Will There Ever Be A Great Video Game Movie?
By Ben Spaeth
Photo: PopSugar – Source
Video game adaptations seem to be all the rage in the film industry right now. Uncharted is currently the number one movie in the box office. Sonic The Hedgehog was one of the highest grossing films of 2020 and has a sequel coming out soon with a third movie and spin-off series on the way. Last year saw the release of Mortal Kombat, which was HBO Max’s most successful film launch to date. Warner Bros. has already announced plans for a sequel. The list of video game movies released over the past five years goes on and on. Most of these films have been financial successes for their studios, with some notable exceptions like Monster Hunter and Tomb Raider – both of which failed to earn back their budgets. But, for every dud, there’s a Detective Pikachu or Rampage that rakes in box office dollars.
All this being said, are these movies even any good? There’s a solid argument to be made that there has never been a good movie based on a video game. Currently, the highest rated video game movie on Rotten Tomatoes is Angry Birds 2. Even with the plethora of new video game adaptations, not a single one of these films has figured out a solid methodology to translate the video game experience onto the big screen. It is certainly a daunting task to try and translate interactive content into a more passive medium, especially when the game is designed to have the player completing puzzles in between cut scenes. Although, with a lot of these games that are being adapted, there are already solid story beats laid within them. For instance, the Uncharted games are renowned for their storytelling abilities. People love to replay those games, not just because the mechanics are fun, but because the story is gripping and engaging. Somehow, the movie managed to take its rich source material and produce one of the most bland action movies I have ever seen.
Most of the video game films that are slated to come out this year seem very kiddie. Personally, I wasn’t the biggest fan of either Sonic The Hedgehog or Detective Pikachu – both which got pretty decent critic reviews and will have sequels out within the near future. There is something to be said though about Paramount’s willingness to change the design of Sonic due to fan requests. While the movies may be child-like, that is after all their intended audience so they can’t be faulted for appealing to their demographic. However, that does put a ceiling on how good any movie they make can be. Not to suggest that there aren’t any fantastic kids movies out there, only that kids movies usually operate on a different scale of judgment than regular films. Other movies slated for release this year are the unnamed Mario movie and possibly a Minecraft movie. I’d be shocked if either of these films end up with any form of acclaim. I am open to a Lego Movie-esque surprise where I go in with low expectations and come out amazed, but considering the previously attempted Super Mario movie and the fact that Minecraft has basically no story, it seems that both of these films have an uphill battle.
There are some video game shows coming up that hopefully will break the streak of "meh" video game based content. One of which is a Fallout TV show. I have hope for this one, not only because I am an avid Fallout fan, but because the lore of the games runs incredibly deep. It’ll be interesting to see how the writers adapt an RPG into the television format. A core gameplay mechanic of RPG’s is choosing your own dialogue options. The Witcher writers faced a similar task of trying to convert a beloved RPG into a series and received some success. The show is generally positively viewed by critics and fans. There’s also a The Last of Us series coming to HBO soon starring Pedro Pascal. The Last of Us seems like it would be fairly easy to translate to the screen, considering parts of the game can feel like extended cutscenes. Paramount+ also has a Halo series coming out in March. The Halo games always had great campaigns and the canon runs deep enough that there should be plenty of story ideas for the writers to mine. Finally, Netflix also has a Bioshock series in development. Bioshock is one of those games that creates a very immersive environment and adds on horror elements to their FPS RPG format. The game also has an amazing twist that would be amazing to see done on film.
The TV shows that are slated for release in the coming years give promise that there will be more great video game based content out there. As for whether there will be any great video game movies soon, the jury is still out. I have little hopes that the Minecraft movie or the Mario movie will be the saving grace of video game movies. I doubt anyone will take video game movies seriously until a dramatic game is successfully adapted onto the big screen.