Grand Theft Auto fans puzzled by the ongoing lack of a GTA movie announcement despite the growing popularity of crossover projects have been given some clarification via a report claiming the publisher doesn’t have the legal right to make the film.

Despite the unprecedented popularity of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto franchise, including the recently-released hit Grand Theft Auto IV, publisher Take-Two is legally barred from making a film of the same name. While the videogame series is ubiquitious, a report on Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood Daily blog points out that in 1977, Ron Howard, better known in those days as Richie Cunningham, wrote, starred in and made his directorial debut with a Roger Corman flick also called Grand Theft Auto.

According to a “studio insider” quoted by Finke, Fox still owns the rights to the movie, but has no particular plans for it. “Yes, it has been one of 400 development projects for several years,” the insider said. “But they are nowhere on the script. It has certainly not been a front-burner project.” Meanwhile, a legal settlement over the use of the name apparently prevents Rockstar and Take-Two from making a Grand Theft Auto movie, while Fox and other principals on the 1977 film can’t make a videogame adaptation of the movie.

Finke also points out the strangeness of Fox’s lack of interest in pursuing a deal to make a movie based on the game. Take-Two recently signed a deal with Universal Studios to bring the 2007 hit FPS BioShock to the big screen, but similar action with GTA has never been publicly considered, despite its runaway popularity.

One possibility is that the disinterest in adapting the property lies not with Fox but with Take-Two: The first-week sales total of Grand Theft Auto IV destroyed similar marks set by major movie releases including the Harry Potter movies and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and there may be a reluctance to dilute the brand, either through overexposure or by softening of the game’s content to accommodate the under-18 audience.

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