The lights are on
Hollywood has been trying to crack the code of what makes a
great video game movie for over 20 years, with little to show for it. Maybe
it's time to acknowledge the truth: Film adaptations of video games serve no
Since the abysmal Super
Mario Bros. released in 1993, the film industry has spent years and untold
millions trying to adapt popular video game franchises to the silver screen.
What do we have to show for it? A half-decent Angelina Jolie action flick in Tomb Raider? A handful of ridiculous
(but admittedly entertaining) Resident Evil movies? Dozens of stinkers like Doom, Street Fighter, Final
Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and BloodRayne?
Even the best of them haven't attained much more than uninspired competence.
Most of them probably even made their money back after DVD and international
returns were counted. But is there even one video game movie that really seemed
like a vital piece of filmmaking? Is there a game movie that meaningfully added
to your appreciation and enjoyment of the games?
Here's the thing: There's really nothing that a film
adaptation can do to add to a great game franchise.
This is truer now than ever. In the early days of video game
movies, you could at least make the argument that the technological limitations
of old consoles prevented game designers from robust storytelling (thought I
wouldn't make this claim around fans of old-school RPGs). In the cases of early
attempts like Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat, the filmmakers could at least claim to be expanding
the paper-thin storytelling of the original property. Of course, these attempts
were abject failures, resulting in muddled films that pleased neither fans of
the games or general moviegoers.
As bad as they were, there's even less reason for today's
games to be made into films. Cinematic visuals? Great storytelling? Memorable
characters and dialogue? Games are already have those. I personally don't feel
the need to see non-interactive version of these stories replayed on a movie
The other fundamental problem with adapting video games to
film is that many of the games themselves are so influenced by iconic movies
that you're essentially making a facsimile of a facsimile. Seth Rogan and Evan
Goldberg, the writers behind comedies like This
is the End, Pineapple Express,
and Superbad, hit on the problem when
they recently addressed the multiple offers they'd been given to write an
Rogan: "They're constantly asking me and Evan to make the Uncharted movie."
Goldberg: "For like four years now, they've been just like 'Make an Uncharted
movie for us.' But it's just gonna be Indiana Jones! If we could figure out a
way to make it not Indiana Jones, it'd be awesome."
As much as I love the Uncharted series, they're right. It's
an amazingly well-made, fun update of Indiana Jones, but that's all it is. I
love Indiana Jones (in my opinion, it's a better trilogy than Star Wars), and
the fun of Uncharted is getting to experience that type of adventure myself
- by playing the game. Along the way, you're treated to a movie's worth of
great dialogue and cutscenes; I don't need the same thing over again with live
The same holds true for new and upcoming adaptations like Need for Speed, Agent 47 (Hitman franchise) or the long-abandoned Halo project. At
heart, all these properties were so derivative of standard chase, action, or
sci-fi tropes that I'm not sure there was a lot to be added through a film
- especially when today's game technology allows for such robust
While unique game properties like Assassin's Creed (which is
reportedly being made for a 2015 release) or BioShock (which was canceled by
series creator Ken Levine) could theoretically stand a better chance of being the
source material for a quality film, there's still an inherent problem. So much
of my enjoyment of those games comes from the fact that I slowly peel away the
layers of these amazing environments through exploration and gameplay. The
experiential aspect of BioShock is core - the ending meant more to me
because I'd seen firsthand the results of Andrew Ryan's ideology throughout the
game. I'm not sure seeing those same events played out in a two-hour, passive
experience would have the same impact.
I'd love to be wrong. Maybe all it takes is the right script and the right
director to create that classic game movie we've all hoped for. However, the
history of the partnership between games and Hollywood doesn't give me much
reason to believe. However, I'm completely sure of one thing: As long as there
is money to be made, Hollywood and the game industry will keep trying to get it
Email the author Matt Helgeson, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.