The Failure Of The Halo Movie Gave Us A Sci-Fi Classic

"Halo" will be bursting onto your TV screen in a completely unplayable way (read: as a TV show) on March 24 when the series finally hits Paramount+, and my has the road leading up to this moment been a bumpy one. If you've been checked out from the nonplayable "Halo" saga, which has not seen the success of the very playable "Halo" series (read: the video games), this might come as a surprise, but Microsoft has been courting movie and TV execs with the allure of Master Chief's popularity for well over a decade. Nothing has stuck until now, but not all of that time was wasted. Without the folks at Bungie or Microsoft, we wouldn't have the enduring sci-fi hit "District 9."

It's a story that starts off with a stunt and ends with a hopeful (although not necessarily realized) directorial debut, but it's got its own dusting of Hollywood magic nonetheless. Back in June 2005, shortly after the release of "Halo 2," Microsoft suited up a horde of actors in Master Chief costumes, armed them with copies of the first "Halo" script, and pointed them towards all of the big movie studios. Besides the script, each individual Master Chief was armed with a contract that leaned heavily in Microsoft's favor. The whole operation was bombastic and confident, a proclamation that Microsoft has the hottest IP in the game, and they were willing to ride it all the way to the top.

'We had lost Halo but we had started District 9'

And it worked. Kind of. After getting a deal together with co-financiers Universal and 20th Century Fox, the only thing left was to do the damn thing. The script, which had been passed through Hollywood, was written by Alex Garland (who would go on to make another enduring sci-fi hit "Ex Machina"), Peter Jackson was on to produce, and he in turn, hired the young blood Neill Blomkamp to direct. Even with this science fiction dream team, Microsoft managed to shoot themselves in the foot, and the project had completely fallen apart by October 2006.

But instead of splitting up, Jackson and Blomkamp pivoted. Hard. In a 2009 Kotaku interview with Jackson, he explained that the switch from working with Microsoft, Universal, and 20th Century Fox to doing their own thing with "District 9" was basically immediate:

... I just look back on it and think, well fate made a decision that it wasn't gonna be "Halo" that we made, it was gonna be "District 9." 'Cause it literally happened within 24 hours. I mean, we woke up one morning thinking we were making "Halo." That day we got the news that the studios, Fox and Universal, didn't want to make the film anymore ... During the course of that day ... we decided to take control of our own lives a little bit and we thought, "Well, let's make an original movie. Let's keep it low budget. Let's try to finance it independently so we don't have to get involved with studio politics." It's sort of, do something that we can control without putting ourselves into a Halo situation again. And that's what happened. And so by the end of that day, we had lost "Halo" but we had started "District 9."

Alien ships in the night

We all know the rest of the story. Unlike the "Halo" adaptation, which bounced around Hollywood for the next 16 years, "District 9" was released to critical acclaim in 2009. While Bloomkamp has gone on to make some interesting directorial choices (I have a lot of feelings about "Elysium" and none of them are good), there is still a considerable interest in a "District 9" sequel, with Bloomkamp even stating as recently as February 2021 that he is working on "District 10." 

If that's true and production on "District 10" runs smoothly, it's funny to think that an unmade "Halo" adaptation spawned "District 9" and that both of those IPs might once again pass by each other like alien ships in the night. As Matthew McConaughey said in character once, "time is a flat circle."