board to direct.  Finding this perfect storyteller would ultimately prove to be easier than the producers first imagined.  Best known for his BAFTA award-winning masterpiece Moon, as well as the twist-a-minute Source Code, Jones had another valuable asset to bring to the table: his intimate understanding and deeply personal love for the game.

Charles Leavitt

Screenwriter Charles Leavitt wrote the screenplays for the acclaimed 2006 drama Blood Diamond and, most recently, the 2015 Ron Howard sea-faring epic In the Heart of the Sea. His other film credits include Peter Chelsom’s The Mighty, Iain Softley’s K-PAX, and the true-life sports drama The Express, under the direction of Gary Fleder. He also previously collaborated with Legendary Pictures on Seventh Son. Leavitt is currently finishing work on Thirst, an HBO movie for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Pearl Street Films, dealing with the global water crisis.

Of the development, producer Tull reflects: “Blizzard took the time to create an entire history.  They did a lot of the heavy lifting, and we were able to stand on their shoulders.  I think they felt from us a genuine love for the property and a desire to tell, not just a good story, but a great story in the universe that they’ve created.”

Tull offers massive respect for the story creators and the team’s collaborators.  “The people that are making videogames are astute storytellers,” he says.  “We’re now in a place where we can use these worlds that they’ve created, and these characters that people want to spend more time with.  Frankly, at the end of the day it’s all storytelling, whether it’s based on a short story, a graphic novel, or a comic book.  So anywhere that storytellers can find inspiration, we get excited.  We absolutely have that inspiration in Warcraft.”

Producer Roven discusses the team’s process in securing the director: “We worked hard to get the screenplay right and, quite frankly, it was Duncan who came to us with the missing ingredients.  One of the things that makes Warcraft such a great game to play, besides the environment it is set in and the innovative things that the characters can do, is the fact that you can pick which side you want to be on.

“You can choose the avatar, whether it is from the Horde, which is made up of orcs, or the various humanoid races from Azeroth,” he continues.  “So, Duncan raised the fact that if you can play either side, he wanted to make sure that we tell the story from both sides—good and bad—and let the audiences root for both points of view.”

Roven’s producing partner at Atlas Entertainment, Alex Gartner, long believed it was key for the filmic version of Warcraft to celebrate players’ experiences and welcome those unfamiliar with Draenor and Azeroth into these imaginative worlds.  He reflects that it all began with one simple rule: “What guides our films are characters.  The story has to come from incredible characters, ones you want to go on a journey with.  I don’t care how elaborate, amazing and visual the world is, if you don’t have characters that you want to be on the ride with—and ones who you want to stay with after the film ends—then you don’t have a movie.”

For Atlas, the production of Warcraft would offer, according to Gartner, “the marriage of live-action filmmaking, digital filmmaking, big sets, elaborate costumes, world creation and fantasy.”  He reflects on the genre’s importance in entertainment, as well as this film’s exploration of themes of “survival, love, protection of family and fear of the unknown.”  Says the producer: “Fantasy can be an opportunity to explore things in a different way that can often have a more subtle, and sometimes more informative, resonance than perhaps dealing with them right in the face.”

Director of the well-oiled machine known as Warcraft was Jones, a devout gamer and World of Warcraft player for many years.  The filmmaker admits he was very excited about the prospect of a Warcraft film long before he was considered to direct it.  Given the opportunity to meet with Blizzard and reveal his alternate approach, he recalls: “If you’re a player of the game, you know that part of its appeal is that you can be a hero, no matter what side you’re on.  So my pitch was that the film should mirror that; it should be a war movie, one which shows the heroes on both sides and treats them with equal respect.”


Ben Foster (Lone Survivor) as magical Guardian Medivh

Producer Fenegan, himself a passionate player from the beginning of the Warcraft franchise, has partnered with Jones for many years, since their days together in the commercials industry.  Fenegan offers why he believes the source material is so powerful and has such epic film potential: “One of the most amazing things about Warcraft is the fact that it’s not a linear game in which you are forced to play a particular character.  You have this sense of community, and I feel that’s why it exploded and went so huge all over the world.  You have this opportunity to create your own character; you step into this environment but instead of interacting with computer-generated, non-player characters, you have this social experience with people from all over the continent in which you’re playing.”

Chris Metzen, senior vice president of story and franchise development at Blizzard, recalls the day they met with Jones and Fenegan to discuss bringing the series to the big screen: “Duncan was talking about his experiences, the things he loves about Warcraft and how long he had played, and there was this immediate kinship.  The more he talked about his vision, and his instincts on what was possible, I knew we were in good hands.”

It was this exchange of ideas and possibilities that drew the filmmakers to conclude the best place to begin the epic, 20-year-in-the-making Warcraft narrative was with the 1994 inaugural game, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, in which a portal from the dying planet of Draenor delivers a brutal and desperate orc army to Azeroth’s doorstep.

Metzen explains: “For all the stories that you can tell around the fictional events of Warcraft, especially given all the players’ experiences in World of Warcraft, which happens some 30 years after the events of the film, we thought that going back to the start and showing the origins of the Alliance and the Horde—and how these first conflicts shaped the events of the modern era—would be the common point in everyone’s experience.  It seemed clear to start at the start, where both of these factions that define so much of the franchise’s modern era began.  In that way, we created the best possible primer for what Warcraft is to everyone, regardless of what race they’re a part of.”

Producer Jashni agrees with his team that this take was spot on.  He gives: “The challenge is that you need, as filmmakers and as storytellers, to take a position.  How are you able to show both sides of an issue or both perspectives on a world and also, simultaneously, root in a more-traditional narrative interwoven with heroes, villains, treachery, betrayal and emotion?  Duncan found a way for us to start thinking about all this in fresh and relevant ways.”

With the approach and shooting script now finalized, the filmmakers began a rigorous search to find the actors who would portray some of Warcraft’s most iconic characters.

Roven reflects on bringing the exact right cadre of performers into the movie: “Warcraft is a story that can really immerse you as a film.  It’s taking you to a place where you can’t go in real life, and we all love to be transported that way.  Certainly, however, the most important thing is that, even when you’re in these amazing worlds, you have to connect to the characters, and that transcends all great films.”