To date, there are only 29 theatrically released American films based on video game properties, yet the highest aggregate score for any of them has been a 58/100 (according to Metacritic.com). With so many quality original stories available from the medium, why has there not been a single one that is generally accepted to be a high-quality movie?
As an intense lover of all things video games, this fact is especially hard for me to swallow. I’ve always wanted non-gamers to understand just how interesting the stories in video games can be. Since you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t have at least a minor interest watching an occasional movie, film has always seemed like the easiest method to get that point across. Yet every time I walk into a theater hopeful that this will be the one that will finally stands out as an excellent adaptation of one of my beloved franchises, I walk out of that same theater just as disappointed.
That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed any of these movies. On the contrary, I’ve had a lot of fun seeing familiar characters and settings brought to life on the silver screen. But I can count on one hand a number of titles that I would legitimately recommend to anyone. There are plenty of opinions out there as to why we haven’t had what many would consider an excellent video game movie, but I wanted to take a shot at it from the perspective of someone whose first love was gaming instead of movies.
Video games can have mature stories
Despite the fact that the average age of gamers is 35 years old and that only 25% of those who play video games are under the age of 18, so many people look at this hobby as an activity for children. To many people, it’s nothing more than a fancy toy and nothing more. This stigma causes a lot of people to shy away from these stories, probably because they’re expecting nothing deeper than a mustachioed plumber saving a princess from an evil turtle king. But there’s so much more available when it comes to original plots.
Unfortunately, the first attempts at bringing video game characters to life took place when story wasn’t the forefront of importance in video games. When the infamous “Super Mario Bros.” hit the screen in 1993, video games were still somewhat gaining their footing. Games were primarily about mechanics as people we still getting used to interacting with their media instead of merely watching it. This trend continued with movies like “Mortal Kombat”, “Double Dragon”, and “Street Fighter”, all of which were games with very little in terms of narrative. Times have changed and games much more intricate storylines than ever before, but it seems like only those who play them know this. I’m of the belief that people have to get over this mindset and be a bit more open to stories that come from a place they are not familiar.
Not only that, but filmmakers need to do a better job of picking better source material. It seems to me that the majority of the intellectual properties adapted from games to film are ones that the suits assume will appeal to a broad audience. People crave something fresh and exciting, not always just another mindless action flick with eye candy and a couple recognizable characters. Instead of choosing “Bloodrayne”, “Dead or Alive”, or “Doom”, why not tackle the underwater utopia of “Bioshock” or post-apocalyptic wasteland of “Fallout”? Those are two examples of an incredible list of games with bold, interesting storylines that would translate very well to film.
Film adaptations need more fan service
I completely understand that movies and video games are not the same thing, nor should they look identical to each other. But in order to win over an audience of gamers (an audience that is growing larger by the day), there needs to be more familiarity to the original source material. Earlier I mentioned “Super Mario Bros.”, a film that pretty much only had character names in common with the original game. It’s considered to be one of the most bizarre realizations of an imaginary world. The closest I’ve seen a movie get to what the game looked like was “Silent Hill”, which had a few almost exact camera angles from that were very recognizable from the game. But it wasn’t enough. The film eventually strayed away from its roots and focused on other things than what made the game series so good.
The easy comparison here is comic book movies. Do they follow the comics exactly to the letter? No. Are the characters and situations instantly recognized by those who read them and loved them as kids? Definitely. Video games need the same treatment to win those fans, otherwise the “genre” will never be looked at anything other than a joke.
Fans of video games need to get to the theater
Although it’s not based on a video game property, a movie called “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” came out in 2010 and gave me hope for a spark for video game movies. While it wasn’t the best movie I saw that year, it was one of the most fun and gave me a ton of nostalgia. Sadly, my theater was quite empty on opening weekend and the film fell over $10 million short of its budget. How can we expect studio executives to green light more films of this nature if the audience for whom the movie was made doesn’t show up to see it?
It begs the question: “Where are the fans?” How can we complain about these movies not getting any better, when we’re not willing to contribute to the ones that are just “OK”? Also, why are the only successful adaptations ones that barely resemble the games on which they are based? “Prince of Persia” arguably had nothing to do with the game other than its setting, yet its one of only three movies based on a video game to break the $250 million mark.
This isn’t to say that I’m not hopeful for the future of video game movies. This Christmas, we’re getting “Assassin’s Creed”, a game franchise with a very intriguing storyline that actually ignited my interest in history. Fans of archeology should also be excited about the film adaptation of “Uncharted”, which is due to come out in 2017. But if these stories are ever going to get heard by a broader audience, something has to change. I only hope that change is already in motion, and that this summer will be the start of something great for gamers.
Because we deserve it.