Video Game Movies – Are heading into a new golden age?
This year’s E3 was a little underwhelming for some, but one specific brand of announcement represents a growing change in the video game industry. In the weeks around E3, not only did we get details of upcoming games, but a lot of news on upcoming video game movies and TV adaptations. Adapting popular game franchises to film isn’t anything new.
However, in recent years the quality and scope of these adaptations have increased dramatically. They’re less a buzzword for a terrible film as an interesting prospective that could go one of two ways. So why exactly are video game movies experiencing such an upsurge and will it actually lead to better films?
What Video Game Movies Are Coming Soon?
In the coming months or years, a lot of video game adaptations are planned. While in the past, many games were optioned with little chance of escaping development hell, they now seem to have gotten serious. Rather than being announced and vanishing, things move forward quickly.
One of the most anticipated adaptations is probably Uncharted, with Tom Holland attached to star as a young Nathan Drake. While fans are looking forward to it, it is worth considering just how well it will translate. Uncharted is essentially an unlicensed Indiana Jones, so would move that back to films hold up against the legendary inspirations? HBO’s The Last of Us is equally anticipated. While that game’s dramatic elements got gamers excited, it’s possible that moving to TV might expose how similar the game’s plot is to many very old archetypes and plots.
One of the more exciting sides to increased video game adaptations is Nintendo finally exploring them again. Their upcoming Mario movie has potential, even with Illumination’s poor track record. A Zelda show looked to be in development for a while, but if reports are to believed Nintendo canceled it over a leak. Nintendo is increasingly exploring options for their IP, which account for some of the most iconic faces in games. These titles are keeping devs highly involved, which might make a difference.
Other projects include a whole spread of Netflix gaming animes like Cyberpunk, Diablo, Far Cry, and Tomb Raider. Hopefully, the anime of Tomb Raider can avoid some of the problems of the 2000s adaptations. They come following up on the Dota anime, which brought esports into the mix.
Outside of those, some live-action video game movies upcoming projects include:
- Resident Evil, 2021
- Splinter Cell, 2021
- Halo, 2022
- Assassins Creed, 2023
- Fallout, 2024
- Twisted Metal, TBD
- Final Fantasy, TBD
Why are There so Many More?
It seems just about everyone is getting into video game movies. One part of the recent upsurge in demand might be to do with the demographics of gaming. Video games have become an increasingly popular hobby and one that is not confined to a single demographic. This naturally makes the demand for movies based on these properties a lot higher. With gaming now bringing in more revenue than film, it only makes sense for studios to try and capture some of that demographic.
Outside of specific demographics that are looking for video game movies, you have the overall trend of big-budget movies. It is no secret that in recent years movie studios have begun to rely even more heavily on ‘established IP’. Established intellectual properties have become one of the only things major studios are willing to take a chance on. Video games have become hugely popular franchises, so further exploring this territory could be pretty successful.
Why Do Video Game Movies Fail?
If you look at the history of video game movies, most of them in the past have fallen pretty flat on their face. Rarely do they manage to turn a profit for the studio, or even get a positive review. There are a few reasons for this that can be identified
The first is often just down to adaptation. Video games are an interactive medium and film isn’t. The film is also a considerably more mature medium. There is a long history of narrative and development of what constitutes decent storytelling and character in terms of a film. For video games, not so much. So, translation between the two mediums can be very messy, on both a narrative and conceptual level. It is tricky to move video games into film faithfully, without exposing the inherent differences between storytelling in the two mediums.
Often video game adaptations can be fairly lazy cash grabs too, just trying to pull in an in-built audience for a franchise. Essentially assuming that their film can make money since enough people buy the game, and of course, they’ll all want to see the movie. This rarely leads to a polished final product.
There are still films that break all of these reasons yet manage to be kind of terrible. A big offender here is probably Warcraft. The movie was helmed by Duncan Jones, director of the impressive debut Moon. However, even the son of David Bowie with an impressive history in film couldn’t make a decent movie out of an MMORPG. The highest performing video game adaptation to date, and it still underperformed and was critically mauled.
Can Video Game Movies be Good?
There is a huge boost in video game properties being adapted at the moment. However, a big question really remains about their actual quality. In the waves of adaptations that came before this, video game movies were little more than a punchline. The Bob Hoskins Mario Bros and original Mortal Kombat adaptations are examples that immediately spring to mind. This recent batch has been a bit more mixed.
Many of the current video game adaptations have a lot of fans in the gaming communities for their respective games. However, this rarely translates to film buffs and those who watch movies that don’t feature a superhero. Programs like the Witcher were liked by big sections of the fan base but widely dismissed from most outside of it as a fairly weak attempt. While adapted from a series of novels, the tv series clearly attempts to cash in more on the games than the books. Recent video game movies like Assassin’s Creed have their fans, but they hardly stand up to the acclaim of some earlier games.
Even outside of direct adaptations, movies with heavy video game elements like Ready Player One have struggled. An upcoming film, Free Guy, about a video game NPC is trying to break this trend too. Although, time will tell for this project.
The quest to make an actual decent movie from a video game might still be an ongoing one. There are a lot of promising projects in development though. The 2020s might be the time for video games to finally make the leap into actually good movies, not just cash-ins. The recent animated adaptations have proven much more resilient, so the tide may be changing.