Video Game Movies

Originally published on Trevor Trove on March 11, 2016

Ever since I can remember, people (myself included) have longed for a video game movie that’s actually good.  While movies like Super Mario Bros. with Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, Street Fighter with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Raul Julia, or Mortal Kombat and the best movie theme song ever are remembered fondly through the nostalgia classes of my youth, those are all categorically awful movies.

Over the years, we’ve seen more and more franchises attempt with varying degrees of failure. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider featured the talent of Angelina Jolie. The Resident Evil franchised has kept Milla Jovovich busy for over a decade. Disney tried desperately to replicate their success with Pirates of the Caribbean but in video game movie-form with Prince of PersiaDoom had one great first-person view sequence in homage to the source material. But none of these or any others ever were the “mainstream success” that players have been longing for to justify our passion/hobby as a broader, widely acceptable form of entertainment.

And it’s not a huge surprise.

For decades, story was an afterthought in video games. So of course it’s not going to make a smooth transition to film in the way that novels or comic books might. Games were driven by mechanics like running through levels, killing bad guys, and defeating bosses. When the actual story of Mario can be told in just a few minutes, you’re going to get a lot of filler to stretch out the movie time. And when Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were filmed, there was barely a story at all: warriors from around the world/other worlds were brought together to compete/kompete in a fighting tournament.

At some point, we crossed into the realm of there being too much story to fit within the confines of your typical 2-hour movie. In large part because games have grown and built out their experiences to keep players coming back for more. But even with something like Uncharted or The Last of Us, widely considered among the top tier of narrative in video games of recent years, imagine all of the fire-fights you play through as Nathan Drake or Joel. Paring down one of Drake’s 10-12 hour adventures would undoubtedly require extensive cutting of not only the story, but also the player-controlled explorational story-telling and character building that comes as the player guides Nate and Sully/Elena/Chloe/etc. through beautiful vistas. Imagine the 2-hour version of that game. It’s either really light on story or really boring to play and you basically just wind up with an Indiana Jones movies with a new coat of paint.

I would much rather see somebody like Netflix take a franchise like Fallout and build out a series of episodes rather than a one-off film. Imagine following a Vault Dweller and all of the twisted adventures he would face in the Wasteland. It could even be set up as an anthology series (a la the games) with each season occurring in a different post-apocalyptic part of the country.

But with high-profile video game films like Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed releasing in 2016 (and to a lesser extent Ratchet & Clank), it would appear the production companies are still going to try to make video game movies happen. I guess it’s easier than Hollywood trying to come up with an original idea they can sell…

What are your favorite video game films? What are the worst? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

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