With the recent poor performance of game adaptation Hitman Agent 47, many believed it to be a death sign for the genre of film adaptations from popular video games. However, for some inexplicable reason, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. YouTube channel Game Theory did a very interesting piece about how many game adaptations back in the early 2000’s such as BloodRayne, Alone in the Dark and House of the Dead were all made by notorious director Uwe Boll, mostly for the sake of tax loopholes and guaranteed profit. Even without him, however, the video game film genre thrived in the 90s and early 2000s, despite almost all of them being critically panned and commercial failures, with the exception of a key few such as Mortal Kombat and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. However for every one of those, there’s five Super Mario Brothers and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li‘s. So, for a very long time, it seemed as though big budget video game adaptations were a thing of the past, but starting next year, they seem to be making a big revival.
Studios are obviously confident in their next two video game adaptations, with Uncharted and Warcraft both getting June releases in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Assassin’s Creed is getting a prime December 21st release date, and Lionsgate just announced their film adaptation of the Borderlands franchise. If all of these films were getting dumped into January or late August (ahem, Hitman) then there would be reason to believe that they would just be more awful video game films. But with such sought after release dates, the studios must have strong faith in them, whether because all three of those franchises have solid fanbases or because the films themselves are actually good. Call me unreasonable, but right now I’m leaning towards the latter.
So why is it that video game movies tend to be terrible? Well, as a fan of both mediums, it seems as though there is a strong disconnect between the films that should be made into films and the ones that are made into films. Often times the best selling games are the ones with the best gameplay, typically without a very strong story line or cinematic quality. No one plays Super Mario Brothers or Call of Duty for the intriguing cinematic plot, but every year they still top the best sellers chart. Studio executives will only make films based off of these games despite a lack of story that translates well into a visual, story driven medium, leaving the screenwriters at a loss as to what to make the story into. There are games that could very well make great films such as BioShock or Red Dead Redemption, but because their sales pale in comparison, studios aren’t willing to take a risk.
A good comparison is the Young Adult novel adaptation, a genre that has floundered in the last few years. It seems as though they either become big hits like Twilight, The Hunger Games or Divergent or big flops such as Beautiful Creatures, The Host and Vampire Academy. Rarely are there films that end up in the middle of the spectrum outside of The Maze Runner, which seems to be the exception that proves the rule. I personally believe that studios could learn a lot from this genre and maybe even master the art of making video game films, and it basically comes down to one simple principle; make a film that people outside of the source material can enjoy and understand. Sure, The Hunger Games isn’t a great film, but it was decent enough that it attracted huge crowds across the board, and The Maze Runner was able to have a strong, long run thanks to solid word of mouth.
Essentially what I’m saying is that there is a goldmine of potential for video game adaptations to be turned into quality films, but the problem is that bad ones are becoming a self fulfilling prophecy; the rights are given to someone without much quality film experience or knowledge of the games, the film doesn’t appeal to anyone, critics pan it, and they’re forgotten about. There’s a solid middle between maing it exclusively for the fans and an appealing film for general audiences. The same could be said about book adaptations, because if a film can only be enjoyed and/or understood by fans of the book, than you have failed at creating an adaptation. Changing from a video game to a movie isn’t an easy transition, I get it. You go from something with a smaller audience that’s mostly interactive to something created by many different people with zero interaction whatsoever. Creating an adaptation isn’t an easy thing to do, but in the right hands, it could end up giving us some truly great films.