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Why are video game movies usually not great?

by Mason Kupiainen It’s no secret that video game adapted movies are not very good. Time after time, Hollywood has tried to take a popular video game property and adapt it to the silver screen with little-to-no success. Not only do these movies receive poor reviews, but box office numbers have shown genuine disinterest or distaste in these movies. Looking at the box office, the highest grossing video game movie is Warcraft with $439,048,914. For comparison, looking at a similar genre, the highest grossing comic book movie is Avengers: Endgame with $2.8 billion. These two genres are very similar, with many of the same fans, but why is the box office gap so wide? Why are so many people going to see comic book movies and not going out to support video game movies, despite the fact that more people play video games compared to those who read comic books? There’s not one simple answer. However, there are a number of reasons why the critical and box office for these movies is so low. 

Sticking too close to the source material

Image from IMDb
A problem many video game movies have is trying to recreate the source material without making the changes need to make a film work. With some movies, it feels like they’re trying too hard to please the fans of the games that they completely forget about the viewers who have never played the games. A prime example of this is Warcraft. This movie relied on viewers to already know about the world and its inhabitants to the point that those who have never played World of Warcraft would get confused. The movie also tried to cram so much information into one movie that it weighs it down. Because there is so much information and too many characters thrown at you, the movie didn’t get a chance to breathe and tell its own story. Similar movies like Mortal Kombat have followed this formula, and they suffered from the same problems. 

Straying too far from the source material

Image from IMDb
Going in the opposite direction, many video game movies have strayed so far from their source material, they become unrecognizable. Movies like Super Mario Bros. and the Underworld series have suffered from this. Looking at the Super Mario Bros. movie, it took the fun, lighthearted tone of the games and threw it out the window. Instead, the movie was dark, gritty, and had a post apocalyptic feel to it, looking like it belonged in the Blade Runner universe. This was obviously completely different from the fun, colorful kid game the movie was based on. Similarly, the first Underworld movie stuck to the source material for the most part, but went in a different direction with its sequels. It threw away the survival aspect that was popular in the games to instead turn it into an action franchise, all without actually making quality movies. 

Not understanding the source material

Image from IMDb
One of my favorite video game series is the Hitman franchise. There have been two attempts at turning these games into movies, with both films being terrible. They’re both also great examples of the filmmakers not understanding the source material. Both adaptations of the games, especially Hitman: Agent 47, have tried to be exciting action movies, but that isn’t what makes the video games so great. The games are all about stealth, with you playing as Agent 47 sneaking around and taking out bad guys left and right with creative kills. The movies had a glimpse of these elements that make the games so much fun, like having Agent 47 kill enemies in creative ways while he switches disguises, but they were never the main focus of the movies. They set these elements aside to instead have cool and stylish action sequences that were never part of the video games. This left the movies not feeling like the games, and the movies being terrible since they didn’t try to craft a good story to go along with the action. 

Source material not meant to be adapted for films

Image from IMDb
The main reason why video game movies have been poorly made is because the source material just doesn't lend itself to be made into movies. Many people, including myself, don’t play video games for the story, but rather the gameplay. The storylines in video games are not always the strongest, but that doesn't matter when you have an epic gameplay. We’ve seen over the years video games step up their story telling, but at the heart of video games, it’s still all about the game play. Unlike when trying to adapt a book into a movie, where they both are similar in the way they tell a story, video games don’t tell their story in a similar fashion to movies.  There’s also the fact that some video games don’t really have a story at all. When trying to adapt a game like Mario or Rampage, you don’t have much to go off of, so you're forced to do your own thing. Looking back at the Hitman franchise, the video games follow the lead character Agent 47, who is a cloned contract killer, as he goes around assassinating criminals around the globe. He’s a character who has no personality, character development, or anything that would make him a great lead in a movie, but he works great in a video game for gameplay purposes. The games also don’t have much of a story to them that would adapt well into a movie. In order to properly adapt this game series into a movie, you would have to either change the character to the point where he’s not the same from the video games, or change the story of the games to make everything else work as a movie. This makes it increasingly hard to adapt the games since they are forced to have to change too much and make something different.  Just because video game movies are dreadful now, doesn't mean that someday Hollywood could crack the code. Similar to comic book movies, that too had a long history of terrible movies, I believe that someday we’ll see a great video game movie. All it will take is a talented filmmaker with the right source material to figure out the balance needed to craft a wonderful video game movie. With upcoming movies like Tomb Raider 2, Mortal Kombat, Minecraft, and Uncharted, hopefully one of these movies will be able to discover what it’ll take to properly adapt a video game into a movie. 
Sources: Twitter, BoxOfficeMojo, WePC, ComichronImages: IMDb Featured Image: Tyler Westman

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