Since the 1990s there has been a long stream of consistently bad video game movies. It seems that every time a movie studio gets their hands on a video game franchise, the final product never meets fans’ expectations and flops at the box office. But why? Well, with a year or two of big name video games being turned into movies on the horizon, let’s take a look at the failures of the past and why they were such failures. First let’s look at this very depressing list of scores for past video game movies…
Pretty depressing huh? But it’s pretty easily explained. The core issue that seems to keep cropping up is the same issue that Marvel used to have. The companies sell their product to movie companies who don’t really know and understand their product and just want to make a profit from the fans. This is the first fatal mistake of almost every video game movie. A classic example of this (though there are many others… practically all of them really) is Doom.
Doom was an OK film… kinda. It still scored a pathetic 19% on Rotten Tomatoes… but why? The problem is that it wasn’t Doom. The majority of people going to see this movie were fans of Doom, or at the very least were fans of video games and wanted to see a movie of this legend of the games industry. With a big name like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, people were naturally getting excited (like they do for every video game movie) but, like all the other video game movies, fans left with a bitter taste in their mouths.
This movie showed what typically happens; the movie producers learn just enough about the game to make something resembling it, but don’t do it justice. Something this movie did though, that truly slapped fans in the face, was the video game-like scene towards the end that was basically the movie company going “Hey! You liked the game right? Look how cool we are giving you this tribute!” Problem is, is that instead of being a cool tribute to the game, it became more of an insult because of what came before it. Which is a shame, because it was actually a pretty cool sequence.
So why do companies keep making video game movies if they don’t seem to want to make a real effort to get them right, or often not even know what the game is about? Why, for easy money of course! You see, if a company spends a relatively low amount on a movie that they know will get a decent audience, they can make a profit very easily. It basic economics really. The demand is there, the supply of interested people are already established, so there isn’t a lot of work to do on the advertising side of things, and even worse, the movie producers know that it will make money, no matter how badly made it is.
This creates a nasty circle of move failures, that continue to give the genre of movie a bad name. It’s sad to think that this is all for the sake of money, but it’s true… just look at the Tomb Raider movie.
Video gamers went mad with excitement when a Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie, who was considered one of the sexiest actresses of the time of the movie’s release. People were full of hope, and went in their masses to see it… the result? A Rotten Tomatoes score of 19% but a box office of $274,703,340! That right there should tell you everything you need to know. The companies buy the rights to a popular video game that they know will make money, put a well known celebrity as the main character, give the production a low budget and boom! money made, job done.
What is more insulting though, what myself and other video game entusiasts simply cannot stand, is the arrogance of the companies that do this. In interviews and behind the scenes they throw around the idea that they know what fans want and that they want to create the movie that fans want to see. But it’s an absolute lie.
So what’s the solution? Is there a solution? Well, yeah, there is. Like I said earlier, Marvel had this issue… but they don’t any more. Why? Because they started doing it by themselves.
Remember the days where superhero movies were cringing and very hit or miss with their success? It wouldn’t take much thinking, it was only 10 or so years ago. Superhero movies were very much like video game movies. Companies bought the rights to the superhero and made a movie based on a general idea of the franchise. More often than not, this would end in a mess of a movie that never made anyone’s “all time favorite movies” list.
But then Marvel said “enough!” They stopped selling their properties to movie companies and started making their own with their own writing staff. This resulted in almost 10 years of nothing but fantastic, fan pleasing, money making success. Just by taking over the movies’ production, they have created a new age in cinema where superheros rule that doesn’t look like it’s going to stop any time soon. This is what needs to happen for video games.
You want a video game movie that you leave the cinema excitedly chatting among your friends like you’re 12 years old again? You want to be filled with the joy of seeing your childhood immortalized on the big screen? Then it needs to be made by the people that made the game. Only then can the movie be a true representation of everything you love, because it is being written by the same people that gave you the love in the first place. At the very least they need to be the deciders of the important things in the movie. Without the people that know the game like the back of their hand, you cannot have the movie that you are hoping for.
But, there is a problem with this. The problem being that a lot of game companies don’t keep a permanent staff of writers. Sure there are some that do (Bethesda for example), but most don’t. This is because they focus on the gameplay over the story. The Call of Duty franchise, for example, would be a terrible movie adaptation, because it is so heavily tipped towards gameplay over story.
The big hope for me in the list of upcoming movies is Warcraft. This is the goliath of games. The mother of MMOs and is owned by Blizzard, a legend of the industry. If anyone has a chance of getting the movie the way that they want it, it’s Blizzard. That’s all that this movie genre needs. It needs an Iron Man. Iron Man showed the world that superhero movies could be amazing movies. The video game movie industry hasn’t had its Iron Man yet. But when it does, the genre will never be the same again.