With dozens of video game related projects either in production or still being bandied about in Hollywood, one has to wonder how much more patience the movie industry will have on giving the green light to putting the adaptations of some of our favorite gaming memories on the silver screen.So right off the bat I’m going to ask you a question and you know, since I’m a fairly nice guy (just don’t ask Angry Nick) I’ll even give you some time to think about it as you read the rest of my article…
“In the Last 25 years, name me a live-action fictional film, based off of a video game premise that stands the test of time from both a critical and commercial standpoint?”
That hesitation in searching for an answer you might have thought was “easy-peasy” and would answer in mere seconds really isn’t…is it?
But that has been a troubling concern that ‘s enveloped my brain here the past month as we have conducted our interactions here at Game Source. A problem that on the surface would seem really easy at first to answer but one that if you think about it is truly difficult to nail down one legitimate qualifier. So when given the opportunity at each forum this month whether it was internally through our staff chats, our Podcast #127 from Retro City Games in Henderson, Nevada (which you can listen to HERE) and even when yours truly was interviewing Colin Campbell from Polygon.com recently as part of a school project I approached this conundrum with a broader, easier to reply inquiry in the hopes of finding my true answer.
At each point in time I asked :
“What video game movies are actually well thought of not only with you but well thought of as a whole?”
With each individual there was at some point in time a bit of silence. Either that or a long “Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh….”. There were obvious answers such as documentaries like King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters by director Seth Gordon and Nintendo Quest (by our good friends Rob McCallum and Jay Bartlett which, if you want to know how to get one of the best video game documentaries ever just go HERE) which are two of the most outstanding representations of the gaming scene in cinema, but they’re just that… documentaries.
Wreck it Ralph came up a few times but as any gamer or Disney fan knows it’s a bit animated. Colin suggested Tron and asked “Does The Last Starfighter qualify?” and while technically both would have answered my personal question very well (with a reboot of TLS on the way) if the Eighties were included the problem is if I have to go that far back to find a film both universally loved by audiences and film critics alike isn’t there a slight problem with that? 1982 and 1984 respectively…really? Is that how far we have to go?
Even Rob’s suggestion of 1989’s The Wizard being a guilty pleasure doesn’t come without some scrutiny on its financial “success” (that and it’s 28% Rating on Rotten Tomatoes). For some real hilarity, look at this 2012 “list” from Game Radar’s Alex Rubens and begin to realize just what I am talking about. The fact that there has been no definitive big budget, Hollywood action film with a direct tie in to a video game that has been a winner on both fronts is a troubling sign and speaks to possibly a larger problem in the way these projects come to life in “Tinsel Town”. Douglas Houghaboo, one of the owners from Retro City Games said it best after thinking about it a few seconds “I couldn’t really name one I would think is that good.” Right there signifies a problem and what should be a concern for all gamers and movie fans is that nobody else can really name one either.
If you still don’t believe there’s an issue let’s clarify things even further. Even the most successful video game adaptations of the past 25 years haven’t been made without being considered nothing more than “popcorn fare” or movies that don’t have any real substance or critical praise. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time which has an world wide video game movie take of over 336 million dollars was deemed unworthy by Disney of any follow ups due to not meeting its lofty expectations.
How about Lara Croft: Tomb Raider? Didn’t that movie help serve as a precursor to Angelina Jolie’s action movie offerings in Salt, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Wanted? Yes, while that movie did well at the box office (274 million plus worldwide and a hopeful contender from Rob ) and even spawned a sequel its status from a critical standpoint (19% on Rotten Tomatoes) will never have that movie being put on a pedestal any time soon.
What about the Resident Evil movies right? There’s been five of them (Resident Evil, RE Apocalypse, Extinction, Afterlife and Retribution) with one more on the way (The Final Chapter coming 1/27/17) so at least one of them must be pretty good? Uh not so fast there, while combined the RE movies have generated over a whopping 900 million dollars on a global stature it’s safe to say that none have been well regarded for its quality (The highest Metacritic.com rating going to Extinction with a “Metascore” of 41) theatrical experience.
Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Hitman and Silent Hill have all seen varying levels of financial success but each in its own way have not aged well and these days are considered by many to be nothing more than “hokey, check your brain at the door” entertainment, which while fun for late night television viewing for me and other gamers doesn’t really hold up as a beacon for great movie-making.
With that being said it seems that a movie company (and fans to some extent) at some point in time will have to take these video game based projects a little more seriously so that “finally” we gamers can have a AAA movie experience that matches up with those AAA games we as a culture are already so used to. When will this happen? Unfortunately it will not be this weekend as Assassin’s Creed, the Michael Fassbender starring vehicle is getting “pwned” by the critics (with a dissenting voice FOR the film from on our own Josh Pederson right HERE ) and from all indications will fade very quickly from the theaters and will be coming to a Redbox near you very soon.
Fear not though as the movie industry still has hope that one day it will strike it rich with gaming-centric film adaptations of Uncharted, Call of Duty and Gears of War among many others either set to go or are in some level of production ensuring at least a few more opportunities for Hollywood to get its act together when it comes to creating that big budget video game movie that everyone (including Doug) can agree upon was “that good”.
A common theory for the continual failures of movies like Pixels, Double Dragon, Super Mario Bros. and Doom among others is shared by more than one person when questioned. They intimate a really good video game story needs to develop over a longer period of time than what can be captured within the framework of a two hour movie. Rob pointed out what in my opinion are some of the most spot on comments regarding this in our Game Source Podcast #127:
“The whole monster that is a ‘Hollywood release’ at least is wrong for video games. A video game is something you spend time with. I think something like…a higher tier cable network (HBO, Starz, AMC) would suit a video game properly much better. (Be)cause then you can spend more time with the characters because let’s face it video game properties allow you to really get to know characters well over a long period of time and have them evolve.” If that’s the case why hasn’t the movie industry gotten the heads up on that!
So now that we have come to the end of this article, what’s your answer? If you have one, send us a tweet @popculturecosmo or message us on our Pop Culture Cosmo Facebook page. But you know, it’s OK if you’re still searching for answer…unfortunately I still am too.
(This article was written originally for Game Source back on 7/24/2015 but after the lack of overall financial success for both Assassin’s Creed and Warcraft, if you exclude the latter’s singular pot of gold in China in 2016, the relevance of what the story is all about still rings true today. The article has been updated with relevant content. Thanks to everyone who participated and to boxofficemojo.com for all the movie revenue information and to my professors and fellow students for my blatant use of self-description in the making of this piece. I know my penance will come in due time.)