Forget video game movies and start making video game TV shows – Reader’s Feature

A reader tries to explain why video game movies never quite work and suggests that adapting them for TV would be a more sensible idea.

In the last few years we have entered an almost golden age in video game to movie adaptations, with Monster Hunter, Mortal Kombat, (another) Resident Evil, Werewolves Within, Dynasty Warriors, and Uncharted, making for an all-time high in terms of output. 

But I would argue that even today none of them really translated well to the big screen. Below is a list of the top seven highest grossing video game adaptations according to their worldwide gross (via Box Office Mojo):

  • Warcraft – budget $160 million – worldwide gross $439,048,914
  • Pokémon: Detective Pikachu – Budget $150 million – worldwide gross $433,514,834
  • Rampage – budget $120 million – worldwide gross $428,028,233
  • The Angry Birds Movie – budget $73 million – worldwide gross $352,333,929
  • Prince of Persia – budget $200 million – worldwide gross $336,365,676
  • Sonic the Hedgehog – budget $85 million – worldwide gross $319,715,683
  • Resident Evil: Afterlife – budget $60 million – worldwide gross $300,228,084

So why a top seven? Well, these have been the only adaptations to cross the $300 million barrier. Why is that important? The summer blockbuster style of film is extremely expensive to make but adding to that is the cost of marketing. I’ve included the approximate production budget of the films above, as usually the marketing can be anywhere from half the production budget to $100-150 million. So, for nearly half of the films mentioned above, $300 million would be the base line for profit.

Shockingly, in terms of budget to profit, Angry Birds would be the most successful video game adaptation to date, followed by Resident Evil: Afterlife and then Sonic the Hedgehog. As much as I enjoyed Sonic (yes, I said it!) and as successful as it was, if you swapped out Sonic for any sort of alien character it would have worked just the same.

Adding to that is a deeper problem, the misunderstanding of what makes the game so good to play in the first place; the story and the time you spend with the lead character(s). Let’s take the latest attempt Mortal Kombat as an example.

The original film is held in high regard today as the basic story of a fighting tournament is very true to the game, which itself is based on the martial arts fighting tournament style of film. This was made famous by Bruce Lee’s 1973 classic Enter the Dragon, in which fighters from around the world are recruited into a life or death underground fighting tournament, sound familiar?

Although I felt that the newest film did an amazing job of capturing the aesthetic of the games and the looks of the characters (and provided an amazing fight sequence between Scorpion and Sub-Zero – including an ice wall from Sub Zero!) almost everything else about the film was not so good.

The history between the clans of Scorpion and Sub-Zero was not mentioned, Liu Kang (the games main protagonist) was relegated to being a side character/extended cameo and Kano went from being the leader of an underground criminal gang to the film’s comic relief. So who is the film aimed at? As word of mouth begins to spread, the side effect will be the alienating of the games fans which should be your target audience.

There is another problem to consider, games borrow from films. So when a film is made based on a game we have this weird cycle of games borrowing from films which are now being made into films based on games. Now there’s nothing wrong with borrowing from other media, there are only so many stories to tell. But what does it add?

Let’s take the Uncharted film’s cargo plane scene, which can be seen below. In the game it was a homage to the James Bond film The Living Daylights and when recreating it for the new film you can’t help but compare it to the original. Adding to that, in the games the cargo scene happens in Uncharted 3, so we have grown to know Drake over a number of hours, who he is, what he stands for, etc. In the newest film the scene happens toward the beginning of the film, with almost no build-up.

So how do we go about solving this problem? A large amount of games would be better suited to a longer style of storytelling and with streaming services churning out content, why not look to games? Mortal Kombat would be a great example for a series, allowing the characters’ histories to be developed and the mythology of the show to be explored, so that fights and fatalities actually have some meaning and impact. The Street Fighter 2 anime could be another that would benefit from this approach.

In terms of films, how about Guacamelee as an animated adventure? Exploring Mexican luchador culture, mysticism, the rescue of a loved one, and not to mention a talking chicken! The latest God Of War perhaps? The story of distant parents trying to reconnect with their child. I mean it worked for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade…

By reader Hollinho (Twitch)

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