Are We Done With “Game” Movies Yet?


Hollywood Still Hasn’t Learned It’s Lesson… After the Break…

Are We Done With “Game” Movies Yet?

Pity the poor Hollywood executive. You haven’t heard that statement very often, now have you?

What, though, are they to do? There is a popular commodity. Millions of people know about it. It is generating millions of dollars of revenue in other merchandising categories. It is known in that sweet, sweet 16-49 age demographic (you know, the “gullible” ones with all of that disposable income and not a wit on how to spend any of it responsibly).

Unfortunately, the property just happens to be a video game.


Movies based upon video game properties just can’t seem to find the mass appeal to become profitable movies. Yes, there have been ‘better’ game movies but has there ever been a movie based on a game that has become widely successful?

I gave myself a test to come up with as many “game” movies that I could think of in one minute. Here’s my list:

  • Mario Bros.
  • Street Fighter (and it’s sequels)
  • Tomb Raider (and it’s sequel)
  • Resident Evil (and it’s many, many sequels)
  • Hitman
  • Mortal Kombat

…And that was it. And I’m a guy who grew up with an Atari 2600 joystick in one hand and an Atari ST mouse in the other. Am I missing a movie or two? Of course. I just thought of “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.” I’d like to think that I’m a little more knowledgeable about “game” movies than the average moviegoer.

Looking at all of the movies based on video games (and looking at a more comprehensive list, I definitely missed quite a few although), I do not see a lot of success stories.

Why? Why aren’t “game” movies popular?

I don’t have an answer. I have guesses. I have theories. Here they are:

  • Gamers like to play games, not watch them. When converting an experience from one medium to another, oftentimes, you are “enhancing” the experience for fans of the initial medium. Who doesn’t want to see what Sherlock Holmes looks like? Who is going to voice the comic strip character “Garfield”? How are they going to elaborate on the sets from “Les Miserables” or “Phantom of the Opera”? How will they convert the animated “Lion King” into an on-stage musical? It’s not the same for video games. Video games are interactive; There is a form of emotional attachment that you can’t get when you convert it into a movie. I don’t want to watch Guile clobber Sagat; I want to do it myself. In many ways, a movie is a “downgrading” experience because the gamer loses control over the character that they admire. If I’m a fan of a book, I’m already ‘watching’ the story through reading; There is no expectation of interaction. With video game movies, you are taking away the primary draw for the audience… The interactivity.
  • Movies are filled with “the boring stuff.” How many gamers like watching the cut scenes between missions? Not many. “Half-Life 1” was almost entirely cut-scene free with the player having at least some interactivity (even in the intro, you can walk around inside of the shuttle as the shuttle propels you down the track) most of the time. Players play video and computer games; Cut scenes are for watching. If I want to watch something, I’ll watch a movie. If I want to play something, I’ll play a video game. A movie based upon a video game is, for many gamers, one long cut scene that doesn’t end. And, worse still, movies aren’t filled with action… They have stuff like “character development” and “plot.” As a gamer, I don’t need twenty minutes for you to introduce a character that I’ve played in three games already. I already “know” the character… Get to the action already!
  • “I wouldn’t have done that” Syndrome. In a video game, a cut scene is often regarded as a necessary evil: There has to be some emotional investment in the character. There has to be some plot. There has to be some progression. Gamers put up with cut scenes because we know that, in the end, we’ll get control over the characters back. Yes, the developers want you to fall through the trap door but, once you land at the bottom of the pit, you regain control of the character. Yet, in a movie, you never gain control of the character, never mind re-gaining control. It is as though you are watching someone else play the video game for you. And, obviously, you would never have jumped across that ledge or had said those nasty things to that other character or had agreed to go on that mission or… It is the same sensation as watching a horror movie and pleading with the hapless character who walks into a darkened room without turning on a light or not looking behind an open door to ensure that a serial killer is there… But for a gamer, that’s how they view the entire movie.
  • The plots are generic because games are about experiences, not stories. I know that there are a lot of gamer intelligentsia who hold up the story lines of “Bioshock Infinite” or “The Last of Us” as though they are the pinnacles of storytelling in any medium, computer games, movies, books or anything else. However, it is sort of like an amateur team facing off against a professional team – It is no contest. Movies are all about story. That’s what they are. Video games have some story but, at their most basic level, the story is just the flavoring for the game play. In many ways, a video game’s story is dictated by the game play mechanics. In “Thief 1,” stealth is your primary game play mechanic so – Surprise! – It’s also a really big deal with the story as well. This aspect just doesn’t translate well into movies because they aren’t inhibited by game play mechanics. If suddenly producing a huge ogre makes a movie more suspenseful, the movie does that even if it would make no sense in the game.

These are just four reasons. There are several more.

“Game” movies may succeed on a dry, financial level but not a single one has yet crossed the threshold for being a truly successful film. They haven’t become socially popular. They haven’t compelled a significant amount of moviegoers to think to themselves, “I have to go home and play the video game.”

Hollywood doesn’t need to make movies based on video games. They just need to make compelling movies, regardless of where the source material originated.

What’s next? “Angry Birds: The Movie”?

Oh, wait…


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