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The Gran Turismo Movie is a First for Video Games, but Still Hurts Esports

  • Gran Turismo is based on the real-life story of Jann Mardenborough winning a chance to compete in a real race by winning a competition in the famous video game franchise Gran Turismo.
  • Jann Mardenborough competed against 90,000 other competitors to earn his chance to participate in the Dubai 24 Hour for Nissan.
  • The movie stars big names such as David Harbour and Orlando Bloom and was directed by Neill Blomkamp.

The Gran Turismo movie is set to release on August 11th, 2023, and both video game and esports fans alike should be excited about it. This film has some heavy hitters in the cast including David Harbour (Stranger Things, Black Widow), Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean), Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond, Shazam!) and more. But, most notably, in an era where video game movies are doing better than ever, it’s still doing something that has yet to be done right.

The Good of Gran Turismo

The past few years have been rather kind to video game movies and adaptations that, as recent as even the 2010s, were still suffering from directors and writers who didn’t understand or respect them as well as fans that couldn’t recognize how movies are different from video games.

But movies like Detective Pikachu, The Super Mario Brothers or even streaming shows like The Last of Us on HBO have shown that video game adaptations are starting to change. They're being made with respect to the source material. That said, they’re all still movies about the video game world and the characters. It’s telling the story that’s been told in the game itself.

That’s where Gran Turismo is deviating from the usual script, as the movie isn’t really about the game. Gran Turismo is a movie about the people who play the game. It’s based on the true story of Jann Mardenborough — a driver who entered a competition with 90,000 entrants to play Gran Turismo and earn himself a spot in a real race. To this day, Mardenborough is still racing professionally.

With the exception of The Wizard released in 1989, where three kids went on a journey to compete in a video-game championship, there haven’t really been many movies about the people who play video games.

As the esports world has grown in popularity, the way players, media and the mainstream look at video games has changed considerably. It’s not just a pastime or a hobby for kids anymore. It’s something aimed at people of all ages and is also a viable, if somewhat unstable, career path.

Gran Turismo is a true-to-life story about competition, coming-of-age and the human spirit overcoming impossible challenges to triumph. It has the same ingredients for success that classic sports films like Remember the Titans or Field of Dreams have. Whether or not it can deliver and become an iconic film for a younger generation of gamers remains to be seen.

Archie Madekwe as Jann Mardenborough in Gran Turismo.

Archie Madekwe as Jann Mardenborough in Gran Turismo. 

The Bad of Gran Turismo

There is one glaring issue with the Gran Turismo movie that should worry gamers and esports fans excited to see it. While most people in the esports or gaming space have long since abandoned and ignored the question of whether or not esports should count as sports, it's still one of the first topics to emerge whenever esports hits the mainstream.

The mainstream will always entertain the debate because there will always be an older, more traditional generation that only considers something a sport if there is a risk of serious bodily harm like a concussion or death.

In the trailer for Gran Turismo, David Harbour’s character is constantly putting down the star of the movie and other gamers because they’re just that, scrawny gamers. The movie still sets gaming and esports as the antithesis of real sports.

While Mardenborough’s character does eventually prove everyone’s assumptions about him wrong, it doesn’t do anything to change their perception of gaming or esports. Mardenborough goes from a gamer to an athlete, but competition was always in the DNA of the story regardless of if his car was real or a simulation.

Even off the big screen, not many shows or movies are ready to take esports seriously yet. In 2019 Ballers with The Rock had a plot line involving esports that made the usual tired jokes about gamers and their moms' basement. Even the Simpsons took their shot at an esports episode in 2019 as well.

But if esports athletes want their own version of Field of Dreams or Remember the Titans, then movie makers need to stop treating gaming like it's a joke.

Gran Turismo is Still a Win

We won’t know for sure exactly how the movie frames the world of gaming and esports until it releases in theaters. Ultimately, however, the success or failure of Gran Turismo is still a step in the right direction for gamers and esports athletes who want to see their stories told on the silver screen.

If Gran Turismo does well, we’ll be one step closer to seeing the struggles and triumphs of a rookie of the year in Call of Duty, or a League of Legends player adapted to the big screen.

Gran Turismo releases in theaters on August 11th, 2023. The film is directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Chappie) and stars Archie Madekwe, David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Darren Barnet and Djimon Housou.