What Is the Video Game Movie Curse?

It seems like every year we get a new movie or two based on popular video games. It also seems like every single one of them has flopped! Are these video game movies as bad as we think they are, and if so, why do studios keep making them?

Before we get into that, however, I want to make a quick distinction. Movies like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Wreck it Ralph, and the upcoming Ready Player One do not fall into this category. While it’s true that the phrase “Video Game Movie” does describe them, I’m talking about movies that are based off of video games, not about video games.

Lets go back to 1993, where we get the first ever movie based on a video game, Super Mario Bros.

super mario bros

A movie where two regular New Yorker plumber brothers accidentally get involved in a conspiracy and get thrown into an alternate reality where the dinosaurs are still alive…or something. This movie lost over $27 Million. A huge loss, surely Hollywood doesn’t want to recreate that!

They did though! Next up we have Street Fighter starring Jean-Claude Van Damme in 1994, which turned a profit of over $64 Million. Maybe Mario was just a fluke! Lets keep going! Lets make a bunch of video game movies!!

YearMovieNet ProfitRotten Tomatoes Score
1993Super Mario Bros.-27mil15%
1994Street Fighter+64mil18%
1995Mortal Kombat+104mil34%
2001Lara Croft: Tomb Raider+159mil20%
2002Resident Evil+70mil34%
2004Resident Evil: Apocalypse+84mil21%
2008Far Cry-29mil12%
2010Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time+136mil36%
2010Resident Evil: Afterlife+240mil23%
2012Resident Evil: Retribution+175mil31%
2016Assassin’s Creed+115mil18%
2016The Angry Birds Movie+276mil44%
2016Resident Evil: Final Chapter+272mil36%
2018Tomb Raider+168mil51%
2019Detective Pikachu+283mil69%
2020Sonic the Hedgehog+211mil64%

The answer then is: Yes, video game movies are bad. The other answer is: studios keep making them because they are making SO MUCH MONEY! This ties into a previous article about how people are only going to see sequels, not original screenplays, because those Resident Evil movies are almost consistently going up each time.

So many of these movies are making so much money, and yet, are getting dragged through the critical mud. When the highest scoring movie on that list is this…

the angry birds movie.jpg

…then you know there is a problem.

How to Fix It

The problem isn’t lack of onscreen talent, seeing as how we have had Michael Fassbender and Angelina Jolie take on leading roles. So then it has to be behind the camera somewhere. Sometimes studios don’t understand what it is that fans like about the story, like in Assassin’s Creed, where having a character be in some sort of prison is not the part we care about. Maybe it’s the writing, like in Resident Evil, where it has barely anything to do with the games, besides saying “Raccoon City”, “T-Virus”, and “Umbrella Corp.” Warcraft had a hard time, because ever since Lord of the Rings, every high fantasy project has been in that same vein. We haven’t had giant magic portals and huge green orcs set somewhere that is clearly not our world. All the popular fantasy lately has been LoTR, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, etc. It’s going to take more than some previews to get people back into that old school fantasy.

warcraft portal

Really what it comes down to is the inability to convert hours upon hours of interactive media into a two-hour, non-interactive media. You don’t need to try to just be a cut-scene from the game, like Mortal Kombat, and hope that the lack of a story is good enough. You also shouldn’t make an unrelated movie, and change some details to fit the game, like Resident Evil. You should find a story in the game that doesn’t get the focus it needs, because the story the game is playing doesn’t need it. I think Warcraft had the best grasp of that idea, but took a concept that was too obscure to take on properly.

So what can Hollywood do to actually make a good video game movie? Well to start, take a look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Start off with a character that people don’t know as well, so there will be less disappointment. Then find a way to put them into a situation that we can all understand, and empathize with. Iron Man was a C-List character, and while not many people can relate to being a billionaire super genius who gets kidnapped by terrorists, we can relate to having a traumatic event that changes how we see our priorities in life. Lastly, you need to see the hero working for what they are doing. We don’t walk into Rocky when he already knows how to fight, and he is kicking butt, we see him struggling to get to that higher place so he can accomplish his goals. Stories aren’t about worlds, they are about people. You need to focus on the people.

rampage game.jpg
In a game with no characters, who’s story are you telling?

Hopefully that is what the new Tomb Raider will do, but it could very easily just be her imitating Indiana Jones, which isn’t as cool. Of course if that is a flop, then we will get another take at the exact same set up with the Uncharted movie with Tom Holland. I feel like the new Rampage movie is just going to be San Andreas + Kong: Skull Island, which I guess is fun, but nothing worth getting excited about.  I think the best bet of a really good video game movie would be The Last of Us. Sure it’s just a mix of Logan and The Walking Dead, but both of those are really good, and so if someone just allows it to be that really good story, and doesn’t try to do anything flashy, they have a good shot at it. A while ago, there was rumor that Netflix was going to develop a Legend of Zelda show, but that was announced as false with no discussions like that having happened. That would also have been a good chance, however, to create a high quality show on a “network” that has proven themselves with unknowns,such as Daredevil and Jessica Jones.

legend of zelda live action
A central character with a story worth telling

At the end of the day, movie producers just aren’t sure how or what to translate onto the big screen, and what to leave behind on the console. Maybe someday someone will come by and be the Iron Man of video game movies, showing us what we could have.

What video game do you think would make a good movie adaptation? Let us know in the comments below!


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