In this ever wonderful world of entertainment, money almost always reigns supreme. It doesn’t matter if what was delivered was total garbage or soundly disliked by nearly everyone. If enough money was made, all the bad is suddenly washed away for a hopefully better future. That’s essentially what happened with the 2007 Hitman film. Critics and fans alike absolutely slayed nearly every aspect of it, but it put enough asses into seats to generate a profit, apparently convincing 20th Century Fox that a second movie was necessary. Now here we are with Hitman: Agent 47, an attempt to reboot the series into a critically loved and further profitable venture. Reviews are already pretty terrible (shocker!) so we’ll see if that ever comes to pass.
It’s no surprise that one of the biggest studios in the world wants this brand to work in film. The Hitman series has enjoyed a particular level of popularity since the first game came out in 2000. While Codename 47, the inaugural title, wasn’t a major critical darling, it left a strong enough mark to deliver the much better received Silent Assassin in 2002. From that moment onward the series has had a special place within the stealth genre. Agent 47, the franchise’s main character, is immediately recognizable to gamers everywhere with his signature bald head and expertly tailored suit. He looks practically normal compared to protagonists of similarly minded games like Metal Gear, Splinter Cell, and Assassin’s Creed. The Hitman brand itself is very well known and is now currently published by Square Enix, one of the industry’s largest developers. Pure awareness is without a doubt not an issue for Hitman.
Outside competition is though. Despite all five games being mostly well received with a sixth coming later this year, the Hitman series is by and large not the most dominant stealth game in terms of sales. It is firmly trumped by each of the three franchises I mentioned previously by double digit millions. Admittedly though, these games in particular are at a distinct disadvantage in the market. Metal Gear has existed since the NES and is overwhelmingly loved for its tendency to get super weird. Splinter Cell has the sterling Tom Clancy moniker and all those benefits, along with featuring very detailed adventures. Assassin’s Creed is now an annual series with an absurd number of installments since it first began in 2007, so by sheer quantity alone it reigns supreme. For a series that doesn’t have all these benefits, Hitman has actually done very well for itself over the past 15 years.
It also helps that the Hitman games are typically very fun to play. Agent 47 is a trained assassin who only targets notorious global criminals, directed by the fictional International Contracts Agency (ICA). Since he’s a genetically engineered human being with the DNA of multiple ethnicities, 47 is quite literally an “every man” when it comes to his craft. The games focus heavily on picking up disguises to blend into a crowd and kill your target without raising any alarms. Sometimes you need to make it look like an accident, while others require traditional means like guns, knives, or 47’s signature garrote. Frequently you need to hide bodies to prevent any chaos as well. This is perhaps the biggest distinction Hitman has with its competition. Killing and leaving without a trace is usually required for success. Other games don’t care how many alarms are set off when your target is dead or don’t even make stealth a hard requirement. For Hitman, whose protagonist is as much of a blank slate as you can get, the real game is being part of the environment.
I have personally never played a Hitman game. Sometime during my teenage years I distinctly recall being given a copy of the original, but it never received any use. There admittedly is no particular aspect about this series that kept me away. I’m very fond of Metal Gear Solid and was all about Assassin’s Creed before it became the stealth genre’s answer to Call of Duty. Dressing up in a fancy suit to kill high profile targets for wealthy clients seems like the exact type of game I’d have a lot of fun playing. It just simply has never come to be, quite possibly a side-effect of having too many games and not enough time to cover them all. Someday, eventually, I’ll put myself in Agent 47’s shoes, and I’ll probably enjoy it.
Hitman is already a success for Square Enix. The series has sold well, generated quite a following, and it is instantly recognizable to gamers across the globe. However, there is still a sense that the brand has room to grow. 20th Century Fox is clearly convinced that film is one of those avenues. Current negative reviews aside, if Agent 47 can sell enough tickets, there’s no doubt that studios will keep tapping this well for more material. Will that lead to the next great film series? It’s unlikely. We admittedly have yet to receive a Hitman game that makes critics fawn over its quality and declare it a bonafide Game of the Year contender either. Perhaps we need that to happen first and then we can worry about making a good video game film adaptation.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his classic video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.