Everybody likes movies, and unless you have no soul, the vast majority of the population like video games. Therefore logic says that if a movie was based on a beloved video game it would have no other option to be good and great and the best thing ever. All of the ingredients are there; a huge fan base, fully realised worlds and characters, rich lore, even the musical score. Yet, for some curious reason, this has generally not been the case throughout history, not just from a commercial stand point, but also from a critical and audience one as well, ever since the Super Mario Bros movie released in May 1993.
There are no movies which stand out in the gaming community as being typically ‘good’ and not a single movie based on a game has been certified fresh on rotten tomatoes, not one, in nearly 30 years. Now rotten tomatoes also has the Robin Williams classic ‘Flubber’ at 23% so don’t take that completely as gospel but it’s still quite alarming. Do movie producers just not get what made the games so great? Do the writers? Or quite simply does the magic of a game just not translate well into movie form?
Do we even need movies based on games?
To answer this question it depends who you are. Playing a story driven game like Uncharted, you can argue there is no need for a movie version, and you are right, you can get emotionally attached to the characters, the action and the story arguably way more than a movie version which at best would be just as good, at worst damage your previous affection to the game and its legacy overall. Why risk it?
The impending Uncharted movie prequel Tom Holland thingy carries a lot of these risks and that’s before going into the years Sony has been trying to get it off the ground. At the same time however, not everyone plays games, there is a much larger amount of people who have never played the Uncharted, and have not experienced it in all its glory. They’re probably noobs who couldn’t beat it on casual but I digress.
The Horrible History
There have been plenty of releases since Super Mario Bros the movie wowed audiences back in 1993 and went on to win a record 14 Academy Awards including best costume design and special effects. Some have been better than others, some have had better budgets and A-List actors, yet none you can really say have been an out an out success demanding of a slew of sequels and spin offs. None can claim to have satisfied the majority of the games fans, new audiences and critics. Not many things can its true, no one can make a film for those ‘it’s not as good as the book’ people, but that’s not the point. Most fans will give any adaptation the benefit of the doubt and go in with an open mind, I know I do, god damn I wanted to like the Prince of Persia movie so bad…
The movies that we have had, to name a few, are Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Alone in the Dark, Far Cry, Doom, Silent Hill, Hitman, Max Payne, Need for Speed, Ratchet and Clank, Angry Birds, Warcraft and Assassins Creed.
Since release you could possibly list some of these as ‘guilty pleasures’ or ‘good when drunk’. Resident Evil just went on and on, but the movies are hardly beloved by fans of the series, Angry Birds possibly being the only other one which has been successful enough for a sequel to be greenlit.
These have all been great games once upon a time but maybe they weren’t the true character driven games which would have been best translated into a movie. We don’t know. And I am not going to break down each movie and say what they should have done, I’m not that qualified. With Uncharted and the Alicia Vikander starring Tomb Raider we could see movies start to break the trend but would any of us really trust Hollywood at this point to make the Mass Effect Trilogy or Bioshock or the Last of Us? Maybe these experiences are too long to be condensed into movie form, maybe television is the way to go, Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead have been great adaptations of the source material, being able to flesh out the character and storylines way more than a movie could. Certainly this is something yet to be explored.
The Other Side of the Coin
For every great movie there is a movie tie in just waiting to come out. There are games set in the universes of movies such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings which have been great, but the times when a game would come out in time with the latest Pixar or James Cameron movie have long gone. Back in the day Sega would even release a Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story game. We also had such treats such as E.T the game, Home Alone, PS1 and PS2 would always have a Harry Potter game to coincide with the latest film release.
Back when the MCU was in full swing we got an Iron Man, Thor and Captain America game. We got no Thor 2 game though, and that’s a crying shame. Movie tie in games used to sell well enough, they could be made relatively quickly and generate sales due to a popular movie being in theatres, the problem was they just weren’t that good and the times caught up. Looking back, there are many of us who loved the Monsters Inc game, but now the standards are so much higher than they have ever been, reviews so much more influential, and so many studios putting more time and resources into other endeavours. To be fair if Avatar the game couldn’t break out, despite all of its hype, no other game in the history of ever will break out which might explain why we do not get movie tie in games anymore, Lego games don’t count even though they’re great.
Movie tie ins are a great throwback to a different landscape of the gaming world but moving forwards it’s the movies adapting from the source material which we all love which, if they must be made, must strive to be better and capture the magic which has been captured once before.